The myth of the 5th starter

This is not another post about why Joba should be a starter (well, I guess it kind-of is, but whatever).  It’s just that I was listening to the radio – always dangerous – and heard the following rationale regarding Joba to the bullpen: Hughes might not be great and might be inconsistent, but he’s fine for a #5, so they should move Joba.

Somewhere along the line, everyone has become far too preoccupied with a pitcher’s place within the rotation.  For the past few years, Yankees fans have lamented that Wang is not a “true #1.”  By definition, a #1 would be one of the 30 best starters in baseball, which clearly Wang has indeed been over the past couple seasons.  But we collectively have this ideal in our minds of a flame-throwing, unbeatable ace.

Well, it seems to work the other way when it comes to a 5th starter.  People can talk themselves into anyone being a 5th starter.  His fastball only hits 82?  Whatever, he’s the 5th starter.  He’s 45 years old and weighs 400 lbs?  Whatever, 5th starter.  He pitches while on crutches because he has two broken legs?  Just make him the #5!  His name is Dontrelle Willis?  Slot him in at 5! And so on.

None of this makes any sense.  Labeling someone as a 1 through 5 is really only useful for scouts.  When you construct a baseball team, your 5 best starters should start.  It doesn’t really matter what order they pitch in anyways.  Saying Joba should be in the bullpen because the Yanks have someone else “good enough to be a 5,” is essentially conceding that on some days you won’t have your best possible team playing.

On any given day, your starter is the most important player in determining if you win.  Don’t you want to win as many games as possible?  Isn’t that what this is all about?

The Yankees get this, which is why Hughes is going to the pen while Wang starts tomorrow.  Hughes is going to be a great pitcher; I have complete faith in that.  But right now, he’s clearly the worst starter in the rotation and his innings will need to be limited at some point anyways.  But he’ll certainly get his chance to start again, and my bet is it will be pretty soon.


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