In my last post I pointed out how important Mark Teixeira is to the Yankee offense. He isn’t important just because he’s a middle of the order bat who hits for power. Tex is important because the offense has had to compensate for his decline the last two years. That compensation has come from the bats of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but if they have good but not great seasons then it will be Tex’s turn to compensate for them. He is important because he represents an x-factor to the team’s offense, one that can ease pressure on the other players.
If Mark Teixeira is that player on the offense, then Phil Hughes is his equivalent for the pitching staff. Hughes gets a lot of praise for his 2010 season (“this guy was an All Star” is something Michael Kay says often) but the truth is that he had a great first half and never posted a FIP below 4.30 after June. Combine that with his execrable 2011 and Hughes has had a season and a half of bad baseball.
Despite this, Hughes always shows flashes of brilliance. His August 13th start versus Tampa Bay and his August 19th start versus Minnesota both come to mind. He was dominant, allowing just 3 runs over 13.2 innings in a two game stretch that reminded everyone why Hughes’ potential is so tantalizing. When he harnesses his full potential he is as dominant as any young pitcher in the league. His inability to harness that potential on a regular basis (to say the least) is what holds him back.
If a resurgent Mark Teixeira could be the difference maker in the Yankees 2012 season then a Phil Hughes who has figured it out could be the difference maker in 2012 and beyond. The Yankees are trying to put together the rotation for the next five years. CC Sabathia will serve as its anchor, and the Bombers want nothing more than to follow him with a bevvy of young talent. Michael Pineda is most likely to be the Ace in waiting, while Ivan Nova is one more solid season away from being looked upon as a safe bet to be in the middle of the rotation. Knowing that Phil Hughes can be counted upon to give the Yankees 200 innings of quality baseball for each of the next couple of seasons will not only give the Yankees a solid rotation one through five this season, but will also ease pressure off the organization to have both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances pan out as starters, something that remains unlikely with young.
This is why the Yankees will do everything short of intentionally injuring Freddy Garcia to give Phil Hughes the opportunity to win the fifth starter’s job coming out of spring training. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hughes gets the job regardless of how he pitches. He represents tremendous upside for the Yankee rotation for the next three years. If Hughes can step up and repeat his 2010 performance, but do so with a more consistent season, he will be making a lasting contribution to the Yankees in 2012 and beyond.
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