Joba the reliever or Joba the starter

Hanks speaks on the Yankee Way
Yanks award $2M construction contract

Last week, Justin Sablich, writing on The Times Bats blog, wondered aloud if the Yanks would be better off with Joba in the pen instead of in the rotation. His argument focuses around the idea that no one else could get the job done in the pen last year. While we can debate the rest of the Yankee bullpen and its potential makeup for hours on end, I think the answer to this question is simple. Joba throwing 150-160 as a starter is much more valuable to the Yankees than the 60-70 innings he would pitch in the bullpen. Feel free to debate this point as it relates to a shaky bullpen, but I’m sticking with my position here. Joba the Starter lives!

Hanks speaks on the Yankee Way
Yanks award $2M construction contract
  • ShawnT

    Let the kid start, this kids amazing. and can probably get double digits on regular basis. Besides why would Joba even want to be a reliever, economically it doesnt pay for him, im sure he realizes that

  • Travis G.

    of course. one of the few smart things Hank has done so far is ‘insist’ Joba be a starter. #1 reason: he can always fall back to relieving, but you cant just fall back to starting. the list of reasons goes on and on…

  • RichYF

    Assuming Pettitte comes back (BIG assumption), the rotation is:



    Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say Mo’s forearm soreness turns into season ending surgery. Who closes?

  • R.

    While I honestly think he’d be better in the rotation, there are many reasons to keep him in the pen for next year. Looking at it from an objective standpoint, the guy was amazing last year and he gave the Yankees something that they haven’t had for years which was someone who could be the bullpen ace and come in the difficult situations and shut down the opposing team (sorry Mo, but you’re regulated to only the ninth inning which limits your effectiveness to a certain extent when it comes to tough situations that can occur in the 6th, 7th and most of the time, the 8th innings). Also, Chamberlain is still a young guy with an inning cap. Using him out of the bullpen can help to keep him fresh and help to prevent him from developing arm trouble in the future. Finally, while 150 innings of Joba might be worth more statistically, wouldn’t 70 innings where he would be used in a high leverage situations to protect leads and maybe help the Yankees squeeze out a few more wins rather then letting their rather poor bullpen blow maybe 15 to 20 games over the course of the season?

    • zzzzz

      R. i agree with what you said, but heres another thought. what if he pitches deep into the game? that was a big problem for us the last few years. having the starter actually go more than 5 or 6 innings. better starts from the pitchers would help the health and effectiveness of the bullpen.

  • Chris

    If we are talking about 2008 there is no doubt that he will benefit more from being in the pen, but I see a guy with this potential and it is hard not to want him starting What if Clemens had been pegged for the pen early in his career? I bring up CLemens because that is the potential I see in Joba. He has the stuff to be a top 5 starter in baseball although I am not crazy enough to think it will happen as soon as next season.

    While I agree that the bullpen is important, i think his future development as an Ace is even more important even if it means not puting the bbest team out there as they can next season.

    Its a tough call and the reason Cashman and Girardi get paid the big bucks, but this kid has too much potential to be utilized for only 70 innings. He could be the next GREAT starter in the majors – why wouldnt we want to see if that is true before puting him in the pen?

  • Bart

    I would change the way relief picthers are used — many of the sabrematic measures point to the ability of the “average pitcher” to get through an inning unscathed. That same average picther can’t be expected to come into a game and get a ground ball dp or a K when did to STOP a threat.

    Part of MO’s greatness has been his ability to stop a rally but due to modern thinking only when the yankees are in the lead in late innings.

    Many times I thought use him now – get control. With the offense the yankees have there would be many more winnable games if the fireman or stopper could be used

    I see Joba as a unique weapon to get out of a badly positioned inning – think of Mussina, Pettit, Wang and Clemns in games last year as examples where we fans coud just see it getting away – Torre would leave them – maybe not seeing a better option, or jump to the gasoline can.

    A combination of Joba as stopper and maybe a “Karstens” as a bridge to MO might be interesting.

    Questions would be can Girardi see the situations and take action, and could such an approach still protect Joba as he matures. Could he control 40 – 50 games in a season that could be secured and won as opposed to 30 that he would start.

    Can he get ready in situations that are breaking down, and can those situations be seen with any clarity. The fan in me roots for “just one pitch get the ground ball – K this guy and we’re out of trouble”. Joba can get the K, or even 2 Ks, and stabilize the game.

    Or is that way to tacticle and abusive of a guys arm?

    In Tight games where there is no crisis – he stil coould be the bridge to Mo and eventually Mo the bridge to Joba.

