ESPN's Rob Neyer yesterday floated the idea that the New York Yankees should spend the rest of the season stretching out Phil Hughes to start in the playoffs. NY Baseball Digest's Mike Silva actually agreed with Neyer.
Are you kidding me? Where is this nonsense coming from? And why now?
Neyer's argument basically comes to stating that Hughes and Joba Chamberlain should switch roles, since Chamberlain has been mostly awful in his last six starts.
He's (Chamberlain) won just one of them and lost three. He's struck out 20 hitters and walked 17. His ERA has jumped from 3.58 to 4.41. He's looked nothing like a pitcher you might trust in a big game. And he's pitched 137 innings, which doesn't seem like a lot but is 36 more than he's ever pitched before. If he's struggling now because he's tired, what's going to happen in October after another 25 or 30 innings?
Which is where Hughes comes in. Chamberlain is the Yankees' No. 4 starter. Sergio Mitre is the Yankees' No. 5 starter. Which means the Yankees, as things stand now, have only three reliable starters. And again, you need four of them when the leaves are turning in New England.
I know, I know ... Phil Hughes has been so good in the bullpen: 1.11 ERA with an overpowering strikeout-to-walk ratio. Make him a starter again and he's not going to post numbers anything like those. But to help the Yankees, he doesn't have to be anywhere near that good; he just has to be measurably better than Chamberlain and Mitre. Particularly if -- and I know this is highly speculative -- Chamberlain regains his dominant stuff upon returning to a relief role.
Silva joins the Hughes-Chamberlain switcheroo chorus with this argument.
Normally I wouldn’t be for this type of change in September. I believe in a strong bullpen and the Yankees have virtually locked down six outs of every game. The problem is no team is good enough to play fast and loose with a Game 4 in every series. That’s exactly what you would be doing starting any of your current options. Joba Chamberlain is not going to get the job done. The kid isn’t mentally or physically up to the challenge. Anyone who is holding out hope has a better chance of running into the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus these days. Scariest thought the rest of 2009 for a Yankees fan: Down 2-1, on the road, and Joba Chamberlain pitching. Enough said.
Great idea by Neyer.
Great idea by Neyer? I don't think so. I would say terrible idea that makes no sense.
I know Chamberlain has been awful for a while now, but to bluntly say "Joba Chamberlain is not going to get the job done" is silly. Says who? How do we know that for sure? Is Silva Carnac the Magnificent with a crystal ball that allows him to see into the future? How do we know Chamberlain will be a terrible playoff starter? Or, that Hughes would be a lights-out one? Or, that there is even time to stretch Hughes out if the Yankees wanted to?
Here is what we know about Chamberlain. He is a good young starting pitcher who was performing well until the Yankees -- concerned for his workload -- starting messing with his rhythm. Additional time between starts, which had to contribute to some inconsistency. Now, shortened spring-training like starts in which Chamberlain knows he won't be able to get a win.
Can you blame the guy for not being sharp? Or, sub-consciously not being as locked in for a start in which he knows he can only lose? We know Chamberlain thrives on emotion, and when the 'W' carrot isn't there it would be hard for anyone not to feel a little letdown.
The Yankees are protecting Chamberlain now precisely so that he can start playoff -- and hopefully World Series -- games in October. They have plenty of time to get him back on a normal routine and get him right for the playoffs.
Here is what we know about Hughes. As Neyer indicated, and Yankee fans know, he has been absolutely dominant in relief. Largely because of Hughes' presence in the bullpen, teams know they have to beat the Yankees in the first six innings. Otherwise, it's pretty much ballgame over.
Take him out of the 'pen right now, who knows? Chamberlain might do the job, he might not. Brian Bruney, Phil Coke, Damaso Marte, David Robertson might to the job, they might not. The Yankees very well might be flushing the biggest playoff advantage they have right down the toilet.
Besides, we also have no idea if Hughes could actually be counted on to be an effective playoff starter. Remember, he had a 5.45 ERA before the Yankees moved him to the bullpen. And last season he was 0-4, 6.62.
I fully support Hughes being in the rotation next season, and hopefully becoming a long-time fixture for the Yankees. Doing it now, though, would be nothing short of foolish.