Looking at the Yankees' roster it is understandable how the name Phil Hughes could get lost in the mix. Jeter and Teixeira will both make claims to the MVP at the end of this season, and CC Sabathia and his league-leading 16 wins could make an outside case for the Cy Young award. Throw in the aforementioned "greatest closer of all time" and it may seem hard to make the case that a setup man could possibly be notable amongst such an overwhelming cache of talent.
But the statistics are clear; Phil Hughes is arguably the best setup man in baseball today. Girardi's brilliant decision to move Phil into this role — and most importantly — to keep him there despite the Yankees' continuing difficulties finding a viable fifth starter, has now given New York a consistent and effective structure by which to shorten the span in which an opponent can feasibly beat the team. With the Yankees potent offense and strong starting rotation, the Hughes/Rivera connection has been vitally crucial for a team that has made a habit out of the late-inning come-from-behind win.
Especially important come playoff time, hitters go into slumps and even the top aces in the game occasionally have bad starts, but in Phil Hughes the Yankees now know that if they can keep a ball game close into the eighth inning, they will have every opportunity to win that game without the opposition scoring further. If the tendency is to underestimate the importance of this factor, reference the Yankees' teams 1996 to 2001. Even after Rivera assumed the closer role and Wetteland packed off to Texas, players like Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, and Ramiro Mendoza were crucial to the success of those Torre-led championship teams, and Phil Hughes is much better than any of the players who formerly manned the setup role in front of Rivera.