If there is one phrase that sums up the argument as to why Phil Hughes should start 2010 at Triple A Scranton, it is “in case.” In case a pitcher gets hurt. In case Joba Chamberlain ends up being ineffective.
The prevailing wisdom is that neither Hughes nor Chamberlain should start the season in Scranton because they’ve got nothing left to prove in the minors and that their opponents would give them no sort of challenge. With this I agree. However, if Hughes (let’s assume Chamberlain’s got the starting job locked up) starts the season in the International League, it will not be about competition. It will be about building innings that he lost in 2008 due to injury and in 2009 due to pitching out of the bullpen. In the proverbial long run, having Hughes in Scranton for at least the beginning of the season in 2010 is the better option than having him begin the year in the bullpen as the set-up man. Would that option be better for the 2010 Yankees? Sure, you can make that argument. However, the step up from Robertson/Marte to Hughes is not very large and it’s not worth setting Hughes back another year.
2009 was very kind to the Yankee rotation in terms of injury. Maybe it’s just paranoia, but I think the chances of that happening again are pretty slim. In case CC’s big innings totals catch up to him…in case A.J. Burnett gets hurt…in case Andy Pettitte’s age catches up to him. In case any of those things happen, I’d much rather have Phil Hughes starting than any of the other alternatives. Shall I list the reasons why? Well I don’t see why not!.
Behind door number one, we have Sergio Mitre. Before going any further, I have a disclaimer: I do not like Sergio Mitre. At all. Anyway, there’s some hope for him, as he’s now farther removed from his Tommy John Surgery. However, sustained success has not come for Mitre in his 362.1 career innings. No, that’s not a big total, but it’s not as if he’s still a prospect at this point (he’ll turn 29 on the 16th of this month) and last year didn’t give me much confidence in him. Mitre starting more than once or twice through the rotation is not a good option for the Yankees.
Door number two gives us Alfredo Aceves. “Ace” was invaluable out of the bullpen in 2009 and that’s where he should stay. While his stuff is far from weak, it’s not the kind of stuff that can survive getting through an order more than once. His current role of swingman is likely where he’ll have the most success.
The final door gives us Chad Gaudin. Gaudin had a nice little season in 2009. He did a great job of keeping the ball in the park and striking out hitters (4.16 FIP) but the walks were a bit high (4.64 per nine), as was his WHIP (1.51, all combined SD/NY numbers). Aside from Hughes, I’d feel most comfortable giving him multiple starts, but if someone goes down, I still want Hughes to be ready to step in and start.
If Hughes is in the bullpen, he can’t do that. They could stretch him out from the bullpen over a period of time, but by the time he is ready to pitch enough innings to start, the injured pitcher could return. It’d be better to stretch Hughes out in Scranton so that if an injury does occur, he’s ready to take that pitcher’s spot immediately.
If an injury happens, the man who fills in for that pitcher will be more important to the Yankees than any one pitcher in the bullpen, simply because he’ll be getting many more innings. The best option for that role is one Phil Hughes, who should start the year pitching for the SWB Yankees.