Olney: Yanks plan to start Joba in the pen

Prospect Profile: Brandon Laird
MiLB.com Yearly Review

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.

Prospect Profile: Brandon Laird
MiLB.com Yearly Review
  • http://samiamsports.blogspot.com SAMIAMSPORTS

    I know it sounds crazy but how about a 6 man rotation.(i know it will never happen)It makes all the sense in the wporld. all the starters would be allot more fresh which would let them go deeper into games and the bulpen wouldent have to worry about getting warmed up in the 5th to enter in the 6th.Every body would be more fresh. And once the playoffs hit you go back to the 4 man…………..just a thought

  • Glen L

    the red sox pretty much had a 6 man rotation during august/september last year

    if the plan is to start joba in the pen and move him to the rotation late in the year .. how do they plan on doing that?

    how are they going to stretch him out in the middle of the season??

    • Yankee Fan in Chicago

      What they need to do is, insteading of using him for an inning several times a week to set up for Mo, is have him go three innings once a week as a long man.

      Moose and Phil should be placed next to each other in the rotation. Joba comes in for his three innings either in Moose’s start — since he’s not exactly someone who can give us more than 5 ip per start, or in Phil’s, since Phil’s innings also need to be kept down.

      That way Joba can be stretched and at the same time, he’ll more or less know when he’s going to pitch.

  • mg

    This is a really stupid idea. I hope they think better of it.

  • jason

    In my opinion this is all the more reason for the Yankees to be very careful in a potential trade for Santana. If Hughes AND Kennedy go, and Joba starts the year in the pen, the starting rotation will look mighty thin – Santana, Wang, Pettite and pray for rain.

    • steve (different)

      don’t you think they would change their mind about putting Joba in the pen if they traded Hughes and Kennedy for Johan?

  • CB

    Putting Joba in the pen to limit his innings is fine in theory. But I agree with you guys. Once he’s there and dominating I think there’s a high probability that he becomes one of the key players on the team in that role and doesn’t get moved.. They will lean on him heavily to set up Mariano because the rest of the pen is so bad and he becomes an indispensable cog in that role – before his potential is explored.

    Keeping him in the pen would be unwise. Outside of the value of 200 innings vs. 70 there are two other things that concern me.

    In the post season I would much, much rather have Joba as a starter than in the pen. I think in the post season the starter vs. reliever issue becomes even bigger. As a starter he could throw 16 innings in a 5 game series. As a reliever he could throw 2-4.

    The other issue is injury and wear. Relievers not named Mariano Rivera just don’t last very long at all. For whatever reason one after another after another flames out. It would be very short sighted to risk turning what might be a 15 year career as a starter and turn it into a 5 year career as a reliever.

    Joba’s been compared to Bobby Jenks quite often because of his 100 mph fastball. This season something strange happened with Jenks. His fast ball started getting consistently clocked at 92-94. Jenks said he felt fine and was never put on the DL.

    The Yankees are bending over backwards to try to get an “ace” in Santana. To take Joba out of that potential role would be a serious mistake.

    The Sox pen was very, very shaky going into the post season. By far their biggest question mark with Gagne being Gagne and Okajima being tired. Would they have been better with Beckett setting up Papelbon?

  • http://replacementlevel.com SG

    I’ve been touting the Johan Santana 2002-2003 plan for Joba. I like the idea of starting Joba in the pen, IF THEY DO IT RIGHT.

    Only pitch him once ever 4-5 days. Pitch him for multiple inning stints, and spot start him once a month.

    They should limit Joba’s innings this year. This seems like a smart approach to do it.

  • CB

    One other thing on this report – are they going to put Hughes in the bull pen also to limit his innings?

    Hughes will also be on an innings cap. Hughes and Joba can both only throw the same number of innings.

    That’s a reason why I think if this happens moving Joba to the pen will be about more than just capping his innings.

    • Yankee Fan in Chicago

      I think Hughes can throw substantially more. Remember, the season before he threw 146.

