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How will the Yankees use Phil Hughes out of the bullpen?

It took a while, but the Yankees finally shifted Phil Hughes to the bullpen. Now, the question is, how will the team use him in his new relief role?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

It took a while, but the Yankees moved Phil Hughes to the bullpen and inserted David Huff into the rotation in his place. Although I backed Hughes more than most, this was a move that desperately needed to be made. Although the team has done well the past three and a half weeks, Hughes was still a major weak spot and needed to be jettisoned from the rotation if the team wanted to continue its push to the postseason.

Hughes, who pitched to an ugly 4.86 ERA (83 ERA+) and 4.54 FIP, proved to be too much dead weight for the Yankees to carry in their starting staff. Not only did he post well below sub-par peripherals, he failed to pitch deep into games on a numerous amount of occasions to boot. In 10 of his 25 starts (excluding his 1.1 inning rain-shortened outing on Monday against the White Sox), Phil failed to complete at least five innings. For those scoring at home, that's 40% of his starts in which the bullpen would need to pick up at least 12 outs. I don't care how good your bullpen is, that's incredibly taxing and a move needed to be made, and, thankfully, it finally has been.

Now that Hughes is in the bullpen, he presumably, as a starting pitcher, finishes his Yankee career with a 4.72 ERA and 4.50 FIP. Oddly enough, or I guess unsurprisingly enough, those numbers are similar to the numbers he posted this year, which are both well below average. Thankfully, there is hope; those numbers do not include his relief appearances. Hughes has been pretty awesome as a reliever, albeit with 51.1 of his career 56.1 innings as a reliever coming in one season, 2009, but just look how he's done in the 'pen compared to as a starter:

Role Games IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Opp. wOBA
Starter 129 715.2 4.72 4.50 7.3 2.8 1.4 .334
Reliever 49 56.1 1.44 1.97 11.2 2.7 0.3 .213

Those certainly aren't bad numbers, at least on the relief end. As noted earlier, all but five of those relief innings came in 2009, when he emerged as Mariano Rivera's setup man en-route to the team's 27th World Championship. Like this season, he struggled as a starter and was demoted to the bullpen in '09. Not surprisingly, his fastball velocity jumped from 93 mph in his seven starts to begin the year, to nearly 95.5 mph as a reliever. An extra 2.5 mph on the fastball may not sound much, but it can make a difference; his whiff-per-swing% on his four-seamer jumped from 16% in the rotation to 27% in the 'pen. A little extra oomph on the heater can, in fact, pay dividends.

Although Hughes flourished as a setup man in '09, it'll be interesting to see how they use him this time around, whether that be as a longman or more of a one-inning guy. With the rosters expanded, the Yankees still have, at the very least, two longmen (Adam Warren and Brett Marshall) who can soak up garbage innings/go deep if the starter gets knocked out early if need be. He may not deserve high-leverage innings right away, but it'd be nice to see them use Phil as a short, one-inning reliever nonetheless. They can have him come in, throw gas, focus on and throw either his curve or slider as his secondary pitch, and hopefully there will be positive results that follow. Besides, if Hughes is used as a short reliever, it further decreases the odds we see Joba Chamberlain in a close game, which is something I'm sure we could all get around.

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