Symposium: Joba In the Rotation Part 2

Tim, Tim, Tim. I think you’ve been listening to a little too much Mike Francesa. You seem to have bought into the “Joba isn’t a very good starter” line of thinking.

But even the stats you cite (thanks for showing me up, by the way) prove otherwise. A 3.19 ERA is very good. Is it phenomenal? No, but it’s pretty impressive. Johan Santana’s career ERA: 3.06. CC Sabathia’s: 3.65. Roy Halladay’s: 3.48. Do you want to move those guys to the bullpen? I bet they would be pretty awesome set-up men. Joba has certainly had some rough patches and some bad starts, but the idea that he hasn’t proven that he is capable of being a brilliant starter is a little misguided:

June 1st, 2009 at Cleveland: 8 IP 4 H 2 ER 2 BB 5 SO

April 29th, 2009 at Detroit:  7 IP 3 H 1 ER 3 BB 6 SO

July 25th, 2008 at Boston: 7 IP 3 H 0 ER 1 BB 9 SO

June 25th, 2008 at Pittsburgh: 6.2 IP 6 H 0 ER 1 BB 7 SO

(maybe someone should make the argument that he should only start road games)

Those are some impressive lines for a 23 year old with 22 career starts. Granted, it’s a small, selected sample size, but it demonstrates what he is capable of. 

Now, as for your argument about the Yankees being better now with Joba as the eighth inning guy, I concede that it is a better argument, but still not a good one. You suggest replacing Joba with a “serviceable” Phil Hughes or Chien-Ming Wang (by the way, Wang has his work cut out for him to meet your still-liberal definition of “serviceable”). I simply don’t agree that replacing a potential ace-caliber starter with a “serviceable” one in exchange for one good inning later in the game is a good trade-off.

Right now, the Yankees don’t have a dominant set-up man, but they have still managed to win 17 of 22. At this point in 2007 no dominant set-up man had emerged yet, either. They brought up Chamberlain because he was approaching his innings limit in the minors (as a starter) and it paid dividends. Right now they have Mark Melancon, Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson, Phil Coke and a bunch of guys I have yet to hear of in the minors waiting to fill that role. Or maybe Brian Bruney or Damaso Marte will come back from injury and be effective for a few months. Or maybe Jose Veras learns how to pitch (ok, I’m not counting on that one). If ALL of those guys fail, then they can look to pick someone up as a free agent or via trade. Any one of these options is better than sacrificing a long-term ace for a short-term stopgap solution.

Joba is still young and still a work in progress. If you move him to the bullpen to cover a need for a few months, you hurt his long-term development. He needs to build arm strength and develop a routine so he can consistently pitch deep into games and stop struggling in the first inning. Plus, there is no guarantee that he’ll be as effective in the bullpen this year. That hitters hit 182 points better off Joba in the first inning than in innings 2-9 doesn’t bode well for a guy in a one-inning role. He has altered his pitching style to be more economical, by pitching to contact and mixing in more breaking pitches (he actually pitches MUCH better AFTER his first 50 pitches). You can’t be sure that he can automatically undo that, but you can be confident that asking him to will impede his progress as a starter. Basically the potential risk (you hurt your rotation in the short-term, you hurt your future ace in the long-term) vastly exceeds the potential reward (you have a dominant set-up man for a few months).

Other points you brought up: 1) The postseason—In the playoffs, yes, things will be different and maybe you move him to the bullpen for a few weeks when you don’t need five starters, but I would predict New York’s playoff rotation will be CC, Joba, Pettitte, Burnett, in that order.

2) Yes, throwing 200 innings is rare. You have to be an elite pitcher to do it. I am arguing that Chamberlain is in the process of becoming one. Cutting off his innings this year, though, would keep him from developing his arm strength for the long-term. If he throws 150 innings this year, he can throw 175 next year and 200 the year after that.

3) I don’t really understand your last point. You insist that Chamberlain is set-up man, which you say is NOT middle relief (I’d always considered everything other than closer to be middle relief, but we can use your terminology, it’s more nuanced). You then deny my point that middle relief is overrated, saying instead that LATE relief is overrated…except that, presumably, is what Joba is, if not middle relief. You may be right in this part of your argument, but I don’t see how it helps your cause.

In summation: Starting pitchers are more valuable than relief pitchers. You quibble with my “middle relief is overrated” claim, but you concede the overall point. Joba Chamberlain is a very good starter and is on his way to becoming an excellent one. Should the Yankees make their rotation significantly weaker and jeopardize their future ace’s development so he can do a job that Aceves/Robertson/Coke/Brett Tomko have done well enough for the team to win 17 of 22? I think not.

3 responses to this post.

  1. […] rotation, I countered that it was a smarter move for the Yankees to move him to the bullpen, John disagreed, and now I disagree with him […]


  2. […] hardly discussed the bullpen of any team thus far. The reason is that my bullpen philosophy—as I’ve noted before—is that relief pitching is basically a crapshoot and that trying to predict how it will perform […]


  3. […] for error: I don’t really approve of Alexi Ogando starting the season in the bullpen (since pitchers should start if they are good enough), but he can move back to the rotation if any of the starting five don’t work […]


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