Yesterday, Phil Hughes turned in another dud of a start, as he failed to get through five complete innings for the 10th time in 2013 out of 25 starts. He gave up seven hits and five runs, but while two of those runs were unearned due to Ichiro Suzuki's uncharacteristic error, Hughes proceeded to give up a big run-scoring double to Adam Lind immediately after that as well.
Hughes's ERA- jumped up to 119, the seventh-worst mark among all qualifying AL pitchers and the fourth-worst among AL starters. His FIP- of 111 isn't much better, and even his xFIP-, a figure that has always made him seem better than he is since is normalizes home run rate, went up to 109, the sixth-worst xFIP- in the league. His WPA for the season is -1.82, which is also sixth-worst among all AL pitchers, and his ugly 10.1 H/9 is the fourth-worst in the league. Even his basic win/loss record of 4-13 accurately demonstrates how horrible Hughes has been for the Yankees in 2013. It's not breaking news.
With important playoff race starts for Hughes potentially coming up soon against the hard-hitting Orioles and Red Sox, an obvious question must be posed: Is there any point to gambling on Hughes any longer? The Yankees currently sit four and a half games behind the Athletics for the second Wild Card spot, and both the Indians and Orioles stand in front of them for that race. The second Wild is almost certainly going to have at least 88 wins, and to reach that minimal number, the Yankees have to play at a .612 clip (19-12) for the remainder of the season. Each loss they suffer hurts even more since they don't have many to work with, and they have won a Hughes start just once in the past month. (They are 9-16 in Hughes starts on the season.)
If Hughes receives as many starts in September as he did in August, then the Yankees will be risking him in five games down the stretch. They can't afford to stick with Hughes, who has simply not pitched well for the entire season and has had essentially two good months since the May 2010. Hughes has proven time and again that he cannot be a reliable starter. They have to at least try something different than cross their fingers and hope for the best with Hughes.
Obviously, this effort would be easier for the Yankees if they had any obvious candidates to replace Hughes in the rotation. Their best option from last year, David Phelps, is injured and unavailable. Michael Pineda, once considered a candidate to grab a rotation spot once he got back to the major leagues, was shut down with shoulder stiffness earlier in August. That leaves David Huff, Adam Warren, and Brett Marshall as the only legitimate options.
Huff has been superb in relief for his last two appearances, a combined 8 1/3 scoreless one-hit innings, but he was regarded as a punchline prior to then given his unstable career marks of a 126 ERA- and a 117 FIP-. Warren has pitched to a nice 90 ERA- this season in the pros, mostly out of the bullpen. He was unimpressive in his spot start last Wednesday though, and the last time he was a full-time starter in 2012, he managed just a mediocre 3.71 ERA in Triple-A. Additionally, despite his fine relief work this year, lefties have hit him hard with a .318/.389/.581 triple slash. That leaves Marshall, who also made an underwhelming spot start earlier this year (back in May). He pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed just two hits in his most recent Triple-A start against the PawSox, bringing his ERA in August down to 3.65. However, on the season, he has not handled the transition from Double-A to Triple-A well at all. He has a 5.13 ERA and 4.62 FIP in Scranton, both figures that are worse than Hughes's numbers in the majors.
The field is uninspiring, but something new has to be done. Try riding the hot hand with Huff or Marshall, or give Warren another chance to redeem himself since he has earned a shot with yeoman work out of the 'pen. Yesterday on Twitter, WFAN's Sweeny Murti argued that "can't be any worse" is not a good way to make decisions. I normally like Murti, but in this case, gambling on the status quo to change when it simply hasn't in three and a half years is worse. Other options should be explored if there's even a remote chance of success. If the Yankees miss the playoffs by a couple games, Hughes's crappy starts will be an easy target for blame. If they just try someone else, they can at least say they attempted to do something about it. Sure, Huff, Warren, and Marshall could all easily flop as well since their track records aren't great, but when the competition is Hughes, even a fluky mediocre start will appear impressive in comparison.