Scroll past the PED talk in Buster Olney’s latest blog entry, and you will arrive at a tidbit about Joba Chamberlain. The Yankees, Olney reports, plan to start the season with Joba in the pen. They just can’t quit him.
If all goes well in spring training for the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain is likely to start next season in the Yankees’ bullpen, as part of the team’s effort to limit his innings. Chamberlain will go to spring training and, at the outset, prepare to pitch out of the rotation, along with five other rotation candidates — Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina and Ian Kennedy. Assuming that none of the other five has a physical or performance breakdown, Chamberlain would then open 2008 in the bullpen, as a set-up man, for at least the start of the season — under the Joba Rules.
The Yankees want to restrict the number of innings Chamberlain throws, and working him out of the bullpen for at least a couple of months will allow them to do that. Chamberlain may return to the rotation sometime in the middle of the season, depending on the Yankees’ needs.
Our initial reaction is one of fear. We fear that the Yankees are not serious in their plans to put Joba in the rotation, and as an aside, I have to wonder why the Yanks were so quick to give Mariano Rivera a third year if they want Joba in the pen. But that last point is neither here nor there.
For many, your reaction will be like ours: Are the Yankees really going to stick Joba in the pen with the intent of limiting his innings? Or will they keep him in the pen – and thus stunt his development – because they can’t resist the appeal of that 100 mph fastball and nasty breaking pitches in the 8th inning?
While we’ve long espoused the theory that 180-200 innings of Joba the Starter help the Yankees more than 70-80 innings of Joba the Reliever, I’m beginning to think the differences is not as great as we once thought. Using a study of VORP for starting pitchers and Win Expectation about Replacement (or WXRL) for elite relievers, the difference isn’t so great. But there’s a caveat: The Yankees would have to use their elite relievers in high pressure situations and not just as the de facto 8th inning set-up man or 9th inning, three-outs-with-a-three-run-lead closer to truly bridge this gap.
So here we sit in December, and Olney has an unsourced report about Joba going to the pen. We’ll see. There’s plenty of time before Spring Training, and the Yanks may not be done constructing this team. But it does give us some food for thought in the starter vs. reliever debate that seemingly never ends.