With Sergio Mitre pitching tonight and Chien-Ming Wang suffering a setback, the question flitting around Yankees Universe is whether the Yankees would be better served by having Phil Hughes move back to the rotation. While many like myself believe that a starter is almost always more valuable than a reliever, this is not a slam dunk decision. Let us look at the numbers (Disclaimer: If my numbers are off, feel free to tell me why in the comments).
Phil Hughes thus far as a starter, in 34.2 innings as a starter, has been worth 2.1 runs above replacement, or RAR. As a reliever, in 21.1 innings, he has a RAR of 7.4. What this means is that he has been 3 times as valuable as a reliever than a starter thus far, despite a lesser number of innings. While he is likely to get a bit worse as a reliever and was showing some solid signs of improvement as a starter, this is a pretty stark difference.
Now, let us make some assumptions to try and determine what his value might be in each role going forward. Hughes at his current pace is likely to pitch about 35 innings in relief the rest of the way, and would likely get maximum 80 innings in the rotation. Extrapolating what he has done thus far would mean 5 RAR as a starter and close to 13 as a reliever. Rather than just assume the same level of performance, I am going to pick three players in each role whose stats Hughes might be expected to reproduce, to get an idea of the possible value he might have. All the starters are at about 80 IP, and the relievers at 35 innings or so. Because RAR is a context driven stat, this is really only giving us a rough estimate, but it should be sufficient to make our point.
Randy Wells: 3.00 ERA, 18 RAR
Jake Peavy: 3.97 ERA, 17.6 RAR
Glen Perkins: 4.75 ERA, 15.2 RAR
Joe Nathan: 1.24 ERA, 15.2 RAR
Manny Delcarmen, 2.31 ERA, 6.2 RAR
Octavio Dotel: 3.28 ERA, 5.1 RAR
As I said above, this is a very inexact science, but it gives us a rough approximation of what Hughes’ value might be for the remainder of 2009 in either role. What have we learned thus far?
1) If Hughes retains his current level of performance in both roles, he is more valuable as a reliever.
2) If he pitches decently as a starter and slightly worse than he currently is as a reliever, he is more valuable as a starter by a bit.
3) If he pitches really well as a starter, he could be Joe Nathan and he would still probably be more valuable as a starter.
Now, this is all without applying context. Let us now apply what e have found to the Yankees’ reality. Unless Brian Cashman makes a trade, I would guess that the choice the Yankees have is to have Mitre in the rotation and Hughes in the bullpen, or Hughes in the rotation and keep Tomko in the bullpen once Marte returns, or put Hughes in the rotation and call up Melancon. Let us compare three scenarios in terms of RAR.
Scenario 1: Hughes in rotation, Tomko in pen
Hughes: Let’s peg him for about 13 RAR, just because I hate to make major assumptions about improvements.
Tomko: In his last 35 innings of relief work, he is at -5.3 RAR.
Total RAR: 7.7
Scenario 2: Hughes in Rotation, Melancon in Pen
Hughes: 13 RAR
Melancon: I would say that Robertson’s 2008 is a fair comp. 3.4 RAR.
Total RAR: 16.4 RAR
Scenario 3: Mitre In Rotation, Hughes In Pen
Hughes: He is likely to get hit eventually, and expecting Joe Nathan from him is a bit much. I would peg him at about 9.5 RAR.
Mitre: A decent comp would be Rich Harden: 5.06 ERA in NL Central. RAR of 5.7.
Total RAR: 15.2 RAR
What does this say to me? Firstly, Brett Tomko needs to be off the team. Second, I would say that the numbers suggest that Hughes may be a bit more valuable to the team going forward in the rotation. However, considering that stretching him out might take some time and his excellent bullpen work seems to have buoyed the team’s confidence, this seems to be a very difficult decision.
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