    I also see many potentially great arms in the Yankees Minor L org – but are any on the JOBA track to being maybe better than even Mo has been?

  • Bo

    You can find bullpen arms anywhere. You cannot find #1 starters.

    How would Boston look last yr if Beckett was pitching the 8th inning?

  • Bill Porter

    I think he needs to start to maximize his value to the team. However I would like to see a more empirically based analysis of the question. Assuming that it may at times be more valuable to throw a shutout in the eighth inning than the first it would be nice to see some sort of weighting process in place to compare the 150 innings as a starter to the 70 innings as a high leverage reliever. I still think such an examination would lead us to the same conclusion however I would be willing to bet that reasonably weighted values would be close enough to make the question a lot closer call than it appears to be.

    • Ben K.

      The thing to consider in this study, Bill, is that a high-leverage reliever who throws 70 innings a season won’t be throwing all 70 of those in high-leverage situations. I’m going to look into it, but it’s my guess that maybe — at most — 20 of those innings are really high-leverage. It also all depends how you define high-leverage. A three-run lead in the 9th may be considered a save situation, but it’s hardly a pressing concern to the vast majority of MLB teams.

      • brxbmrs


        All innings become high leverage if you have crappy relievers.

  • steve (different one)

    putting Joba in the bullpen b/c they don’t have a better reliever is the same type of thinking by the people that wanted to move Cano to 3B before Alex came back.

    plugging a hole by sub-optimally allocating your resources is not a smart way to run a team. misusing an asset is still misusing an asset.

    there are VERY few situations where an 80 inning set-up man can approach the value of a front of the rotation starter. so you shouldn’t make the latter into the former just to fill a percieved need.

    the yankees have arms in their system to fill that need. people just need to be patient and wait for Robertson, Melancon, Whelan, Cox, etc. to emerge.

    Joba has the body of a starter. he has the arm of a starter. he has 4 pitches, 2 of them are plus-plus, and one is plus. if he can continue to develop his changeup, he will be a DEVASTATING starter.

    putting him in the bullpen would be idiotic.

  • Jon

    The main problem with him being a starter is his inning limits. You said it yourself – “150-160” innings. What happens in Mid-August when he’s at 150 IP with a 3.20 ERA, and the Yankees are tied with the Red Sox?

    Similar arguments hold for Hughes and Kennedy as well, which is why having these 3 guys in the rotation, while they will likely perform better than other options, is tough to handle.

    If you limit them to 90 pitches or 5-6 innings per game, then the bullpen (already a weakness if Joba’s not there) doesn’t stand a chance of making it through the first 2 months, let alone the whole season.

    Really, one of the only things I can think of is a 6-man rotation. The only other option would be some crazy rotation between the pen and the rotation for the young guys, which would probably do more harm than good.

    What do you guys think? How do you handle the innings limits on them?

    • steve (different one)

      i would use a 6 man rotation where Pettitte and Wang get regular starts, and the other 4 guys rotate through the 3 slots. this assumes Pettitte is back.

      also, why do you think Kennedy and Hughes have the same cap as Joba?

      Kennedy pitched 165 innings last year. he should be ok for 190-200 innings.

      Hughes pitched 146 innings in 2006. he might be ok for 180.

      Joba will need to be held back early in the season, but i don’t think Hughes and Kennedy will have as strict of a cap.

      • Jon

        Yeah, I don’t think they have the same innings limit, but like you mentioned, there would be some. Enough that if they pitch well all season they’d have to be cut off in September.

        I don’t sure I know exactly what you mean with your 6-man rotation. Can you give examples of a few turns through? Like this?

        a1 – Wang
        a2 – Pettitte
        a3 – Hughes
        a4 – Joba
        a5 – Kennedy
        b1 – Wang
        b2 – Pettitte
        b3 – Mussina
        b4 – Joba
        b5 – Kennedy
        c1 – Wang
        c2 – Pettitte
        c3 – Hughes
        c4 – Mussina
        c5 – Kennedy

        I don’t think that would work logistically because guys will constantly be getting different amounts of rest.

        Actually one other idea that might work is starting Joba in the pen and moving him to the rotation in May or June or so.

        • steve (different one)

          you would have to see the actual schedule and see then the off-days are.

          i don’t think it would be as formal as you laid out. more like “we are using a 6 man rotation for april and may, and if we still need to skip Joba or Phil a few times through the rotation, we will use Pettitte and Wang to get those starts”

  • Mike A.

