As we prepare to enter spring training 2010, one of the biggest stories is going to be the competition for the 5th spot in the rotation for the 2010 season. Reportedly, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre are all in consideration for the spot. However, in my opinion it is just between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, with Joba coming in with the advantage. I know this issue has split many Yankee fans into many groups, so I’m going to break down the two pitchers making the argument for why they should be in the rotation, and then give my opinion.
Perhaps the biggest argument for Joba being in the rotation is that he is off his innings restrictions. He is finally off the “leash” and can just go out there and pitch not worrying about leaving the game after 100 pitches or 5 innings. Finally being free of the “Joba Rules” could potentially have a great affect of Chamberlain and let him pitch to his potential. If he were to be put in the bullpen now, it would essentially be rewinding his development, which is not too smart.
Another reason Joba Chamberlain should be in the rotation is that he has the arsenal of a starter. He throws a changeup, a curveball, a slider, and a fastball. The bullpen is more suited to guys who just have a fastball, and a decent second pitch. That description does not fit Joba at all. In fact Joba’s best pitch in 2009 was his slider with a 7.5 value. Chamberlain’s fastball was actually one of the worst in the majors in 2009 with a -21.0 value, but I would think that had to do a lot with him worrying about his pitch count, his innings count, and saving his arm which shouldn’t be an issue this year.
People argue that Hughes had success in the bullpen in 2009 because it caused his fastball velocity to jump which increased his confidence. Sure, his confidence did increase in the bullpen, but the velocity argument is silly. Of course his velocity increased in the bullpen, but so would any other starting pitcher’s velocity. Hughes can be successful in the rotation with a low 90s fastball, he doesn’t need to crank it up to 96 to be successful. In fact, the game in which he had the lowest velocity in 2009, was his best game of the year. I am referring to his 6th appearance of 2009, in which he threw 8 scoreless innings against the Rangers in Texas. During this game Hughes averaged about 91 mph on his fastball. The reason he was successful, was that he used he other pitches such as his cutter, his slider, and his changeup more often than usual. This shows that he can be very successful without a blazing fastball.
Just like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes has the arsenal of a starter. He throws a fastball, a cutter, a changeup, a curveball, and he used to throw a slider which he ditched in 2009 but he could bring it back. Two pitches that stand out for Hughes’ are his fastball which had a 10.9 value in 2009, and his cutter which had a 4.6 value. His curveball had a -0.5 value, but he didn’t get to throw it much too much in the bullpen. Like his curveball, Hughes did not get to throw his changeup very much in 2009 because he was in the bullpen, but he has been told by Dave Eiland that they will work on it extensively this year. “It’ll be a big focus for me this spring,” Hughes said. “I have to get used to throwing it. It may not be the most comfortable thing at first, but it’ll be a good pitch for me down the line. … Now is the time it needs to come back.”
Another reason Hughes should be in the rotation is that his innings limit is still presumably high enough to get a good year’s worth of starting from it. “Just a guess, I’d assume it’d be around 175-180 innings, but that’s pure speculation,” said Hughes. “I haven’t been told. With any young guy, there is going to be some innings consideration.” If Hughes spends another year in the bullpen it would presumably lower his innings cap and be an issue in 2011 if he is a starter.
It is a tough decision (especially since I am obsessed with Phil Hughes) but I think Joba Chamberlain should be the 5th starter in 2010. It comes down to him finally being off his innings limit, making it counterproductive to put him in the bullpen. 2011 will be Hughes time to shine in the rotation, but hopefully he gets some spot starts and many long relief outings in 2009. I’ll end this with a Joba quote, “I could win 20 games and people are still going to think I could save 50.”
Pitch data and graph via Fangraphs
Hughes’ quotes via Anthony McCarron
Chamberlain quote via Bryan Hoch