Thursday, April 30, 2009

Put That Damn Joba in the Bullpen... He's too Damn Good for the Rotation!

It's hard for me to fathom how anyone could watch Joba Chamberlain throw seven innings of one run baseball and still think he belongs in the bullpen. Isn't this exactly what the Yankees have been missing for the past six years? Haven't we had to suffer through enough starts by the likes of Sidney Ponson, Darrel Rasner or Shawn Chacon to realize that his is what the Yankees have been missing and what fans have been clamoring for for the last half-decade?

Nonetheless his solid start has failed to sway the minds of many in the sports world who believe that one good start by Phil Hughes has effectively shown that the return of Chien-Ming Wang to the rotation should be the harbinger of Joba's return to eighth inning obscurity.

Chamberlain is a starter. He has always been a starter and he has always been great as a starter. When the Yankees drafted him they saw Roger Clemens circa 1990, not Mariano Rivera that is still pitching at an elite level today. Relievers, including great closers, are merely failed starters. They are pitchers with one or two pitches who cannot survive more than once through a batting order. Chamberlain has three plus pitches: fastball (don't listen to that BS regarding his velocity... if he's still throwing 90 when it's warm out then come talk to me), slider and curveball. His change up isn't great but it is serviceable and will get better if he keeps working at it.

It seems like the worst thing the Yanks ever did for Chamberlain was ease him into the bigs and limit his innings by giving him a spot in the bullpen back in '07. The funny thing is that this is a common tactic for teams to give young starters an easy transition period into the rotation.

Case-in-point: Adam Wainwright. No one thought the Cardinals fools when they took Wainwright, a career long starter, and put him back in the rotation after he absolutely dominated as a closer during their 2006 World Series run.

Now Wainwright is a big part of that rotation and one reason why the Cards are a surprise team sitting onto of the NL Central going into May.

There are other examples too. Both Johan Santana and Fransisco Liriano started their big league careers in the pen and another recent example is David Price. I haven't heard any rumblings about the Rays throwing Price back in the closer role even though his performance there was a big reason the Rays edged out the Sox for the pennant and their current closer situation is abysmal.

The point is Chamberlain has to FAIL as a starter before you even consider him as a reliever. And guess what, when your totals in your first 16 big league starts work out to something like say 88.1 IP with 91 Ks and a 2.85 ERA, I'd say you might want to give it a couple more go rounds before you make any idiotic decisions.


Dennis said...

You are correct, that in an ideal world, Joba Chamberlain makes 30 starts a season, but I think you have oversimplified the counter-argument.

The Cubs spent years hoping Mark Prior and Kerry Wood could make 30 starts a season. At some point you have to decide that 10 good starts a season and 3 months on the DL are not a good way to go. I am not saying Chamberlain is there yet, but it is a concern.

Also, I think the Wainright situation is a fitting comparison, but in a different way. They won a WS with him in the bullpen, and that is the ultimate goal.

Let's say Hughes does perform well as a starter, and Wang returns to form as well. That leaves the Yankees with six effective starters and a crap bullpen. Doesn't it make sense to move one of those starters into the 8th inning slot, and isn't Chamberlain the best candidate for that.

Then, when the playoffs arrive, that gives the Yankees a starting 4 of Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, and Pettite, with Bruney, Chamberlain, and Riviera pitching the 7th, 8th, and 9th. Now that is scary. That is a pitching staff I don't want to face in October.

So, if Joba in the pen wins the 2009 World Series for the Yanks, then he returns to the rotation in 2010, doesn't that make a lot of sense?

Peter said...

That's a good point but don't you think that bouncing him back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen increases the likelihood that he becomes the next Mark Prior or Kerry Wood?

Plus I would argue that throwing him in the pen continues to disrupt his developement. Chamberlain needs to build his innings up in order to become a top of the rotation like starter. Throwing him in the pen will only hurt him in that regard.

I can see a scenerio where they make the playoffs, go with four starters and use him out of the pen, but barring that they need Hughes and Chamberlain to get all the work in they can as starters to get them a step closer to that 200 inning plateau.

A couple of keys to this debate are Phil Coke and Mark Melancon. If Coke keeps pitching the way he has over the past two weeks and Melancon lives up to his hype then Joba to the pen isn't that big of a deal. And of course if bruney comes back healthy that helps the situation too.

Girardi did ok last season with a Joba-less pen in the second half that has many of the same pieces as this season's bullpen. Maybe he pieces this mess together again.

Dennis said...

When Smoltz moved to the Pen he said it was because it was easier on his arm. Then when he moved back to the rotation he said he was more likely to get injured as a closer. Kerry Wood has been in the pen a few years now and he still gets injured all the time. It's just a crap shoot either way.

For me, it comes down to this. Assuming he can hold up physically, Joba is better long term as a starter. This year, the Yankees are a better team with him setting up Riviera.

Anonymous said...

I have seen Joba throw 90+ pitches in 4 innings or less on too many occasions. He may have been a starter his whole life but that wasn't in the big leagues. He has been mediocre at best, whereas he can be dominant in the eighth inning. If Joba is in the bullpen, CC doesn't even come out for the eighth inning to blow the lead against Boston on Thursday and the Yanks wouldn't be winless against the red sox so far this year.