    He’s gotta be a starter long term, it’s such a waste of talent if he’s rotting away in the ‘pen. They can work him around the schedule to keep his innings under control if they really want. Unless they absolutely prove they can’t handle it, the Yanks are best off leaving Hughes-Joba-IPK in the rotation all year.

  • Chip

    The problem with everybody saying throw him in the bullpen for a year is that these guys need to be stretched out slowly to the normal 200 innings a year a big league pitcher should be able to handle. You’re hurting his development if you don’t let him throw 150-160 innings this year. I’d say that you should pitch with a 6-man rotation for all but Wang until you can definitely knock somebody down to AAA due to ineffectiveness. I would assume one of these three (most likely Kennedy) will run into trouble which would allow them to go down and get their confidence back.

    Also, once we get towards the end of the season, if Joba is getting close to his innings cap, then that’s the time to put him in the pen. I’d argue that if it’s close towards the end of the season, he’s more valuable in the pen anyway (barring unforseen injuries to the rest of the rotation of course). I still say start him until that time comes

  • Mitchell’s Eleven

    starter – if we can find creative ways to get ARod a zillion dollars, we should find a way to get some good arms in that pen that doesn’t require overpaying for the equivalent of a journeyman placekicker in football. we’ve got a nice set of arms in the minors, we can bring the Viz back, and, if we had to shell out for one guy, i’d have it be Riske.

    we also do have a fresh set of faces in order to get one good year out of Farnsworth. we’re a better team, by far, if he’s contributing.

  • steve (different one)

    putting Joba in the pen because you don’t have a great set-up option would be like asking the greatest SS of all time to move to 3B. crap.

  • Count Zero

    IMO this is such a no-brainer I can’t believe people keep debating it.

    He’s a starter unless he proves unable to be a starter — which I don’t think is likely to happen. Yes, we’ll have to suck it up for a year due to his IP count, but putting him in the pen in 2008 doesn’t achieve that — it just postpones the problem till 2009.

    Six man rotation through June (as already pointed out numerous times above). There will be plenty of chances to skip a turn in April and May anyway. He just needs to be limited to about 22-24 starts.

  • Relaunch

    Man, how many times are we going discuss this topic? Everyone almost believes he should be a starter, lets see what the Yanks do in March.

  • zack

    The sooner this “debate” is put to rest the better. Joba has three plus pitches at the moment, only needing two in the pen. Joba has the “potential” to be a true #1 starter. Joba has the “potential” to be an innings horse. All of this needs to be put to the test. Rivera was a starter turned reliever only after he failed at the big league level as a starter.

    There is no way you can argue that a set up guy (or even closer!) pitching 70-100 innings is MORE valuable than a starter. The score is tied in the 1st inning, isn’t that just as “high leverage or valuable” as when the score is tied later on. Its one of baseball’s biggest fallacies that somehow the latter innings are more valuable b/c, well, they are later. Its partly responsible for the egregious misuse of bullpens going on now. The 9th inning isn’t any more important than any of the other 8 innings: if you give up a bunch of runs in any of them, you might lose. If the bases are loaded in the 2nd innings with no outs and the opposing pitcher is Johan Santana, the game is probably on the line there. Same thing in the 7th. Sure, you have more innings to “come back” early on, but isn’t it just if not more important to have a true #1 starter who will go out there every start and pretty much be guaranteed to give you a really good shot at winning?

    Its the same argument that was used against A-Rod to argue that he wasn’t “clutch” b/c most of his HRs put the team up early on, so therefore it somehow counted less. Please.

    Joba in the pen is useless if our starter’s can’t go 6 IP or give up 5 runs etc.

    The Angels built their dominant pen (which now isn’t so dominant) from the scrap heap and within. So did the Indians. Heck, so did the Sox. Papelbon being the exception, but if you ask me, I’d rather he be in the pen than a starter and have to face Schilling or Wakefield or whomever…

    • Jon

      “The score is tied in the 1st inning, isn’t that just as “high leverage or valuable” as when the score is tied later on.”

      No, the later innings are much more high leverage. Simply put – if I’m losing 1-0 as I’m coming to bat in the bottom of the 1st, I have about a 49% chance of winning or so (all things equal).

      If I’m losing 1-0 as I’m coming to bat in the 9th, I have about a 18% chance of winning.

      Those numbers are for 2007, from BP.

      That’s exactly what leverage is – the difference in expected winning percentage between different situations.

      So put another way: If it’s 0-0 in the bottom of the 1st, I have a 59% chance of winning.

      If it’s 0-0 in the bottom of the 9th, I have a 64% chance of winning (as opposed to 18%).