      So, do the Yanks say he can only throw 30 more innings (the key number it seems from the research) than his 2007 total of 110, or his 146 of the year before?

      I’d say he can throw close to 180 this season, rather than capping him closer to 150.

  • Geno

    Well, which would scare you more if you were the Red Sox: Joba firing fastballs under the chins of Manny & Ortiz in the 8th inning, or in the 1st through 7th?

    • Kanst

      First through seventh, and I think that answer is easy

  • Wangfan

    I think there may be another part to this story. Sometime around June, July some one of Cox, Melancon, H. Sanchez should be in a position to add to the bullpen. Then the Yanks send Joba to Trenton for two or three weeks to get back into starter shape. At that point you figure out what to do with six starters. By that point Mussina may already be hurt. Putting Joba in the bullpen then 1. limits his innings, 2. takes care of the six starters issue for two/three months, 3. serves as a bridge until one one of the elbow brothers is (hopefully) ready.

    • TurnTwo

      this makes the most sense to me. seems logical. i think we all, or at least i did, forget that Joba can go down for a couple weeks to stretch out; he doesnt have to do this on the MLB roster.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      That’s a pretty smart theory. Once again, if that’s going to be the plan, I have no problem with this move.

      • brxbmrs

        If the Yanks are in a pennant race in July I can’t see Joba pitching meaningless games in AA for a few weeks while the pen implodes around Mariano.

        The reality is all those guys Sanchez, Cox, Melancon are most likely going to be along the lines of Veras and Ohlendorf – not Mo and Joba.

        Unless the pen miraculously becomes a strength – Joba is going to be Mariano of 1996.

        • steve (different)

          The reality is all those guys Sanchez, Cox, Melancon are most likely going to be along the lines of Veras and Ohlendorf – not Mo and Joba.

          really, that’s the “reality”? what are tomorrow’s lottery numbers?

          • brxbmrs


            Look at the state of most teams pens – its a crap shoot -with alot of emphasis on crap – if people here are counting on Sanchez staying healthy and making the conversion, Cox also coming back from injury – etc – then I think poeple are going to be very disappointed.

            As for the not going deep into games its true – we’ve got Hughes who throws alot of pitches, Pettitte at 35 is a concern – especially if he was taking HGH more recently than 2002, Moose – etc.

            Sorry if you can’t see the “logic” – its pretty clear. I also agree with ceciguante – your tone sucks.

            • steve (different)

              ehh, i was merely objecting to the implication that Melancon is DEFINITELY going to disappoint. hence the joke about the lottery numbers, as in no one knows what is going to happen. why can’t he be good? why can’t Ohlendorf be good for that matter?

              these guys have good stuff and now they have a manager who will hopefully put them in a better position to succeed than the last manager often did with his relievers.

              as for the tone, you are right. i’ll chill.

  • Brian

    I think that’s exactly right, Wangfan. Obviously it rarely plays out as expected, but that’s a plan with options.
    And even if the “elbow brothers” are not ready, the state of the bullpen asides from joba and rivera will be clarified, so our level of desperation in the rotation v. the bullpen, or if it’s bad in both, may dictate options such as bringing in Horne to start or relieve as well.
    It kind of makes sense….in the short run.

  • zack

    Its a fine way to limit his innings, but a scary way to develop him into a starter. Baseball players and managers are creatures of habits. If something works, they tend to get tunnel vision and stick to that no matter what. Thus, if Joba comes out and dominates with his two pitches in the pen, he’s not going to work on his others and the Yanks are going to start to think of him as a reliever more and more. The other thing is that moving a player around form reliever to starter can mess with their body and mind. Think about Mendoza, Rags, etc. Sure, it does work if done RIGHT, as SG says, but the “Joba rules” don’t exactly provide for that.

    It works fine if they really do move him into the rotation after a few months and it doesn’t hurt him, but there are a lot more question marks there than going with a 6-man or the 2 5th day starters plan..

