While we all have bitched about the absurdity of a spring training competition for the #5 spot for all sorts of valid reasons, I want to take a step back for one minute and look at it from an organizational and developmental standpoint. All of the pitchers involved (including the top 2) have parts of their game that they needed to work on and focus on correcting:
-Joba has had trouble finding his fastball early in games, and hasn’t been very efficient as a Starter. His pitch selection makes you scratch your head at times as well. He has also had weight issues in the past, and at times last year looked soft and out of shape.
-Hughes has been working on that changeup since he was in AA. His splits facing lefties as a MLB starter are awful. Even with adding a Cutter last year he still showed a substantial split. He needs an effective change to take it to the next level as a starter.
-Alfredo Aceves needs to show he’s more than just a 6th starter/long man.
-Mitre needs to show that he’s fully recovered from TJ and that he’s better than the pitcher we saw last year.
Each of these guys have something to prove this Spring. Setting up a competition with the carrot of the #5 spot as the prize will get all of the participants to bear down and try to figure out how to do what they know the Yanks are looking for. It can help them take that next developmental step forward. Reports of Hughes’ improved change shouldn’t just be taken for granted, I think the Yanks know of his desire to start and have used that motivation to make him a better pitcher. It’s smart to do it now, in the heat and fog of the regular season it’s much harder for a player to focus on these things.
I’m not saying the Yanks deserve all the credit for the players performance(s) but I do think they deserve some. When you see players taking a step forward in this context, it’s something you have to consider. Look at this Joba quote from yesterday:
“I give [Girardi] a little bit of the credit, because sometimes you need a little bit of a kick in the rear,” Chamberlain said.”
The Yanks deserve praise for how they’ve run this camp. Many other teams are just going through the motions, getting in shape for the season. The Yanks are using this time to maximize every asset they have, and the 5th starter competition is part of that process. Girardi loves to set up these competitions each spring, and has often said “it brings out the best in everyone”. It sounds trite (and it is) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. To me, this is just another example of why they’re a well-run organization.