      So clearly giving up that run in the 9th (to make it 1-0 instead of 0-0) is much more critical than giving it up in the 1st.

      All that said, I agree he should be a starter. He’s more valuable as a starter. Just disagree with your argument.

      • zack

        That is true, to a point, and statistically speaking. But at the same time, a run is a run, just like a HR that puts you ahead is a HR that puts you ahead, no matter the inning. It is more difficult to pitch more innings, and just because the pressure is spread out over 5-7 innings v. one doesn’t make it any less important. I suppose looking at it statistically, the 9th inning has a higher percentage of immediate win or loss, but a HR in a 1-0 game is huge, and you can’t retroactively go back and say that the ABs in the 9th inning of that game were somehow more important than those i n the 4th, they all count equally. Just so for pitching too. Sure, there might be more fan pressure in the 9th to not allow a run, but its not like pitchers ever feel pressure otherwise. Its what they do, try and prevent runs, 2nd inning or 9th inning. I refuse to buy that just because BP says a percentage tells you that you have a certain chance of “winning” at that moment that the situation is any less important or high leverage. Batters try and get hits every time and pitchers try and get outs every time, no matter the situation…Some are just better or worse at it and some get lucky sometimes and some don’t and some have small sample averages and some are better suited for getting one out vs 20. And thats what it really comes down to. If Joba can prove that he can get 15-21 outs in a game while giving up a minimum of runs, thats what he should do (as you say). Its always easier to find a guy better suited to getting 3 outs…

  • BC

    Seems as though Hank is a man of his word; he says Joba is a starter, and it’d surprise me if he backs off. The ‘what if Mo comes up lame, who closes?’ argument is ridiculous; the Yanks should no more consider Joba than Wang. He’s a starter, has been his entire career up until late last season. His upside is incredible, and a decade with Joba at or near the top of the rotation is infinitely better than a decade of him in the pen. He’s a horse, and he has the potential to eat alot of innings too.

  • Mike Plugh

    Stop the “pussification” of pitchers. If he looks fatigued and his mechanics are breaking down, it’s time to go to the pen. If he’s healthy, effective, and shows an easy repeatable delivery keep him in. That’s true of 70 innings, 150 innings, or 200 innings. Watch him closely with a trained eye (Eiland has been his pitching coach already) and let him throw.

    Joba for Starter 2008 (send campaign donations to

  • barry

    Theres no way to even know that him going to the pen would hurt him in the long run. Not too many pitchers can successfuly make that adjustment. Starters are also more valuable in the long run, its the main reason Johan will make 20 million next year and most relievers are lucky to make 1/10 of that.

  • Rob

    I still say let Joba be a 150 inning pitcher IN THE PEN :o

    Pitch him four-six innings a week – two innings every other day. He saves the innings of Hughes and IPK and enters into one high-leverage game a week. If it’s a blow out then you save his arm.

    Have him make 65-70 appearances of 2 innings each then his arm is fresh for the post-season.

    I look at it this way: If Hughes (who we knows uses alot of pitches) or Kennedy are finished after 6 innings, who comes in for the 7th and 8th in a close game? Right now that means two crappy arms for an inning a piece.

    Instead, throw Joba out there for a guaranteed bridge to Mo. And in 2009, they can make him a starter. Of all the kids he’s got the best stuff for the role. Use him for maximum effectiveness and bring the other bullpen arms (Ohlendorf, Sanchez, Cox) more slowly. Joba as that two-inning guy saves him now and for the future.

    • Rob

      BTW: I take the view that, so long as the innings are controlled, the manner in which they are acquired doesn’t matter. Unless someone else knows a study to contradict that?

      Mo pitched 107 innings in 1996.

    • Rob

      One more thought on that:

      With a rotation of:


      You could plan to throw Joba in the Hughes and Kennedy/Moose slots. That’s four innings every turn through the rotation. And if he’s not needed one day because of a blowout one way or another, then his innings gets pushed back.

      Adopt a new set of Joba rules:
      1) Four innings every five games
      2) One appearance means one day off
      3) No more than fifty pitches in any appearance.

      That way he’s limited to 100 pitches each “turn” through the rotation. He gets his rest and his innings.

      Also, Sgt Joe gets a weapon to strategise.

    • Rob

      And Mo actually pitched 128 innings in 1996 including the post-season.