  • ceciguante

    i think many on this board undervalue the crucial 7th and 8th inning roles. sure, setup guys pitch fewer innings that starters, so more innings are more valuable. but that is in a vacuum: it misses the fact that 7th and 8th innings pitched by your top setup guy are typically during close games. yanks starters often pitch in games where the offense puts up 7, 8, 9 runs, and a replacement pitcher would have most likely won the game anyway. not so for setup men. in a blowout, they rest more often than not.

    as for converting joba from pen to starter mid season, i doubt that would be as tough as some are describing it. they can ease joba into longer relief stints — 3 to 4 innings, which we could’ve used many times this year. also, as mentioned, they can send him down for a couple of weeks.

  • brxbmrs

    What no one here seems to realize is the Yanks (with hopefully the exception of Wang) don’t have guys in the rotation that are going to go deep into the game.

    Joba is needed in the pen and the reality is it would be hard for anyone to make a case that he can be nearly as effective as a starter – the guy posted a sub .5 era last year.

    Hughes throws alot of pitches, IPK ?, Moose (blah), Pettitte hopefully repeats what he did last year and Wang – the Yanks need that K pitcher out of the pen – especially with the contact rotation they have.

    • ceciguante

      brxbmrs, i tend to see it your way, but i think it’s a close call. really, what is needed is a joba for the rotation, AND a joba for the pen.

      hughes for santana, anyone?

  • steve (different)

    yanks starters often pitch in games where the offense puts up 7, 8, 9 runs, and a replacement pitcher would have most likely won the game anyway. not so for setup men. in a blowout, they rest more often than not.

    wow, this is just unbelievably horrible logic.

    i don’t even know what to say.

    • ceciguante

      actually, the quoted statement is a fact.

      but if you don’t know what to say, how about trying something that’s not smug and obnoxious?

      • steve (different)

        i’m sorry if you thought it was obnoxious, but if you can’t see the flaws in your logic i can’t help you. you really don’t see how your argument is completely circular?

        you do realize that every game starts with the score 0-0, right?

        and that everything that happens up until the setup man gets the ball is controlled by the starters, right?

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Olney’s next article will be entitled “My ass and a hole in the ground: The struggle to learn the difference.”

  • MS

    I’d rather see Joba in the pen anyway. The next two years as a set up man for Mariano and then they can switch roles for the third year (maybe four if Mo is still hanging in there). I see him as a Papelbon type that is more effective in small doses. He is untouchable for 1 or 2 innings, but is he untouchable for 6 or 7 innings (with a pitch count) going through the order 2 or 3 times. I’m sure he ‘ll still be good, but he would have a pitch count and he would be out early some games which would kill our bullpen even more.

    • steve (different)

      I see him as a Papelbon type that is more effective in small doses.

      what are you basing this on?

    • Kanst

      Doesnt have to be untouchable. Lets say he is a reliever who gives you 70 innings with a 2.5 ERA. How good does he have to be as a starter to have equal value? Well a reliever has an average ERA of 4.3, so he would have saved 14 runs. The average ERA for a starter is 4.63. So lets say 200 innings, to be worth 14 runs better then average all Joba would need to do is pitch to a 4.00. So given that he is a 2.5 ERA reliever (very very good) given he can give us 200 innings and a 4 ERA that is equal value. Even if you throw in a bonus for leveraging, a 3.75 ERA would be probably equal value.

      I see Joba as a guy who could throw 200+ innings of 3.7 ERA ball, so that is more valuable then any reliever in baseball. The difference between Mo and Borowski is a lot less then the difference between Johan and Mussina

  • Rob

    I’m late coming to the thread, but I’ve said it before: If they structure their rotation right, they can plan to put Joba in as a way to clamp down on the innings of Phil and IPK too. Slot Phil as the #2 and IPK as the #5 and don’t let them go more than 6 innings in the first half. Bring Joba into those games for innings 7 and 8. He gets 2-4 innings a week, and helps preserve the other young arms, while doing his fantastic setup thing.


