Let me clear something up right off the bat. I have been squarely in the ‘Joba starts’ camp from day 1. I believe he has the body type, repertoire, and yes, makeup to be an outstanding starting pitcher. This choice doesn’t alter that view one bit, I still see both Joba and Hughes as starters long term. Some fans worry about him (and Hughes) not getting enough innings if they don’t start this year. I can understand worrying about exceeding innings at a young age, but not going below them. The innings limits many teams follow are up to the age 25 season. Both pitchers will be 25 in 2011, and therefore can be full fledged starters next year without any added health related concerns. I’m not even sure there are any concerns now, the Joba Rules have already been lifted and (as pitching coach Dave Eiland has noted) Phil Hughes has pitched full seasons in the minors, so his limits are minimal. But what I don’t buy into is the notion that if he (or Phil Hughes) doesn’t start this year, it will be bad for his development and/or preclude him from starting down the road. Working out of the bullpen will give both pitchers valuable experience facing MLB hitters, working out of jams and much-needed confidence, especially in Hughes’ case. From a development standpoint, they have as much (if not more) to learn by facing tough MLB hitters as they do by blowing away minor leaguers. Even with Ace as the #5, I still see both of them as starters for the 2011 season, taking 2 of the spots of Vasquez, Aceves, or Pettitte. I simply believe that on this team, this year, Ace as the #5 is the best use of your roster.
Check out the scouting reports of all 5 candidates (h/t NYBD):
PITCHES: Throws fastball 90-92mph (47% of all pitches), cutter 87-90 (14%), curveball 77-82 (20%), changeup 80-85 (19%). FB is most effective, cutter least effective. 1,232 total pitches (62% in the strike zone). Threw 199 of 318 first pitches for strikes (63%).
Strengths: Great command of CB. Great command of CH. Great command of cutter. Great overall dominance with 4.31 K/BB. Induces pop-ups often. Rarely walks batters – 0.19 BB/IP (0.39 is avg).
PITCHES: Throws fastball 91-94mph (64% of all pitches), slider 83-87 (19%), curveball 76-82 (12%), changeup 81-84 (5%). FB is most effective, changeup least effective. 2,619 total pitches (55% in the strike zone). Threw 370 of 662 first pitches for strikes (56%).
STRENGTHS: Plus command of slider.
WEAKNESSES: One of the walk leaders with 76.
HABITS: 3-0 ALWAYS throws FB to lefties 100% (86% is avg). 3-2 throws slider to righties 58% (16% is avg). 3-2 throws slider to lefties 50% (14% is avg). Throws sliders 60% more frequently from the stretch (24% vs 15% of all pitches).
PITCHES: Throws fastball 89-92mph (58% of all pitches), slider 77-82 (30%), changeup 83-87 (9%), curveball 76-82 (2%). Slider is most effective, changeup is least effective. 5,040 total pitches (59% in the strike zone). Threw 108 of 186 first pitches for strikes (58%). Threw 265 of 453 first pitches for strikes (58%).
STRENGTHS: Deceptive curveball causes 29% of swings to miss. Plus command of changeup.
WEAKNESSES: Poor command of CB. Changeup velocity is not deceptively slower than FB – only 4.2 mph.
HABITS: 3-0 ALWAYS throws FB to righties 100% (86% is avg). Locates CB 3? down from the stretch. Lean body. Likes to make pickoff attempts. Gets little spin on FB (21% below MLB avg.) His slider is one of the slowest at 79.7 and “slurvy”. Gets good spin on slider (67% above MLB avg.)
PITCHES: Throws fastball 92-95mph (64% of all pitches), cutter 87-91 (8%), curveball 75-79 (21%), slider 87-89 (6%), changeup 82-86 (1%). Curveball is most effective, fastball is least effective. 1,456 total pitches (60% in the strike zone). Threw 208 of 338 first pitches for strikes (62%).
NOTES: Injury a concern – was on the DL 135 days over the past 3 seasons. Likes to make pickoff attempts.
STRENGTHS: Plus command of slider. Well above avg overall dominance with 3.42 K/BB. Entered 13 games with runners on base and allowed 67% fewer to score than the average reliever in the same situations. Strikes out batters often – 1.11 K/IP (0.77 is avg). Consistently came in to 33 “late and close” games and pitched effectively.
