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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.

19 Responses to “Hughes Should Start in Scranton”

  1. If Mitre is door No. 1, let’s nail that door shut.  (Quote)

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    Matt Imbrogno Reply:

    I said Mitre first ’cause he’s the player who’s page I pulled up first.  (Quote)

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  2. I agree, LLListener. Mitre??? Pullleeeeze! No offense, Matt, but this whole Scranton idea is nuts. With Javier on-board, Joba can now shrug off the ‘Joba Rules’ and really let it rip this season with much less pressure from the 5 hole, giving us the best rotation in baseball top to bottom! Hughes has shown no prowess at all in extended (3-plus innings) situations. He was, however, the best set-up man in MLB last year, better even than Mariano was for Wetteland back in the day. And that, my friend, means a longer healthier life and shorter innings for starters, middle-relievers and closers alike. Let Joba start and leave the 8th inning to Phil, just the way Joe G and Cash have planned it. Thanks for pumping me up guys. Only two more weeks until spring training, I can’t wait!

    For more Hot Stove chucks and giggles, check out “Joe’s Job — The Ballad of Terry Francona” at:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvVZQnELQ9s

    It’s a must-see for Yankee fans and BoSuxers alike. Go Yankees! 28 in 2010!!!  (Quote)

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  3. I don’t understand having a pitcher who is clearly ready for the major leagues now, in the minor leagues. They’d be in a much better position having 6 starters than doing that.  (Quote)

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    JMK aka The Overshare Reply:

    This is satire, right?  (Quote)

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    Matt Imbrogno Reply:

    Definitely not. That would take away starts from Sabathia/the other top guys. No way.  (Quote)

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    Craig Reply:

    Yes! I love it. Someone hopped outside of the box with me. A six man rotation may not work out from the beginning of the season but, I wonder if it could be an intriguing idea come the 2nd half.

    Back to something more realistic at the moment, though…as unideal as it would be, I really have to agree with Hughes starting out in AAA. One of the five starters is going to get hurt, there really isn’t any way around that. How many staffs do you know of that kept 1-5 for most, if not all, of a season? Also, don’t forget that Pettitte and Vazquez are likely to be gone next year leaving a vacancy for Hughes to step into. That, more than anything maybe, is the No. 1 reason why Hughes needs to spend all of his time in the starting rotation this year – even if that means spending a little bit more time in Scranton.  (Quote)

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  4. I would like joba and phil in the pen… gaudin fifth spot with zack or mitre back up if he fails.. we would have the best pen in BB……well thats my take of course  (Quote)

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    Matt Imbrogno Reply:

    Absolutely not. Using Joba/Hughes in the bullpen is a waste, IMO. That would not only hurt the team in the short term, either Hughes or Joba > Gaudin, but would also hurt them in the long run by setting back the young guys’ development ANOTHER year.  (Quote)

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  5. I totally agree. I also think its important to note that if Hughes/Joba is in the minors his value increases because it slows his arbitration clock.

    This normally isn’t an issue for the yankees. But with a thinning pitching market it would help to delay at least one of their FA departures.

    This is why I saw no harm in offering Bedard or Wang a deal. In an absolute perfect world. We have Joba and Hughes in the minors tallying up their inning totatls. Once October rolls along we move them to the BP. With an absolutely beastly, out of this world, pitching staff for the post season. It is such a small commitment to give us so much more flexibility in the short term and long term.  (Quote)

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    Craig Reply:

    Why would we send them both back to the minors? You mentioned the arb clock which makes sense but you also recognized that it isn’t a problem for the Yankees. I don’t think the Yanks would have a problem opening up the wallet for their own players if they’re worth it. At least one of them can tally up innings in the majors while pitching better than Wang would and by not missing starts because of a bruised knuckle or whatever pansy injury Bedard would come up with (not including shoulder surgery in that group of course).

    Everyone also needs to remember that we need to start developing a guy who is ACTUALLY going to take over the closer’s role. If we keep throwing Hughes and Joba back there, sure they shut sh*t down but, when those two move to the rotation where they belong, we’ve got an inexperienced group of Melancon types who are rattled and can’t find the plate. Not trying to have that.  (Quote)

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  6. Here’s the thing—while there’s a better-than-not chance Hughes (or Joba) would punch opposing AAA batters in the throat repeatedly, that’s not the metric by which we should be judging the decision; regardless of the stats, this decision is the best utilization of short-term and long-term resources, and also benefits Phil the most in the long run.

    If we can quietly tell those who wish Hughes a permanent spot in the bullpen to hang out with Joel Sherman and let the big kids talk, we can delve into the nuances of why having Hughes in AAA makes sense.

    -Firstly, if Hughes is to be in the rotation permanently, it’s critical that his secondary pitches (his changeup, cutter, and super-gyro whiffle ball) be better developed. Throwing fastballs 80% of the time to 4 hitters a game three times a week will not help him develop those pitches. He can get through guys with just stuff the first, maybe second time around. But multiple times through a game? That takes refinement. That takes more than throwing two max-effort pitches where you have to worry much less about endurance and hitting spots. He already has two very good pitches in his fastball and curve; he has the potential in adding two more plus-pitches in the cutter and changeup. But they’re inconsistent now. They need to be utilized to improve. Pitching in AAA to start will get him comfortable throwing those pitches more often and in varied situations, where he can also work through the process of pitching in a more cerebral manner.