    • Yankee Fan in Chicago

      Except that you want him to be able to start later in the season. Two innings at a time is not optimal. A 3-4 inning stint once a week would prepare him to start.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    In all seriousness, go into the season with the team you built and are banking on for the future. Don’t jerk the kids around. Put Joba in the rotation from Day One and let him learn how to become half of the twin aces we hope for him and Hughes to be one day.

    By doing this bullpen thing, we want to have our cake and eat it too. You can’t commit to youth AND worry about what to do if struggles are there.

  • Rob

    Well, Jorge, if everybody is healthy and effective, they have an extra body. And the other options aren’t all that appealing:

    a) Joba to the pen
    b) Moose to the pen
    c) Kennedy to AAA

    I can certainly see why they’re prepared for Option A, at least until someone gets hurt. If all six aren’t healthy leaving Spring training (as Olney notes), then he’ll stay in the rotation.

  • E-ROC

    That sucks. The Yanks have a ton of options in the bullpens. One of those players will turn out to be a gem. The Yanks luck with relievers can’t be that bad. Also, I don’t want to see Mussina in the rotation. That is just too scary to even fathom. Yikes! Trade for closer like Huston Street, Chad Cordero, or Joe Nathan.

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  • brxbmrs


    First, thanks for your comments – it made me think I’m not totally insane, or at least I’ll have some company in the asylum ;-0.

    Its a tough call, I’d like to see Joba get a shot to start, but what he can do at the end of the game is nothing short of fantastic and when you aren’t facing the #5 starter for the Jays, you are going to need Joba and Mo at the end of the game.

  • Eric

    I think Joba is a starter but at 22 and in his first full season why not go with him at 150 innings out of the pen. Where he can go for 2-3 innings at a time. That is how a lot of teams back in the day like the Dodgers broke in their starters.

    I just cannot see the Yanks having 3 starters in the rotation that are all on pitch counts.

    • steve (different)

      i think it is a misconception that Kennedy is on an innings cap. and Hughes’ cap should be fairly liberal, like 180 innings.

      it’s really just Joba that needs to be micro-managed.

  • TurnTwo

    While I see the logic in what Wangfan says above and agree with him, part of me also agree with the other posters here on the board; why not acquire a Huston Street or Joe Nathan instead, and keep Joba in the rotation.

    Surely Street could be had for a couple of young arms not names Hughes or Kennedy, and he’d be under the control of the franchise for at least 3 years before FA, i believe. Isnt that worth it, rather than screwing around with Joba going back and forth?

    Its great to have pitching depth, but can we really use all of these pitchers in the next 3 years and have the result be as valuable to the team than what they could get from a pure late inning guy?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      “why not acquire a Huston Street or Joe Nathan instead, and keep Joba in the rotation.”

      Because it’s not that easy.

  • The Hitman

    I only see the logic of this if , as stated by an earlier poster, The Yanks are waiting to see if Sanchez , Melancon , or Cox can fill the spot after one or more of them prove their worth recovering from injuries.

    Other than that , it makes little sense…imho.

  • Steve S

    Its the only thing that makes sense. They need to protect them from overuse and its not as if they can go into opening day with all three of these guys and tell Girardi you can only use them for 160 innings in the regular season, and another twenty in the postseason. This is a smart of piecing together the bullpen for the short term and then allowing Joba to grow without making him into Prior.

  • The Hitman

    This innings limit nonsense has to stop. Catfish Hunter would have puked if they limited him to 160 innings ;-)

    • D

      Or maybe he would have liked the idea of being an effective pitcher after age 30…Hunter’s arm was shot after 30, he threw 3 more partial, ineffective (ERA+’s of 84, 101 & 76) seasons after ’76.

      In Hunter’s case, the shortening of his career was probably worth it since he was such a huge part of the A’s 3-peat but people continually reference him as an argument against IP limits…and he’s not exactly a shining example.

  • The Hitman

    You missed my point. There was a time pitchers went to the 7th and 8th inning and pitched over 200 innings. Today’s athletes , being bigger , stronger , and supposedly smarter should be able to do just that.

