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The Yankees are making a mistake with Joba Chamberlain

Feb 3, 2010, 8:00 AM EDT

Joel Sherman says that while the Yankees may be talking about how the fifth starter’s job is shaping up as a battle between Job Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, it’s all but Hughes’ job already:

The Yankees never would admit it publicly, but if the season were to
begin today, Hughes would be in the rotation and Joba would be Mariano Rivera’s primary set-up man — and, perhaps, heir apparent . . .

. . . This is not easy for the Yanks. They truly have believed
Chamberlain’s pitch inventory was that of a starter. Plus, they have
endured the criticism of the Joba Rules to navigate to this moment when
he would have few restrictions as a starter.

But by morphing
back into a confident, dart-throwing reliever in the postseason,
Chamberlain has pushed the Yanks to more seriously consider that he
might not have been suffering rotation growing pains and, instead,
simply is more temperamentally built to work out of the pen.

If this is true, and the Yankees have already decided that Chamberlain will be a setup man going forward, then they have all but killed a promising starter’s career before it ever truly began.

The Yankees have never given Chamberlain a true chance in my opinion. Sure, he had 31 starts last year, but that number is deceiving. At the end of July he had an ERA of 3.58 and put together a couple of promising starts. By the end of August, however, the Yankees were limiting his innings, messing
with his rest and generally treating him like some special case.

Sherman’s piece claims that Chamberlain was pitching tentatively and without confidence.  Of course he was! He was being asked to pitch in a way that was foreign to him and anyone else in the game. He had been turned into a four-inning pitcher. He knew going in to every game that
he was going to be yanked early. Such a thing had to mess with his preparation and approach. I believe that to the extent Chamberlain had problems in the second half they were due in large part to being
jerked around.  And really, he’s been jerked around for three years.

Sherman may be right, and it may be inevitable that the Yankees are going to permanently turn Chamberlain into a reliever. I can’t help but think, however, that if they had simply given the guy a
slot in the rotation, left him alone, and allowed him to pitch without putting him under the
microscope, they would be entering spring training with a guy poised to become a top of the rotation starter, not an eighth inning guy.

  1. tadthebad - Feb 3, 2010 at 8:28 AM

    “Such a thing had to mess with his preparation and approach.” I don’t disagree that the Yanks messed around too much with Chamberlain, but isn’t that a dubious claim? Just because he was going to be limited to 4 innings, his preparation had to be compromised? I don’t buy it, and if he was preparing himself to be a starter, why could he not prepare for a regular start even with such knowledge?

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Feb 3, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    I’ll grant that this is supposition on my part, but almost anything of substance I’ve read about starting pitchers’ preparation talks about how they’ll approach batters differently at different times in the game. Show him X pitch the first time through to set him up for Y pitch the second time through. If Joba has no expectation of seeing a batter again you take something away from his toolbox.
    Less esoterically, the guy was basically told by the team that they didn’t trust him (or his arm) to pitch a whole game, and that had to have messed with his confidence.

  3. Jonny5 - Feb 3, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    I do not agree at all. I feel no one knows Joba and his abilities better than the Yankees staff. In my honest opinion, Joba is a disappointment to the Yankees. The Yankees are in a bad spot due to the expectations by their fans/ talking heads that they put the best pitching availible on the field every single night. What happens when they put Joba on the mound in the rotation and he posts a 5.something ERA, or worse? The boos and the criticism will come surely. It’s a shame for Joba, but the Yankees are probably the worst team in baseball to be on if you’re a developing pitcher. They should just stick to buying pitchers who have already developed into greatness. It sucks for Joba but he will be no more than a reliever being “developed” by this organization. Not that I blame the yankees, it is what it is, they are expected to put out nothing but the best, if they don’t they are picked apart. I’d love to see the Yankees just say “this is what we are doing to build for the future, we may not have the best record in the game, but to keep a reasonable salary and a winning team, we must develop our youth better. To hell with the criticism.”
    But we all know that won’t happen……………..

  4. Jonny5 - Feb 3, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    Joba rules were so they didn’t lose as many games, more than it was trying to develop Joba imo. Just to keep the “dogs” at bay.

