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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