What Will the Yankees Do with Joba?

Entering the Spring Training one of the more interesting narratives, on the face of it, was the battle between Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain for the Yankees’ fifth starter job. But all indications were that the battle was pro forma, and the job was effectively Hughes’s to lose. So yesterday’s announcement that Hughes had, in fact, won the job did not take many Yankee watchers by too much surprise. Still this leaves an interesting question: What happens to Chamberlain?

It seems the three most realistic options are: send him to AAA to work as a starter and be ready for a call up when a Yankee starter goes down with an injury; go to the pen as a long reliever so a potential transition back to the rotation is easier; or go to the pen as the 8th inning setup man to Mariano Rivera. Joe Girardi announced that Chamberlain will next pitch on Saturday and go just one inning. I am not sure how much stock one should put in that, but if anything that would indicate they are gearing Chamberlain up for option number three.

I think putting Chamberlian in the 8th inning role would be a mistake. As Joe wrote about yesterday, young pitchers need time to develop as a starter — to work on their command, secondary offerings and pacing. Chamberlain has not had that much time to work on those things as a starter, and the time as a starter has been interspersed with time in the pen. Still, Chamberlain has shown he can handle starting pitching. As a starter he has 92 innings in the minors with a FIP of 2.03, and in the majors he has 222 innings as a starter with an xFIP of 4.22.

Starters are much more valuable than relievers (last year’s most valuable reliever, Jonathan Broxton, was worth about as much as Nick Blackburn, Dallas Braden, John Danks or Brian Bannister). So if the Yankees want to get the most value out of Chamberlain — and based on the strict adherence to the “Joba Rules” it seems like they do — I think they would be wise to send him to AAA to keep working as a starter. Long term this helps his development as a stater and even short term it gives the Yankees a very good option when one of their starters goes down with an injury.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


38 Responses to “What Will the Yankees Do with Joba?”

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  1. The A Team says:

    Be careful putting John Danks in the same sentence as Nick Blackburn and Brian Bannister. White Sox fans will lynch you.

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  2. Facebook Status says:

    As a Yankee fan, option 2 would be fine with me. However, with the idiocy that is the MSM in this town, I fear that the temptation to bump him to the all mighty “8th inning guy” will be too great. Sigh…

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  3. Zack says:

    “As a starter he has 92 innings in the minors with a FIP of 2.03 and in the majors he has 222 innings as a starter with an xFIP of 4.22. ”

    Just wanted to repeat that before this gets filled with “he sucks”, “he cant start”, etc.

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    • Tom B says:

      Apparently they have learned from their ’08 mistake of trying to roll into the season with 2 young pitchers. I think long relief would be the best thing for him, keeps him semi stretched and forces him to use “more pitches” than an 8th inning setup role. The major league confidence Hughes got out of the bullpen was amazing to watch last season, and Joba needs it.

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      • Zack says:

        “The major league confidence Hughes got out of the bullpen was amazing to watch last season, and Joba needs it.”

        Joba just needs to be allowed to pitch. He has no innings limit, no Joba rules- oh and he’s been a better starter than Hughes (SSS yes but it’s all we have). As the numbers show, he’s been a quality starter in the AL East being < 24 years old.

        If they just shut him down at his innings limit (like would have happened in any other scenario) his numbers would be better because he wouldnt be limited to 3-4 inning starts, where giving up 2 runs in 1 inning messes up your overall stats because there is no room to make up for it with having 3 more innings like a normal start would.

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      • Raf says:

        I don’t think the “’08 mistake” factored into it, as they were looking for league average performances out of the last 2 spots in their rotation back then (and now, if you think about it). It seems the timing of moving Chamberlain back to the bullpen is odd in that he’s already “stretched” to start; this was supposed to be the year that he didn’t have any inning restrictions.

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  4. I don’t know what everyone else saw last year, but when Joba started, I saw the makings of a great starting pitcher. When Phil Hughes has started… outside of that one game in Texas way back in 07, I haven’t felt that way. On the other hand, if he has the change up working now that he had going that day in Texas, well, thats another story entirely. It was almost like a screwball or something – the lefties were totally over matched

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  5. Dave says:

    Any chance the Mets brass sees how badly the Yankees are screwing up Joba’s development and send Mejia to the minors? I guy can dream.

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    • Andy says:

      Or knowing the Mets, they see the screw up as more of a reason to send Mejia to the 8th inning, where Joba excelled two years ago. Be careful what you wish for!

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  6. Pat says:

    Such a poor decision. Get ready for Hughes Rules.

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    • Tom B says:

      this is the best you could come up with? the yankees don’t need a 5th starter til the end of april, and his limit is like 170-180 innings. unless he starts pitching into the 8th inning all season, that gives him 25-30 starts.

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      • Zack says:

        That depends how you look at it. His career high in innings came in 2006- 146 IP, but since then:

        2007- 109 IP
        2008- 70 IP
        2009- 105 IP

        So you’re comfortable giving him 170-180 IP this year?