    -Secondly, he needs to build up his arm strength to pitch a full season in 2011 and beyond. Hughes hasn’t pitched more than 115 innings since 2006. I don’t know enough about physiology to say what the effect of sporadic pitching is on a pitcher’s arm, shoulder. I do know many believe there’s an increased risk in upping the innings pitched drastically between seasons. If used as a reliever this season, he won’t pitch 100 innings. So next year the Yankees would likely having an innings restriction on him. Probably 150 innings, but that may all depend on 2010. Sure, he’s thrown 146 in a season before. But by 2011 he’ll be four complete years removed from that. Four years is a long time in the baseball world. Manny Ramirez gave birth to a baby girl in the outfield of Boston four years ago. See? You barely remember that in baseball time.

    Anyway, pitching in Scranton could also gain them a bit more time before arbitration. That’s good stuff. More years of a young cost-controlled starting pitcher. Having him as a situational reliever not only pushes the arb clock forward, but it’s coming at the expense of long-term development since it will lead to a longer transition down the road. I know we collective talk of the Yankees having no payroll restrictions, but to a team like that, having an elite cost-controlled starter (which Hughes can be) for an extra year before hitting big arb dates could be really critical to how the team is constructed. You can only have so many guys making $20 million per year. Even for the Yankees.

    -Thirdly, the marginal upgrade in Robertson to Hughes to Mo from Marte to Robertson to Mo is simply not worth the risk of retarding development, losing the possible value of a top starter when injuries occur to the rotation, accelerating his arbitration clock without getting maximum value, and not building his arm strength for the future. If you need better bullpen arms, they’re available. Will they be as good as Hughes? Probably not, but you won’t need another Mariano when on paper you have the best offense in the league and many workhorse starters.

    -Fourthly, in the assumption there are injuries or ineffectiveness to one of CC, AJ (checkered injury history), Andy (who’s nearing Julio Franco-old), Javier, Joba, wouldn’t you be more comfortable with Hughes coming in stretched out instead of Chad Gaudin? Gaudin had a funny season. It looked better than it really did since he’d generally do pretty well but implode in the 5th. That’s when opposing batters saw him a second or third time through and bludgeoned him. Hughes could be MUCH better. In that case, you get the benefit of him getting a feel for his pitches in AAA, building his arm, working against MLB hitters multiple times in a game, and has a better incremental chance of reaching his ceiling as a full-time starter in 2011, 2012, 2013, etc. Having Hughes start in the bullpen also risks that he won’t be transitioned to a starter this year, even if an injury were to occur. Again, it’s a poor utilization of resources, as he’d be far more valuable to the team this year and next as a starter.

    Finally, having said all that, if he’s progressed well in the minors for the first half of the year, displayed that he can work through the lineup multiple times, set up hitters, and has built his arm up, go ahead and send him to the pen later in the year…BUT ONLY IF THERE HASN’T BEEN AN INJURY TO THE ROTATION THAT REQUIRES SIGNIFICANT STARTS FROM A 6TH STARTER. My money would be on someone getting injured.

    Sorry if I rambled and merged points without any sense of cohesion.

    —Seacrest out  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Steve S. Reply:

    Wow, are you long winded.

    You should, like, start your own blog or something. I’d call it “Mystique and Aura” if I were you.  (Quote)

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    JMK aka The Overshare Reply:

    Hold that thought. Mom is calling me from upstairs.  (Quote)

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    Craig Reply:

    What he said.  (Quote)

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  7. I very strongly disagree with Matt. I’ll have a response posted tomorrow morning.  (Quote)

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    Matt Imbrogno Reply:

    Awesome; I’m excited to read it.

    Obviously, I won’t be crushed if they start Hughes in the bullpen ’cause it does make the team better; I’m just unsure of how much better it makes the Yankees. If facing Major League hitters is what we consider most important for Hughes, then it’s clear he should be in the Majors. But, if it’s building up innings and arm strength, starting in SWB is the route we want to take.  (Quote)

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  8. i totally agree with matt. to any detractors, answer this question, who will be the 6th and 7th starters on the team if hughes is the set up man? it is guaranteed that one starter will either be ineffective/injured sometime in the season. are we really going the mitre gaudin route? i would stick hughes in scranton for the first month or two to evaluate how the season goes. if the bp sucks, i would heavily consider bringing hughes to the show. if the bp is good, i’d keep him in scranton building up his innings. once he goes to the bp, it would be inefficient and risky to transition him back to the rotation.

    to sum up, leave him in scranton unless he decimates all comers in spring training and beats out joba. bring him up if the bp sucks. if not, wait for the inevitable injury. wait and adjust. the season is so long. there is no need to commit hughes to the bp right from the start.  (Quote)

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