Overrated: The Yankee 5th Starter Battle

Joel Sherman in the Post today writes about Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, trying to restart all of the Joba-t0-the-bullpen nonsense as well as the Joba versus Hughes discussion.

This shouldn’t even be a debate.  Not the “should Joba be a reliever” stuff; I’ve been over that so many times, that I can’t possibly rehash it all again.  Joba and Hughes should be starters until they prove they can’t be.  And one mediocre year from Joba at age 23 does NOT mean he can’t be a starter.

So I know the question that follows: “Who should be the 5th starter then?  There’s only room for one of them!”

If you truly believe that, then you haven’t been paying attention.

Name me the last time a team went through a season using only 5 starters.  Trust me, it’s been awhile.

I imagine Joba will be a starter and Hughes will either relieve or pitch in Triple-A, but either way, I can promise you the Yankees will be able to find another 10-15 starts for someone along the way.  Just ask Chien-Ming Wang.

Sherman can talk about Joba’s confidence out of the bullpen all he wants (a “strutting fire-breather” during the postseason?  Are you serious?) but that’s just a bunch of media-created garbage.  Chamberlain struggled the last 2 months of the season to locate his fastball and get ahead of hitters (not coincidentally, he was pitching the most innings of his life).  In shorter doses out of the bullpen, after a lot of rest, he pitched better (though he was not exactly dominant, either).

Sherman and others like to refer to the 5th starter spot like it’s not important (does every 5th game not count?) but the whole 1st starter to 5th starter progression is just a label.  Bottom line is you want to have the best starter out there every day you can.

What’s not that important is having all of your starters and bullpen guys set by April.  It’s a long season and there will be plenty of time to get both Joba and Hughes their innings and give them the opportunity to develop into the front-line starters they have the potential to be.

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8 Responses to Overrated: The Yankee 5th Starter Battle

  1. Jeffrey says:

    With the light scedule at the beginning of the year unless there is an injury it would seem that both will be doing some work in the bullpen as the 5th starter is not really needed until late May or June. I do not believe that Mitre has any chance to make the team or that Guaudin has any chance to be anything but a long reliever. And Gaudin is probably untradeable due to his suckiness and his salary.

    And no way does Hughes make it back to AAA for any period of time unless for an injury rehab.

  2. nyyank55 says:

    I still can’t understand what the issue is here. Why is Hughes even being considered for the 5th spot? Chamberlain IMO is best suited for the bullpen. However, the “JOBA RULES” are no longer in effect this year. Gone are the innings limitations. He is now a starter, end of discussion. Hughes, on the other hand, if inserted in the rotation, would be closely watched and limited to the amount of innings or pitches that he would be allowed to throw simply because he was not stretched out and groomed as a starter last year. Besides, how can anyone argue with the success and confidence he showed coming out of the bullpen last season?
    They can say what they want about competition for the 5th spot but I don’t think Hughes is being realistically considered and rightfully so. It will be between Chamberlain, Gaudin, and Mitre. Aceves proved to be too valuable out of the pen to be considered in the mix as well. I give the nod to Chamberlain with either Mitre or Gaudin to be traded. More than likely Gaudin because of his salary.

  3. I can’t help but think that, in addition to maybe really wanting to give Hughes et al. a shot for the fifth spot in the rotation, the Yankees also may feel the need to motivate Joba. So much of the talk in the last couple months last season centered around a perception that Joba lacked focus and some mental discipline with the changes in his pitching routine.

    Personally, a few things are worth remembering. Brian is right about his pitching more innings. Also, Joba could well learn to work better with Jorge, Cervelli, and the catching staff as a whole. It doesn’t just seem to be his aggressiveness, but his falling in love with his slider, that have at times cost him–see Game 4 of the World Series, when he blew away Werth and Ibanez with fastballs and got ahead of Feliz, only to get to 3-2 because of his slider fetish, and coughed up the game-tying homer. That is, he needs to develop a feel for what’s needed at points in the game, and relying on experienced catchers such as Posada is crucial for that.

    So is patience, for Joba is still young. Agreed on Aceves, nyyank, but I personally would prefer to see Gaudin than Meat Tray. Gaudin wasn’t bad last year for a late-season pick-up who had spells of inactivity.

  4. When was Joba a “strutting fire-breather” in the pen last season? I still remember him struggling with consistency even in the pen.

  5. “I can promise you the Yankees will be able to find another 10-15 starts for someone along the way. Just ask Chien-Ming Wang.”

    I disagree.

    Wang was coming off surgery – of course he’s going to be injury prone.

    Also, the 2005 White Sox only used six starters – Brandon McCarthy made 10. And that’s because they had four very durable starters. You seem to be waiting for One of the “big four” to go down with injury for a long period of time. That is not a very safe promise.

    Sabathia – is there any pitcher more durable than him?
    Vazquez – he might be the runner-up to CC.
    Pettitte – he’s aging, but he’s made 32 starts for the past five years.
    Burnett – he does have a history of injuries, but he’s looked pretty sturdy the past two years.

    I’m not saying a five-man rotation is definitely going to happen this year, but I’m saying the Yankees have a good shot at duplicating the success fo the ’05 White Sox (World Series champs).

    • Brian Burkhart says:

      Your example actually proves the opposite point. The White Sox that year had a historically stable rotation and STILL found 10 starts for a 6th starter. The other great example of an amazingly healthy rotation is the Rays in '08, who only used their 6th starter for 9 starts (both teams went to the World Series of course – funny how that works). So the Yankees would essentially have to do what no team in the modern era has ever done to not find Hughes a handful of starts.

      It's also worth noting how important it is to run a good starter out there everyday. Cashman clearly plans for injuries at this point and wants 6 good starters (and decent options in Aceves, Mitre, and Guadin) to make sure he's never searching for the Aaron Smalls of the world again.

    • You’re really arguing that it’s unlikely that a 6th starter won’t make at least 10-15 starts? And you are basing this off of the fact that one team 5 years ago did it? Wow.

  6. I think you’re right about Cashman’s intentions, Brian. Small and Chacon were great in 2005, but expecting lightning to strike again like that is asking way too much. What a difference between 2008 and 2009 regarding starting pitching and the way wins piled up last year as a result. The Yanks simply didn’t have protracted losing streaks, and just ran away with it as the second half wound on. Steady and healthy pitching was huge.