We were planning on writing this anyway, but with Mo gone, the calls for Hughes to the bullpen will likely intensify…

Last year at this time, there was much anxiety about Nick Swisher’s slow start. Despite carrying a .292 wOBA well into May, we assured you that all was well with Swish. He proceeded to go on a long tear (.460 wOBA in June, .389 in July, .402 in August) and finished with a healthy .358 wOBA on the year.

This time around, it’s Phil Hughes facing the brunt of the hysteria. Here’s Ken Davidoff, after Hughes’ second start:

When the ultra-careful Joe Girardi says, “We’re going to have to make an evaluation” of his starting rotation, as the manager did yesterday morning, then you know job security isn’t at a premium here…

…Something’s got to give. And Hughes, two starts into what was supposed to be his rebound season, is giving up way too much to the opposition. After getting hammered by the Angels for six runs, eight hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings, the 25-year-old owns a 9.00 ERA in eight innings over two starts.

And the NY Times after his fifth start:

Hughes still was not good enough to win… [He] allowed four runs and four hits, including two home runs, in five and two-thirds innings.

And now ESPN tells us Hughes shouldn’t count on being in the rotation much longer:

With Andy Pettitte probably a little more than a week away and rookie David Phelps making his starting debut on Thursday in Kansas City, Hughes did not do much to firm up his grip on the No. 5 spot.

If Phelps is lights-out against the Royals, the rookie is not going earn another start? If Phelps pitches well, then Hughes might be taking his reborn “reliever mentality” to the bullpen or perhaps — but probably not — as far as Triple-A.

High ERA! Only One Wins!! Triple A!!!

Okay, let’s just take a deep breath. Yes, Hughes is 1-4 with a U-G-L-Y 7.48 ERA. But he’s got a solid alibi: a trifecta of bad luck with a .328 BABIP, 56.7% strand rate, and a 19.4% HR/FB rate.

Fact is, Phil Hughes is striking out 9.55 batters per nine, good for 13th-best among all MLB starters (min. 20 IP). His walk rate is a respectable 2.91 per 9, and his line drive rate represents one of the lowest of his career at 17.1%. Furthermore, he’s done all of this against above-average competition including the Rangers, Rays, and Orioles (2nd, 6th, and 8th in team wOBA).

There is one caveat with Hughes: his perennially high flyball rate combined with Yankee Stadium means he will give up his fair share of home runs. At this point, it appears that this who he is, and he will not be the ace the Yankees thought they had.

At minimum though, his peripherals show he can be a very effective back-end starter, and they also provide some hope that he can be a #3 guy. Again, the strikeouts are there and the crazy-low stand rate (9th-lowest in MLB) is really juicing his ERA.

With Pineda going down, the Yankees need to maximize Hughes’ upside by giving him every chance to fulfill his potential as a starter. That potential means he should remain ahead of Phelps in the rotation pecking order. And there’s simply no way he should be wasted in Triple-A.