HABITS: 88% of swings make contact off his slider. Throws FB outside to righties. His FB is on the faster side at 93.5. Deceptive FB causes 15% of swings to miss. Gets good spin on CB (33% above MLB avg.). He throws a hard SL that averages 87.8.
PITCHES: Throws fastball 90-92mph (31% of all pitches), sinker 89-92 (38%), changeup 82-85 (17%), curveball 78-80 (9%), slider 77-80 (6%). 793 total pitches (61% in the strike zone). Threw 131 of 210 first pitches for strikes (62%).
NOTES: Injury a concern – was on the DL 90 days over the past 3 seasons.
STRENGTHS: Plus command of slider. Changeup has a big tailing action.
WEAKNESSES: Not a deceptive slider: 94% of swings make contact. Has a high ERA of 6.79. Rarely induces pop-ups.
HABITS: 1-2 throws CH to lefties 50% (14% is avg). 2-0 does not throw FB to righties often – 30% (72% is avg). 2-0 does not throw FB to lefties often – 13% (74% is avg). 2-2 throws CH to lefties 45% (15% is avg). Infrequently throws inside twice in a row 21% of the time (29% is avg). Slider release point comes towards 1B 1.7? from the stretch. Throws sinkers 22% more frequently from the stretch (42% vs 34% of all pitches). FB has a big tailing and sinking action. Has 11-5 CB break angle (-17 deg). Throws slider high to lefties. His “slurvy” slider is one of the slowest at 78.5.
What jumps out at me is that Ace is the clearly the most mature and polished of the above candidates. Joba and Hughes may have far more upside, but have yet to reach it as starting pitchers on the big league level. Ace is the safe choice, the one who you know will give you innings and consistency, which allows you to use your relievers in a much more orderly fashion. Bullpens tend to get into trouble when they get overworked, and managers are forced to push relievers into situations that they aren’t suited for. We know AJ Burnett will have the occasional clunker, and we’ve seen that Joba the starter can often fall into the same category. While I’m sure Girardi will split them up, I value the reliability I think Ace will give me. The innings he can give helps you optimize the rest of your resources.
On to the roster and bullpen alignment. You have Chad Gaudin to take Ace’s place as the long man and spot starter. Both of them being in the bullpen is a complete waste, two long men just means one of them never pitches, especially on a team loaded with 200+IP guys. In case of injury to one of your starters, Gaudin simply moves into the rotation and you can call up an innings eater like Jon Albaladejo from AAA to do mop-up work. In case of injury/ineffectiveness of one of your relievers, you can call on a high-upside arm such as Mark Melancon, which is attractive both now and for future considerations. That means you can smooth MM’s transition to the bigs in low leverage situations, which is preferable to throwing him into the fire right away. Melancon’s uncharacteristic lack of control last year at the MLB level leads me to believe that he was a bit overwhelmed as a rookie.
Finally, on to performance. Aceves has a full, if unspectacular repertoire. He’s well suited to start, and give different looks to hitters facing them multiple times. His stuff plays the same in a relief role as it does out of the bullpen, it’s not like he gains some extra MPH on the fastball the way power pitchers like Hughes and Joba do. On the other hand, both Hughes and Joba have been ungodly as relievers, yet mundane as starting pitchers. Both gain velocity in the bullpen, both are able to go with their 2 best pitches and not risk getting beat on a lesser pitch. Both have put up numbers in the bullpen that are unrealistic to expect them to repeat in the rotation. I’d rather get outstanding performances from both of those two than get more innings and less results from one, while Aceves sits in the bullpen.
If the Yanks serious about this “open competition” stuff (which strikes me as silly since were talking about Spring Training) then Ace would be my choice. Not based on how he performs this spring, but on maximizing the assets I have to work with. That would leave the Yanks with Joba AND Hughes in the pen, one of the scariest bullpens ever assembled. You would have not one, not two, but three ‘relief aces’ who can come in at almost any time of the game to put out a fire against the heart of an order. That means at least 2 of the 3 are available to you every day, and you are still well covered in case of injury. Both pitchers will still be eligible, without restrictions, to be starters next season. Or possibly even this season in case of a major injury. I just want reliable innings out of my #5, and the prospect of having a bullpen for the ages, even for just one season, is the best use of your resources in 2010.