  5. Craig Calcaterra - Feb 3, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    Johnny: What makes you think Chamberlain would put up a 5.00 ERA as a starter? He was under 4.00 last season before they started screwing with his days’ rest and limiting him to 4 innings. For his whole career he’s just over 4.00 as a starter.
    Granted, that’s higher than he’d show (and has shown) as a reliever, but 200 innings of sub-4.00 ERA from a starter is much harder to find than a guy who can pitch a solid eighth inning. Last year’s Yankees are proof of that with Hughes stepping in to pitch the eighth and the Yankees experiments with Gaudin, Mitre, etc. at the back of the rotation.

  6. aweb - Feb 3, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    why could he not prepare for a regular start even with such knowledge
    Because he’s human? The team was basically telling Chamberlain “we can’t use you too much, or you will get injured”. That’s not an easy thing to prepare for mentally – doubts would naturally creep in. He threw just as hard during those starts, so maybe that’s not it, but it doesn’t take much as a pitcher. The Yankees could use him as a swingman for a few years, since injuries inevitably happen anyway, but if they are determined to stick him in the pen it seems like an example of an extreme advantage for the franchise, being able to hoard starters just to keep them from other teams. Something tells me that trade offers for Chamberlain wouldn’t be fielded as if he was a reliever.

  7. YankeesfanLen - Feb 3, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    Rather than argue with everyone, I’ll just make a positive statement:
    Nothing will make me happier than having Phil Hughes as our fifth starter.

  8. Charles Gates - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    Here’s the issue the Yankees are facing: can they afford (not in the financial sense) to develop/groom a player when their expectation is to win the WS each year?
    Long term, the Yankees will get more out of Joba as a starter. However, the short term opportunity cost is, well, can they win in the short term? Meaning this year. Joba finds himself bladerunning development and immediate impact.

  9. tadthebad - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    OK, no argument that the Yanks messed with his confidence. But preparation and approach? Even with shaky confidence, if he has starter potential (and I think he does), I would think that a steady preparation and approach would be what he relies on as not necessarily compromised.

  10. Nasty Boy - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    I agree with Jonny5,his best bet will be to come out of the pen. The Yanks need to start grooming someone to replace Mariano. The man is human, he won’t last forever. I don’t think Joba has the stamina to be a consistent starter.

  11. Jonny5 - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    “Johnny: What makes you think Chamberlain would put up a 5.00 ERA as a starter?”
    Honestly ,It’s a feeling I get when I watch the guy. he’s got the “Deer in headlights” look.
    Also the Yankees would have him in the rotation if he was better than a 5.0 would they not? Seriously the yankees have experts watching every pitch this guy tosses, he’s obviously got issues when his pitch count goes over 60-70 or so…….(right now,as is) I strongly feel they want him to be a setup guy because he looses his ability after so many tosses. If this were the Mets I’d be suspicious of the handling of this guy, but with this team it’s a totally different story. He’s not going to be developed into a great starter imo because the Yankees can’t wait around for it to happen, Yankee fans have a motto. Win now and often, or feel our wrath…. If a mediocre team had him, he’d have a better chance to develop into a great starter and that’s a fact. but with the Yankees?? If they want to develop him into a starter they would have him in AAA still imo. I keep thinking Rivera can’t do this forever……… I’m sure they do too…

  12. JonM - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    For better or worse, the Yankees have an organizational philosophy that dictates that the innings pitched by young pitchers should be limited. (Perhaps this is related to what happened to the young Marlin pitchers when Girardi managed there.) The Yankees also seem to disproportionately value the set-up man in the bullpen.
    These two factors indicate that the Yankees at least felt that limiting Chamberlain’s innings was both in his interest and in the team’s long-run interest. They certainly didn’t intend to jerk Chamberlain around.
    I think that they may have been too rigid the way that they limited Chamberlain’s innings pitched, but that is another argument.

  13. nyyankeefan - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    Joba still has not proven that the Yankees can completely trust his arm. Whether it be starting, relieving, setup, or closing. Joba shows brilliance at times when he pitches, but he also shows that he can be a gas can at times by being lit up for runs or throwing wild pitches. But I have confidence in the pitching staff that they will find a niche for Joba and he will excel at it.

