Who is going to the the Yankees' fifth starter? Will it be Joba Chamberlain who was groomed for the position last year with the famous "Joba Rules?" Or will it be Phil Hughes, the once top prospect who was so effective last year as Rivera's setup man? To be fair to the process, we can't forget Serge Mitre, who has looked good this spring with 14 strikeouts and only three walks in fourteen innings of work. To round out the competition, thrown in also Chad Gaudin, who has seemingly blown his chances with a miserable spring and Alfredo Aceves, who doesn't possess the arms of Joba and Hughes, but seems to just have a knack for knowing what to do.
Aceves got wrecked his last outing and seems more valuable as a versatile guy who can fill any role in the bullpen as his 10-1 Draconian record last year seemed to indicate. Gaudin can look good at times (as he did in a fill-in role last year after the Yankees took him off of the Padres' hands). But in the end, for his career, Gaudin doesn't strike out enough batters and walks far too many over the long haul. A guy like that will kill you in the end.
So that leaves us with Chamberlain, Hughes and Mitre. Mitre's spring numbers are alluring. They are much more alluring than the two young guys. But they are deceiving when looking back over his career. He has never come close to 9 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, why would it suddenly happen in the spring? Well, it would happen because a lot of non-major league hitters participate in spring games while regulars do whatever it is they do in the spring.
Which opens a whole other subject that probably shouldn't be broached to muddy this post, but looking at the Yankees' spring numbers, their big four starters have had remarkably little work logged in spring games. Is that normal? Don't know. But the Fan notices in other box scores that starters are starting to log in four and five inning stints around baseball. Hope the Yankees know what they are doing.
Anyway, to get back to the topic on hand, this writer would have to dismiss Mitre. The spring numbers look like a fluke compared to his career numbers and his starts last year were just flat out scary bad to even consider. That brings us back to Chamberlain and Hughes.
Both have been quoted quite a bit over the spring about the competition. Chamberlain usually says something like, "I'll do whatever they ask me to do. I just want to help the team." Hughes on the other hand says things like: "I'll be real disappointed if I don't get the fifth starter job." Which would you rather trust the spot to then?
The Fan watched a lot of Yankee games last year on MLB.TV. Joba just isn't the same pitcher when he starts. He looks tentative. He looks like he is just trying to survive. He seems to have less control and certainly, his MPH goes down. It's like he is trying to keep it under wraps more so that he'll have more at the end. The trouble is, Joba without the big heater is hittable and he's not around at the end. Plus, he is remarkable at how fast he piles up the pitch count.
But put Joba in a one inning position, and he seems to come out smoking, both in stuff and in demeanor. There isn't any tentativeness and he has more of a "let it fly" attitude. Maybe the guy just doesn't have the head for starting. Maybe he's much more comfortable in a one inning situation.
In fairness, the same could be said for Hughes. He looked a lot better last year as a reliever than he ever did as a starter. But if you throw out his disastrous 2008 season when he and Ian Kennedy (who may become the best starter of all) were forced into the breach and fell flat due to injuries and whatever, and Hughes has performed better as a starter in his career than Joba Chamberlain. His homers per nine are better, his WHIP is better.
While fully understanding that this is hardly scientific, the Fan just believes Phil Hughes has a better makeup as a starter than Joba Chamberlain and should get a full season to see what he can do. But whichever gets the nod, one thing is certain: Both pitchers need to approach their starts with efficiency in mind. Throw more strikes, less pitches and forget nibbling around. They need to somehow figure out how to be as aggressive as starters as they are as relievers.
But the scary bottom line is that neither may ever be effective as starters. If they Yankees can be a .500 team out of whoever starts the majority of it's fifth starts, they will be fortunate.