If everyone stays healthy, the Yankees rotation will have room for only one of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. That’s obvious. Whichever doesn’t make the cut will fall back into the bullpen or go to Triple-A (though I tend to think Triple-A is unlikely simply because the bullpen impact would be too great to pass up).
When I’ve been asked to guess, I’ve guessed that Hughes will be the starter and Chamberlain the reliever, but I don’t think there’s an obvious answer. I’ve long been in the “Chamberlain should be a starter” camp, and I’m still there. I think the best thing for the Yankees is to use both Hughes and Chamberlain as starters, but there simply is not room for both of them in the New York rotation.
If one of them is going to bump to the bullpen, I prefer moving Chamberlain because his stuff plays up so well as a reliever. Hughes throws a little bit harder when he’s coming out of the bullpen, but it’s not the suddenly electric stuff we’ve seen from Chamberlain. And, frankly, I think Hughes is the better starter of the two. He has the fastball, curveball and cutter, and I believe the changeup will be a quality pitch.
Hughes would have more of an innings limit than Chamberlain, but Hughes threw 105.1 innings this year. That’s more than Chamberlain pitched in 2008. Hughes has also been stretched out to 146 in the past, which is much more than Chamberlain ever threw in the minors. If Hughes can pitch a little bit beyond the 157 innings that Chamberlain threw in 2009, I think that would be enough to make it work.
And the alternative of putting Hughes back in the bullpen would mean a fourth straight year of him pitching not much more than 100 innings. Every year that happens it becomes more and more difficult to ever make him a starter.