The Joba Debate

At just 23 years of age, Joba Chamberlain has already proven himself to be an incredibly dominating force. In 124.1 big-league innings, the Nebraska native has posted a 2.49 FIP exceeded by a 2.17 ERA. He has been fanning batters at a rate of 11 per nine innings while keeping his BB/9 right around 3.2. Despite these gaudy numbers, where he belongs is actually discussed much more than what he has done.

The Joba camp is split: some want him in the rotation while others feel he best serves the team in a setup man capacity. As RJ showed not too long ago, outside of closers, most other relievers simply are not worth that many wins. Ryan Madson had a very solid season and produced no more than +1.3 wins. It’s tough to surpass the production of Hong-Chih Kuo, and he managed +2.4 wins.

Last season, Kuo posted a 2.28 FIP in 80 innings. Is Joba’s projection as a reliever really that much better than Kuo’s 2008 performance, even with the added leverage taken into account? Unless the level of important in his innings are absolutely off the charts, I cannot see Joba as anything north of +2.6 wins as a reliever.

For his best utilization to come as a reliever, his projection as a starter would need to be below that output. The projections on our site are quite low for Joba, but a compromise of 150 IP at a 3.68 FIPRA, in his 9.35 run environment, pegs him at +3.8 wins. In other words, if he suffers a vast decline in FIP with the added workload, Chamberlain still ends up over a full win more productive as a member of the rotation.

How would he produce below +2.6 wins as a starter in 150 IP? He would need approximately a 4.40 FIPRA in 150 innings, which translates to a 4.10 FIP, to be exactly +2.6 wins. Basically, the only way it makes any sense to use him out of the bullpen is if the Yankees think Chamberlain can really surpass Kuo’s 2008 season or if, for whatever reason, they feel his numbers will sharply dropoff to a 4.10 FIP. In other words, it would take an awful lot for his usage in the bullpen to make sense.

Just like Johan Santana in 2003, Joba is much too good to be used as a one-inning reliever. If he fails as a starter, fine, put him in during the eighth inning, but do not waste the electric stuff of this 23-yr old phenom without at least trying.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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