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  7. Rob in CT says:

    The main issue, for me, is Joba’s stuff. He had great stuff as a reliever in 2007. He had great stuff as a starter in 2008, at least until the shoulder injury he suffered down in Texas.

    He had good, but not the same, stuff in 2009, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Outside of one start (in Cleveland, I believe), I never say his “A” stuff. He lost mph on the fastball and bite on the slider. His curve was coming along well, I thought.

    Is it a conditioning issue? Is it mental? Is it a lingering shoulder injury going back to mid-08? I have no idea. If/when I see his stuff come back, I’ll be all sorts of fired up for the Yankees to put him back in the rotation (where I think he belongs). Until such time, however, I can’t get too upset about him being in AAA or the bullpen.

    As for Hughes, my expectations are modest (I’ve learned some things since 2008). I just want him to stay healthy and post an ERA of 4.75 or better (basically, what Joba did last year as the 4th starter). Baby steps.

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    • Rob in CT says:

      Bah, typo. say = saw.

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    • Whartonite says:

      I seem to recall Joba specifically saying that he intended not to throw as hard as a starter because he felt the need to pace himself. When you go from 98-100 to 91-93, though… you’re losing one of your major weapons. In fact, he loses two of them, considering I think the speed differential between that fastball and his 87ish-mph slider was crucial for him. He needs to do whatever he can to throw harder.

      Before I read this article, I had never actually checked his FIP/xFIP numbers, even though I knew he was good in the minors. Seeing that, I think the first option, which I hadn’t even really considered, may be the best. I still think that WAR slightly understates the value of relievers because of context, but regardless, I think I just became a proponent of sending him to AAA.

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  8. Melkmizzle says:

    He really should go to the minors and continue to be a starter. Obviously the fact that Broxton’s value is similar to Bannister’s says alot, but the fact that the Yankees have some interesting “8th inning guy” candidates should make the decision easier. Robertson was more than impressive last postseason, as was Marte. Melancon for years has been touted as a shut down late innings reliever. God forbid Burnett goes down again with an arm injury, am I looking at Mitre in the rotation when I could have had Joba? Doesn’t sit well with me at all.

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  9. Omar says:

    Not for nothing, he looked HORRIBLE last year towards the end of the season.

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    • Zack says:

      True; but he also pitched a career high in innings (fatigue) and they were only allowing him to go 3-4 innings so if he has a bad inning he doesnt have any innings to get in a groove and turn the game into a quality outing.

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      • yungmuneyholla wat it dew says:

        ‘if he has a bad inning he doesnt have any innings to get in a groove and turn the game into a quality outing”

        or he wasn’t given the opportunity to go back out there and get shelled, your argument is retarded

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      • Zack says:

        So every pitcher who gives up runs before the 3rd inning should be replaced? Every pitcher has bad innings, make any young pitcher only throw 3-4 innings and I’m sure you’ll find many 3 IP, 3-4 R games.

        Can you have a dicussion on a blog without using personal attacks?

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      • CaseyB says:

        “…they were only allowing him to go 3-4 innings so if he has a bad inning he doesnt have any innings to get in a groove and turn the game into a quality outing.”

        Ahhh, a Yankee fan and homer. That ranks right up there with trying to equate Lidge’s triple-whammny surgical winter (flexor tendon, bone chips, knee) with Johan’s surgery to remove chips.

        Next time I see one one of your criticisms of the Mets I’ll know to take it with a big grain of salt!

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      • Zack says:

        CaseyB- Did you have anything to add to this discussion about Joba?

        You can call me a homer all you want, you’re the one who claimed Kawakami/Lowe are question marks equal to Perez/Maine, and use ERA to say that Hamels regressed last year.

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      • Reuben says:

        I think the point he’s making is that every pitcher has bad innings, and if you’re only allowed to pitch 3-4 innings per game when those bad innings come up, it’s likely going to look worse on a per game basis.

        No?

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      • CaseyB says:

        “Did you have anything to add to this discussion about Joba?”

        Yes, I agree with yungmuney that your argument sounds ridiculously silly and that more likely, Joba might have gotten bombed (or injured) if allowed to pitch deeper into games. Your argument is that if he had been allowed to do so, he would have fared better. However, a look at his record last year as a starter paints a different picture — that of someone who got into high pitch counts and trouble early in games and was struggling. IF the Yankees had allowed a 23-year-old pitcher to extend his pitch counts in those games it would have been irresponsible given the limited number of innings he pitched the year before.

