It has not been more than a few weeks since the Yankees won the 2009 World Series but already the team well known for its off season acquisitions is making a splash in the free agent market. Rumors of pursuing John Lackey, Curtis Granderson, and Roy Halladay have permeated the rumor basins. These kinds of things are nothing new to any Yankee fan who has watched the team make major moves almost every off season this decade. The big announcement that I believe has the most impact on the team, however, is not the pursuit of big name players but Brian Cashman’s statement that Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain will be starters next season (NY Daily News). My question is, why?
Hughes for the most part of the season was nothing short of spectacular in the bullpen. He became the 8th inning guy that Chamberlain was before the experiment with Joba as a starter. Hughes had a stellar 2009 campaign in the bullpen, posting an ERA of 3.03, a WHIP of 1.12, and striking out 96 while walking only 28 in 86 innings pitched. If the Yankees resign Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang returns to be at least somewhat effective then Hughes’s presence in the starting rotation would not be absolutely necessary. But, if you absolutely had to put one of them back in the rotation it would be Hughes.
Joba simply isn’t cut out to be a starter with such stringent pitching limits. When he came up in the bullpen with the Yankees he was electric, energizing, and dominant. I watched his first save as a Yankee in a meaningless game against the Blue Jays late in the season a few years ago and the crowd went wild as Joba struck out the last batter on a fastball that clocked at 100 mph. His stretch as a starter ultimately ended with him traveling back to the bullpen so the Yankees management can say what they want but he was ineffective as a starter. Their unwillingness to pitch him during the playoffs speaks to that. Mariano cannot pitch forever and Joba is a better fit for being a closer than a starter with a pitch count.
If the Yankees go and get Halladay or even John Lackey putting Joba back out in the starting rotation would not be worth it if they were still going to protect him with a pitch limit. The only way it would make sense is if they simply let him pitch until his arm got tired the way Nolan Ryan has his pitchers work for the Texas Rangers. Otherwise he needs to be left in the bullpen where he is incredibly effective.