After a horrid spring for Joba Chamberlain in which he posted a whopping 16.20 ERA in only 6.2 innings pitched, Phil Hughes has been named the Yankees' official fifth starter. While names like Sergio Mitre, Alfredo Aceves and the recently released Chad Gaudin were thrown around as candidates for the slot, in reality it was always only a two-horse race. And Phil Hughes has apparently proved himself the thoroughbred as far as starting pitching for the New York Yankees goes.
But did Yankees manager Joe Girardi make the right decision, and what are the repercussions if he didn't? On the surface the answer to the former seems to be a "yes." Chamberlain, after utterly dominating opponents as a sensational reliever in 2007 and parts of 2008, never settled in as a starter. His 4.75 ERA in '09 is troubling enough but his increase in WHIP (1.26 to 1.54) and BB/9 (3.5 to 4.3) and his massive decrease in K/9 (10.6 to 7.6) in one season are strong indicators that Joba isn't equipped for a starting role. Throw in his 167 hits surrendered in 157 1/3 innings (the first time his hits allowed have ever exceeded his innings pitched), and all indicators support the logic of moving Joba back to 'pen where he can dial up his 100 mph fastball, is never forced to see the same hitter twice, and has had his most success.
But Phil Hughes has also consistently struggled as a starter, even while dominating during his own tenure in the setup role. After a solid but truncated 2007 rookie campaign (72 1/3 innings over 13 starts), Hughes was shelled all the way back to AAA in 2008 and proved highly ineffective as a starter once again to open the 2009 season.
While his final stats — an 8-3 record/18 holds/3.03 ERA — look very good, and his 1.16 WHIP, 10 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9 ratios are absolutely stellar, these stats are padded heavily by Hughes' work coming out of the bullpen. In his most embarrassing start of 2009 (and likely of his career), Phil was shelled by the lowly (and eventual last place) Baltimore Orioles on May 9, surrendering eight runs on eight hits in only an inning and a third. While Hughes did have the occasional solid start, he has far from proven himself better than Chamberlain when it comes to starting a ball game, at least in the regular season.