  14. big joba fan - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    Was anyone questioning Joba’s ability to start when he had those awesome games right out of the All-Star break? 2 runs and 8 hits in 21.2 innings!
    And they aer going to win the AL East anyway. Based on Doug Decatur’s web site
    the Yankees have a much easier schedule than the Red Sox. (And no, he does NOT count games against each other.)

  15. btfromvt - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    Didn’t anyone watch hughes in the pen last year? he is all ready a GREAT 8th inning guy, He also made 7 starts, only 1 of which lasted more than 6 innings. 7 starts 35 innings giving up 21 earned runs with a 31/15 k/BB ratio is not much to get excited about. Theres about 30 teams that would love a guy like joba to fill the 5th starter roll. Plus Hughes has only pitched a total of 175 innings the last two years combined, would there not be inning limits on him?

  16. Denver paul - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    Sorry! Joba can’t go past 5 innongs on his best day. Hughes ? typical inning would be two strikeouts and gives up a home run. Gardner can’t hit his hat size. Outfield is in trouble

  17. Eric @ THTGB - Feb 3, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    Have you ever heard of Mark Prior? The Joba Rules were in place so that they protected his future while still allowing him to gain the experience he needs.
    I don’t know how anyone can seriously think that Joba is done developing, he’s only 24! You’ve got a kid with a plus fastball and a plus slider and you’re going to send him to the bullpen? What a waste that’d be. He’s got nothing left to learn in the minors and he’s shown that he’s very capable of getting major leaguers out. His starts in the first four months of the season were impressive for any starting pitcher, let alone a 23 year old one.

  18. Bobomo - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:01 AM

    The only reason Joba might be upset about getting pulled in the 4th is because it prevents him from doing his patented 5th-inning-irrelevant-strikeout-fist-pump-n’-shout. I highly doubt confidence is an issue for someone who thinks so highly of their work.

  19. BTfromVT - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    Did everyone forget how bad Hughes was in the rotation in the beginning of the year; 7 starts only 1 over 6 innings 35 total innings giving up 21 ER with a 31/15 k/bb, plus 175 total innings the past two years combined sounds like more inning limits. He was awesome in relief, why fix it if it aint broke?

  20. gumbercules - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    Job Chamberlain? That guy has some patience…

  21. Skids - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    How is 31 starts “decieving.” That’s about average for SP’s in the majors now. I don’t get it.

  22. Craig Calcaterra - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Because for his last several starts he was taken out in the fourth inning or so by design, rendering them less than full starts in terms of workload and (as I argued above) approach, preparation, etc.

  23. moreflagsmorefun - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    I don’t know how many pitchers any of you fellas developed but
    I think the Yankees know what they are doing.These two guy’s are
    very young and have not reached the ceiling of their potential.
    My opinion is Joba is a reliever/closer mentality but Mo is the closer, why do you think they haven’t signed any relief pitchers, Hughs will posibly compete for the 5th starter job.Keep in mind if
    the Yankees make the playoffs they won’t need a 4th and 5th starter
    so those two pitchers will be relievers, so why not have Joba in that role ALL year and only have Hughes change his role.I believe
    Joba does not have the mental makeup 100% to pitch starter innings, this is nothing shameful to admit look at BIG Units first 5 years
    in the majors and he went on to HOF Status.Let the Yankees figure it out, they have good people in Tampa, like ” stick “, he rebuilt the Yankees without the limelight.

  24. ecp - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    The Yanks might feel that innings should be limited for young pitchers, and they might feel that Joba is a major league disappointment, and New York may be the hardest place in the game to develop a starting pitcher…but all that just underlines the fact that they have seriously mishandled him. Their single most egregious move was not leaving him in the minor leagues for a sufficient length of time. That’s where he needed to be to build his confidence and stamina for starting. The minor leagues exist (at least partially) to prepare young ball players for major league life. The Yankees did not allow that to happen for Chamberlain.

  25. hop - Feb 3, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Yanks are WS Champs, i think they know what they are doing. case closed

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