  • ohbwonhomie

    i agree with the idea of having an unofficial 6 man rotation with Karstens in the mix if pettite doesnt come back and kennedy as the swingman if pettite comes back. spot starting Karstens or Kennedy in the beginning 2 months with Joba entering a game on his side session days will keep him on schedule without going over the innings limitation for the year and keeping him fresh towards the end of year. Worked well with mendoza occasionally spot starting when we had gooden and cone. shoot we could even have pettite come out as the lefty from the pen on his side session days. the talents there it just needs to be utilized effectively.

  • brxbmrs

    Everyone talks about a 6 man rotation – it sounds like a great idea, yet no one does it.

    I don’t think that’s a realistic plan (extended rest isn’t going to benefit Wang and Moose – if Moose is still on the team or Wang for that matter) just like I don’t believe if the Yanks are in the hunt in August, they are going to shut down any of the young starters b\c they reached 160 innings.

    Also, its going to be interesting to see what Girardi wants to do and how much latitude they give him.

    BTW, Joba as a setup guy isn’t ridiculous – he hasn’t thrown 1 game as a starter in the bigs and we have no idea if AL East teams will be able to adjust to him – we already know as a setup guy Joba’s among the best in mlb.

    • steve (different one)

      BTW, Joba as a setup guy isn’t ridiculous – he hasn’t thrown 1 game as a starter in the bigs and we have no idea if AL East teams will be able to adjust to him – we already know as a setup guy Joba’s among the best in mlb.

      so what? why can’t Yankee fans live with ANY uncertainty?

      every single starting pitcher in the history of baseball started with 0 career starts.

      who cares if we “have no idea” how he will do? there is only one way to find out, isn’t there?

      at some point you have to trust your scouts. otherwise you would never play a rookie in any situation.

  • zack

    People, just remember, a good 2 inning set up guy isn’t needed if your starter gives you 7 innings. Period. Heck, the whole concept of a setup guy is such a recent advent, and is totally dependent on the idea of the closer anyway. 40 years ago if you had suggested that your 22 year old 220 pound stud who throws 98 consistently should be limited to situational pitching for two innings, you would have been thrown out of baseball. Just because its common practice now doesn’t make it smart baseball.If you really want to have a big guy throwing gas with a wicked slider in the pen, wait for Sanchez…

    How many games did the Yankees lose last year because of bad set up work versus bad starting pitching which, of course, leads to bad and over worked relief

  • dan

    I looked for a reliever who was the set-up man all season last year, and came up with Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers. The leverage for a team with a 1 run lead in the top of the 8th is 2.2, bottom of the 8th is 2.5, so the average is 2.25. Broxton faced exactly 80 batters with an LI of 2.25, equaling 24% of his batters faced. If we extrapolate that to innings pitched, he would pitch about 20 high-leverage innings out of 80. Do we want Joba pitching only 20 high-leverage innings? No.

    Keep him as a starter.

    • Ben K.

      I assumed as much. For leverage, I would define it a little broadly. A high-leverage situation occurs anytime the tying run is on base or at the plate. Therefore, potentially, with one swing, the game could turn. I still think we’d see high leverage situations in about 30 out of 80 innings. That’s just not enough to warrant moving a top-notch starter from the rotation to the pen. I’m working on a few other ideas though. More on that later.

  • Kevin23

    All this talk of statistics makes the kid inside of me cringe. A run is a run. Period.

    Now if you want to talk about the human element for a second, then lets talk practically. The human element of baseball is fluid, and it lasts for 9 innings. The first part of a game is comprised of some carry-over from the previous game(s) and from pre-game practices, and scouting reports. It is when guys are still feeling powerful. Slugging players tend to try to slug, and contact players make contact.

    The middle is a test of focus. This is where it gets interesting. A team like the Yankees is almost always going to score a few runs early…sometimes a lot. No one can honestly tell me that being down by a few runs isn’t at least somewhat demoralizing…especially for young teams. Also, the guys in the pen start getting excited about winning. No one likes pitching in a losing effort now do they. This is why early leads are huge for teams like the Yanks and Red Sox. I’d also argue that was a key difference between us last season…they had and held early leads much more often, and that breads confidence by the boatloads. Coming from behind is great is you can do it all the time…but usually you get the short end just as often, and those are tough to forget.

    The end of the game is usually a desperate attempt by one team to come back. Those are case-by-case scenarios that can’t be predicted anyway. You are now relying on your manager to have been paying attention for the previous 7-8 innings. This is not something that you plan for in December/January.

    I think much of this debate is silly really. A knee-jerk reaction to last year. Joba is MUCH better off as a starter. And we can safely assume he’s got a great plan B is it doesn’t work out.

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