The Yankees have had six starters for a couple of weeks now and it is really unnecessary with two of them pitching so poorly. So they are planning on cutting the rotation down to five starters the only problem is up until now neither Phil Hughes or A.J. Burnett have made a compelling case as to which one stays.
Despite poor performances from both of them it looks like Burnett should be the one who stays in the rotation.
It’s not because of last night’s start, or I should say it’s not just because of last night’s start, 5.1 innings of two-run ball doesn’t make up for a July and August where he had a 7.79 ERA in 10 starts. The reason Burnett should stay in the rotation is because of the reason each of them struggles.
Burnett’s problems are that of location and command. He gets into trouble when he falls behind in the count and lays fat pitches over the plate. A move the the bullpen isn’t going to change that much. He made progress with some changes in his mechanics last night and it seems that may be the way to solve his problems, getting him right mechanically.
Hughes is a different beast. His problems seem to stem from a lack of durability and stamina more than anything else. Look at his last start on Wednesday, he came out of the gate firing 95 mph fastballs, but was down below 92 mph by his 30th pitch. By pitch no. 60 93 mph wasn’t even part of his vocabulary.
You can see it in his numbers as well. He does fairly well through his first 60 pitches, but from pitches 61-75 opponents have a .928 OPS against him and from 76-90 they have a .934 OPS against him. Ugly. It is evidence that maybe a move to the bullpen where his stuff won’t have the opportunity to drop off on him may be the best.
It would also give Hughes a chance to cut back on his poor repertoire. He is a four-pitch pitcher in name only. Yes, he technically does throw four pitches, a fastball, cutter, curveball, and changeup, however only his fastball has a positive value according to FanGraphs. A move to the bullpen would allow him to give up that silly idea that he has four competent pitches and focus on what works best for him.
Finally, there is the matter of experience. Back in 2009 both pitchers were major contributors to the pitching staff, Burnett out of the rotation as the no. 3 and Hughes as a shutdown setup man. Hughes was exciting and had a ton of movement to his pitches back then. It was a role that really suited him. In contrast, Burnett has appeared in 309 major league games and only four as a reliever. It’s not a role he knows and it might take a more than a month until the Yankees even got him comfortable coming out of the pen.
All signs point to the idea that Hughes should be in the pen, not Burnett. Not because Burnett is better than Hughes, he’s not. Hughes even has a brighter future, but in order for the Yankees to maximize the value of the two pitchers it makes sense to put them into situations that they will be the most effective. For Hughes that means a move the pen, for A.J. it means keeping him in the rotation and helping him fix his mechanics. Last night was a good start, they still have a ways to go.