The Yankees have moved Phil Hughes to the bullpen.
He’ll probably do well there, as would Joba Chamberlain if he were
moved there. But is moving either of these guys — guys who have shown
that they can be effective starters — the right move?
The usual touchstones for this discussion are Dennis Eckersley and John
Smoltz, each of whom thrived in the pen following their conversion. And
you certainly can’t argue with their success. Eck never would have made
the Hall of Fame had he not been converted to a closer. That’s less
clear with Smoltz, but it’s certainly the case that his bullpen
exploits will be cited by many when he comes up for election in a few
But even if the move to the pen was a success for Eckersley and Smoltz on a personal level, was it good for their teams?
Dan Turkenkopf of the Hardball Times has a study up this morning
which seeks to answer that question. I recommend that you read it all
– there’s some math, but it’s not overwhelming or anything –but his
conclusion is as follows:
It’s hard to argue with the success both Smoltz and Eckersley had as
closers. It’s certainly the reason Eckersley was elected to the Hall of
Fame in his first showing on the ballot. But it’s also hard to argue
that their respective teams wouldn’t have been better off keeping them
in the rotation and garnering the same level of performance each had
proved capable of. The A’s would have been roughly two wins better per
season (1.2 for the seasons when Eckersley was at his best as a
closer), and the Braves 1.5 wins.
Now it might not have mattered that much, or worked out that way,
had history gone differently, but the evidence suggests moving quality
starters to the bullpen is a bad idea.
Just keep that in mind the next time we see Phil Hughes pitch a single
inning of relief as opposed to six or seven innings as a starter.