    • D

      No, I got the point completely. Back in the day, pitchers didn’t have limits set on their innings while they were moving thru the minors or in their first couple of ML seasons. Then we began to learn more about the effects of heavy workloads on bodies that were still developing and realized that it’s unsafe to ask a 22 year old to throw 120 more innings than he did the season before.

      The fact that athletes today are bigger and in better condition than they were 30-40 years ago still doesn’t make up for the fact that throwing a baseball as hard as you can over and over is exceptionally stressful on the arm, especially between the ages of 16 and about 24 or 25. Sometimes you’ll find exceptions (Seaver and Fergie Jenkins come to mind as guys who threw a ton of innings from an early age) but they are what they are: exceptions.

  • Lanny

    Why not acquire Nathan or street?

    Because they would cost Kennedy or Jackson and why pay that cost especially now if one of these young guys can come in and do it?

    I like how they are building the pen. With youth, versatility, and depth

  • CLT_JR

    People have to remember that Dave Eiland will continue to work with Joba between appearances. Unlike the Gator, Eiland knows these kids and how to teach them.

    This was one of the issues that all the young guys came up last year. Unlike Mussina, Pettite and Clemens that have been doing it for years, these kids need to continue their drills. Eiland should help Joba work on his other pitches even if he is working out of the pen.

    I actually like the move. Having him piggyback off Hughes and IPK’s starts could turn both of them into 15+ game winners. That’s not to shabby for both of their 1st full years in the majors.

  • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

    i dont have time to read 50 comments but bad, bad idea. joba aint a 1 pitch wonder (like Mo) or a two pitch wonder (like Papelbon) – he has 2 plus-plus pitches, a plus pitch and an average pitch. he can hit 96 after 6 innings. it all adds up to WAY too much to waste on 1-2 ip apps.

    it’s also far harder to transtion from reliever to starter than vice versa. if they’re going to do this relief thing to limit his innings, he should start as a starter – when he gets within about 30 innings of his limit, THEN put him in the pen. that transition is much easier than starting in the pen (where he’ll likely use just 2 pitches) and going back to starting mid-season (how’s he going to develop his 3rd & 4th pitches?). i wont believe this source until i actually see it. Cash is too smart to do this.

  • barry

    i hope they dont waste his talent in the pen all season

  • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

    what’s his source? ‘heard this’? wtf?

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  • Bart

    Joba the reliver is more critical for Joba the starter

    1- he will impact more games as a releiver
    2 – the Yankess wil need a replacement for Mo
    3 – they may need that replacement as soon as Mo’s elbow or sjoulder falres again
    4 – he is more likely to have a long and dominating career as a releiver/closer

    we are looking for games won – nto necessarily the next Clemens HOF

    On the other hand – Joba can be dominat in critcal series – especiaylly in the Post Season then the Yankees may have a 1-2-3 punch in Pettit, hughes, Joba (with Joba being the best of the 3 this year)

    I think we are lucky to be able to cosnider both options — is there an analog in the Paplebon sitiaution that we can learn from (Yankee management can learn from)

  • Mike

    If the Yankees go through with this plan, something they probably don’t even know themselves yet, it’s not a bad idea if handled properly. Let’s look at it another way. Joba pitched about 125 innings last year. How far could they reasonably push him in the regular season in 2008? 150-165 IP? That’s probably the max. Then we’ll still have the playoffs, and those innings do COUNT. So Joba is probably on 140 IP maximum for the regular season if the Yankees are planning to use him in the play-offs. Yet, how can they possibly limit him to 140 IP if he’s a starter? They can’t. The only way they can is if they limit his IP up front, just as the Twins did with Johan Santana his first couple of seasons. Start him in the pen April, May, maybe part of June, and then move him into the rotation. This will keep him at around 150 IP in the regular season, while also giving the Yankees a strong bridge to Mariano in the pen early in the season while they figure out what other options they have in the pen, something that’s a mystery right now.