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Breaking down the Hughes/Joba debate

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I'll try to keep it concise. To do that, let's go to a list!

1. The spot should've gone to Joba. Let's get that out of the way. What was the point of having 'rules' (aka restrictions) the previous two years to enable him to go 200+ innings if he won't top 80 as a reliever? It feels like all the screwing around with Joba was for naught.

2. Hughes certainly pitched better in Spring Training, but it was all of 13 innings, and only 6.2 for Joba (not counting the intrasquad game), about half of which came after he was getting over the flu.

3. Joba has been better as a starter in the majors. Lower ERA (4.18 vs. 5.22), better K rate (8.4 vs. 7.1), better K/BB (2.04 vs. 1.90), better HR rate (1.01 v

s. 1.08), and more innings per start (5.16 vs. 5.04). The only areas in which Hughes has been better are WHIP (1.44 vs. 1.48) and walk rate (3.76 vs. 4.10).

4. Despite what many of us want, Joba looks slated for a career in the bullpen. The frenzy created by his 24 inning-relief stint in 2007 put unrealistic expectations on him. It was a curse in disguise. There's been too much pressure from the MSM, (some) fans, and even ex-players (I'm looking at you, Goose), all unable to see Joba as anything other than a relief ace (despite the fact that he'd been a starter his entire college and pro career until then).

5. All that said, this does not necessarily doom Joba to the bullpen forever. I still foresee a chance for both Hughes and Joba to make the 2011 rotation (if Pettitte and Vazquez depart). Obviously there's worry about going from 80 innings to 180, but with 157 under his belt last year, the jump may not be such a big factor.

6. This is a great problem to have. When the Dodgers' opening day starter is Vicente Padilla and we're concerned with our fifth starter, things are pretty good. Look at it this way: Hughes will likely be a good starter, and we'll have one of the best set-up men in baseball. Quite a problem to have!

7. As I alluded to in my last point, I do not think Joba should go to Triple-A to hone his starting skills (well, only in a situation where a playoff spot is locked up or beyond reach, neither of which are likely). Retiring minor league hitters is way beyond his skill-set; he needs to learn to retire major league hitters. And I believe Joba is talented enough to go right into a starting role in 2011. He just needs to use his curveball occasionally and keep improving his changeup on the side. Again, since he went 157 innings in '09, jumping from 80 to 180 won't be as difficult as if he'd never thrown 157.

8. A lot of this may be moot. I have a feeling someone will go down (Burnett, Pettitte, Hughes?) and Joba will get another shot in the rotation.

9. Prediction time -

Hughes: 12-9, 4.77 ERA, 181 innings, 150 K's, 65 BB, 1.49 WHIP

Joba: 3 saves, 2.30 ERA, 84 innings, 95 K's, 34 BB, 1.22 WHIP

[Keep an eye out for other PA writers who will add their own thoughts to this article throughout the evening. Also, I'm going to close the comments in the FanShot below. Please continue the debate here.]


Ed -

I am fine with Phil Hughes as the fifth starter. Hughes has always been destined to be a starter and he will do a good job. If the Yankees are aiming for him to pitch about 170 innings there should not be as much difficulty with shortened starts as there was last season with Joba.

The last time we saw Hughes in the rotation he was really a two-pitch guy. Now, he is older, stronger, more experienced and has four pitches. I am looking forward to seeing what he does.

As for Chamberlain, if there were two slots open he would get one of them. But, there aren't.

The really interesting decision will be what the Yankees do if one of their starters goes down for an extended period of time. Will Joba stay in the 'pen, or do the Yankees still see him long-term as a starter and would they move him into the rotation?

That is a question they have not answered.


jscape -

I don't want to call this the right choice, because I don't think there is one. I was mentally prepared to enter the 2010 season with Hughes and Joba as the 4th and 5th starters. The trade for Javy Vazquez certainly made the Yankees a better team for 2010, but I suspect they are a weaker team long term because (barring injury) one pitcher or the other has his development slowed.

But barring injury is the key.

The Yankees didn't have a 4th starter worth going to in the playoffs last season.

Last season, the worry was how Swisher, Nady, Melky, Gardner, Damon and Matsui would get enough ABs with only 3 OF spots and the DH open. Melky went hot and cold, Gardner broke his thumb, and Nady's reconstructed elbow gave out.

Hughes as 5th starter makes sense to me: he's spent more time in the system being a starter; he's shown the wider arsenal of pitches; he's only a couple seasons removed from being the top SP prospect in the game.

I think Joba to the pen makes sense for now. Zach McAllister and Ivan Nova will be the first ones up for a spot start, but if anybody hits the DL, hopefully the brass will give Joba the chance to step into the rotation.


Brandon -

My opinion on Phil Hughes being named the 5th starter is that it seemed obvious from the beginning, but it was the right choice. Chamberlain struggled at the beginning of the camp and couldn't make up for it in the end. Hughes didn't do that well himself stat-wise, but it is just spring training. Hughes' changeup won the job for him and if it is as good as it's being raved, that will be interesting to watch. I still want Joba in AAA for now, but I seriously doubt that will happen. I expect Hughes to win a bunch of games this year, but his ERA will be in the 4's. Prediction: Hughes: 8-7 4.32 ERA. Joba: in pen all year, 4-2 2.84 ERA. The Yankees seem big enough on McAllister and Nova that they would get the 5th starter job if someone gets hurt. Mitre or Aceves could get it too. Joba will likely be a set-up man, against my wishes.