Joe Girardi has been left with a major dilemma after watching yet another poor performance by Phil Hughes on Monday night during a 5-2 loss that dropped the New York Yankees to 4.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL Wild Card Race.
The question at hand is whether he should leave Hughes in the rotation and risk him continuing to perform awfully with the Yankees’ playoff lives on the line, or take him out of the rotation in exchange for a younger and less experienced pitcher.
Working against Hughes is both the calendar and his general inability to win any games this season. He is 4-13 with a 4.91 ERA, and has not even won a game since July 2, going 0-6 in the process and lasting six innings or more in only three out of nine starts.
His inability to pitch deep into any games is not only hurting the team on the day he pitches, but in the subsequent days afterwards when the bullpen is still recovering from getting taxed. This is especially important as the team is now facing must-win games on a daily basis and can not afford to go into any games without their best arms being available out of the bullpen.
With Hughes coming up on free agency after the 2013 season, the Yankees do not have an emotional tie to take care of either. If he is upset with getting sent to the bullpen, the team can just decide not to offer him arbitration and wash their hands of any ties after the season.
Another factor against Hughes is that the Yankees already have a replacement in waiting in Adam Warren. Warren has been the Yankees’ long relief man throughout the 2013 season, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.69 ERA in 61 innings pitched over 25 games. His 46 percent ground ball percentage during the 2013 season is much higher than Hughes 30.7 percent, and is an indicator that Warren is a better fit in Yankee Stadium.
This is because Warren will be able to keep batters from hitting balls down the right and left field lines at Yankee Stadium, where the fences are only a measly 318 and 314 feet from home plate. With 16 out of the Yankees final 31 games coming at home, the team cannot afford to risk putting a starting pitcher on the mound that is not as good as one they have in their bullpen.
In addition to the Yankees having Warren as a better option than Hughes to start games, moving Hughes back to the bullpen could allow him to take on a role he will fill for the rest of his career. During his 49 career games out of the bullpen, he has gone 6-2 with a 1.44 ERA and posted 70 strikeouts in 56.1 innings.
When coming out of the bullpen, Hughes has looked like a different pitcher, overpowering hitters with his fastball and curveball. This seems to be because he is not as worried about holding back in order to maintain velocity throughout an entire game, and coming out of the bullpen could be the role that best fits him for the rest of his career.
Moving Hughes back to the bullpen seems to be a no-brainer at this point. The Yankees will be putting themselves in a better position to win games when his spot in the rotation comes up every fifth day by placing Warren on the mound, and Hughes will be allowing himself a chance to see if he is a better reliever than starter at this point.
And if they are not happy with each other after the season, both can walk their separate ways and know that they at least tried.