        Here are his starts and pitch counts last year in which he went no more than 5 innings. I only looked at games before August 30th because it’s clear the Yankees started to use him differently from that point on:

        DATE – IP – PITCHES
        4/17 – 4.2 – 93
        5/26 – 4.0 – 84
        6/12 – 4.0 – 100
        7/5 – 3.2 – 86
        7/10 – 4.1 – 94
        8/6 – 5.0 – 108
        8/16 – 5.0 – 90
        8/25 – 4.0 – 96

        Further, he was able to complete the 6th inning in only 13 of his 31 starts last season. That’s pretty poor, especially in the AL on a team with a lot of offense. So if he was limited by Girardi last year, it’s clear it was because of Joba’s own doing — his high pitch counts.

        I think it’s clear the Yankees are basing part of their decision on just that — Joba’s inability to pitch economically and his poor record as a starter in 2009. The problem is, they already messed him up by yanking him in and out of the pen and giving him the false impression he had a good shot at the rotation this year. I think the Yankees are right in putting him in the pen but the damage has already been done. I hope the Mets don’t make those same mistakes with Mejia — that is, they should decide early on what he is and then stick with it for awhile.

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      • CaseyB says:

        “You can call me a homer all you want, you’re the one who claimed Kawakami/Lowe are question marks equal to Perez/Maine, and use ERA to say that Hamels regressed last year.”

        Yes, I believe with their advanced age and recent track record, they are just as questionable as Perez/Maine in terms of being able to pitch a complete season with decent results.

        As for Hamels, it’s not just ERA which got worse last year, but his WHIP, IPs, IPs/game, and pitches/game. There are still many who believe in and use ERA and WHIP — even the people who write for this website. But you’re not going to find anyone who would say removal of elbow chips is as serious as someone getting a flexor tendon, knee and elbow chips fixed all in one winter. And the proof is in the pudding — Lidge is still MIA from spring training.

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      • George says:

        Have fun in third place..

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  10. PhD Brian says:

    The Yankees will win 100+ regardless of what they do with Joba. Damn Yankees!

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  11. BD says:

    I don’t see much point in sending Joba to AAA just to have him stretched out in case they need to replace an injured starter. If it’s a long-term injury, they can stretch him out while plugging him into the rotation. Start him at three innings the first time his spot in the rotation comes up, four the next, five the time after that, then set him loose. All told, that’s only about 8-9 total innings over the course of a month you would have to use Aceves or someone to caddy. But if you plan to do it this way, you get the benefit of Joba’s pitching in relief for as many innings as he can give you for as long as you DON’T have an injury to the regular rotation guys, which is likely to add up to more than those 8-9 innings you’re passing up by keeping him with the big club.

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  12. seattle says:

    Rivera is not getting any younger. What is wrong with grooming Joba to be the next closer in line? He is more of a energy guy. I loved him in the setup role 2 years ago besides the bug situation in Cleveland. Joba is perfect go come into the game with the back ground music blasting and throw pure gas for 1 inning. Yankees baseball is always about going after the top free agent starter not closer.

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    • Zack says:

      “Starters are much more valuable than relievers (last year’s most valuable reliever, Jonathan Broxton, was worth about as much as Nick Blackburn, Dallas Braden, John Danks or Brian Bannister). ”

      That’s why.

      “Yankees baseball is always about going after the top free agent starter not closer.”
      So you’re going to invest another 18-20m/year in the rotation? Sign Lee for 100m, or sign Beckett/Webb for 90m? That’s bad long term.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        “Starters are much more valuable than relievers (last year’s most valuable reliever, Jonathan Broxton, was worth about as much as Nick Blackburn, Dallas Braden, John Danks or Brian Bannister). ”

        This is not necessarily true and certainly not necessarily always true. Value, after all, is a subjective term.

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      • seattle says:

        Since when did the Yankees start worrying about bad long term contracts? Maybe when George hits the grave that might change. A imaginary rainbow salary cap could appear and they could start then too.

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  13. Thomas J. says:

    Last year Joba started 31 games and had an FIP of 4.82. An FIP of 4.82 sucks.
    An ERA of 4.75 really sucks. So far he is a sucky starter.

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    • seattle says:

      I think we all agree Joba is a avg to “sucky starter. I think he could be an elite setup man like he used to be. 35 holds is not out of the question.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        I don’t think we can all agree to that at all. The year before, he was an excellent starter. We never look at one year of data when more is available to us, and at this point in his career, his career performance isn’t enough to completely disregard his standing as a prospect.

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      • Gary says:

        Joba is only 24 years old. Players need time to develop and typically don’t reach their peak until 27-30. Writing him off as a starter now diminishes his value greatly because it takes significantly less talent to be a elite setup man compared to an elite starter. The kid needs time to develop in order to become the starter he can be.

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      • Thomas J. says:

        The year before his results were excellent as a starter but he started 12 games. That’s a pretty small sample size. It shouldn’t be discounted, but it should be weighted relatively small versus the more recent 32 games over which he was lousy at best and awful at worst.

        We also know he has the potential to be an elite closer. Those who, like me, believe that WAR heavily undervalues closers, will consider his potential as an elite closer to be extremely valuable.

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