Feb
15

Just talkin’ about Mo

By

Pitchers and catchers reported a few days ago, and as expected nothing happened. The beat writers were around to give us updates on who was throwing and who was at the minor league complex working out, but that’s about it. Still, there has to be something to talk about, and it seems the theme of the day is Mariano Rivera and his eventual retirement. It’s a subject no one really wants to think about, yet it’s addressed in a number of the New York papers.

Kat O’Brien opens with an ominous quote: “The end is coming. Sooner or later, it’s going to come.” My only follow-up would be, does this mean the end as in the end of his career, or the end as in the end of days, since we know Mo moonlights as the creator of the universe? Either way it doesn’t bode well for Yankees fans.

Pete Abraham, writing in his newspaper and not on his blog, focuses more on Mo’s injury last year, which started far before most of us imagined. Yet he still managed, despite feeling pain in his sleep, to produce one of the finest years of his career, tallying a WHIP below 0.70. And when it comes to this season, Mo knows he’s ready:

“It will be there,” he said. “It will be there. I don’t have those thoughts in my mind. When I go on the mound, I know that everything is going to be there. And if it’s not there that day, I know that the next time it’s going to be there. I don’t worry about those things.”

Of course, not every story focused on Mo himself. John Harper, who I like a lot less after he wasted my time by writing this article which I would inevitably read, opens up the same old can of worms “On the other hand, the start to spring training provides just as much reason to argue the other way on the Great Joba Debate: starter or reliever?”

Call it a debate if you will, but it is certainly not great. I know there are still some people reading RAB who believe that Joba should be in the pen. We’ve had this argument numerous times, and I feel that the Joba as a starter crew has met the burden of proof dozens of times over. Yet Harper still clamors for Joba to the bullpen, based on something he calls “logic.”

At least Harper invokes the one argument I find remotely acceptable for moving Joba to the pen: “Look at it this way: where would the drop-off without him be more dramatic this season, in the rotation with Phil Hughes as the No. 5 starter, or in the bullpen with Brian Bruney as Rivera’s set-up man?” That’s a well-reasoned, team-need-based argument. But because we can’t answer the question, it’s best for the Yankees to stick to what they’re doing.

They went out this off-season and signed two top of the rotation starters because they didn’t want to guarantee Phil Hughes a rotation spot this spring. I’m assuming nothing has changed between now and then. The Yankees will check out Hughes in Spring Training, obviously, and will have to take some time during the season to determine the drop-off from Joba to him. Similarly, the team will have to evaluate how well Brian Bruney can handle his role. Not only that, but they’ll have a good long look at Mark Melancon and determine how he can fit into the bullpen.

While I applaud Harper for making a reasonable argument, I also scold him for wasting time with it. The Yankees are bringing Joba along as a starter. That’s not going to change unless something else changes first. Spring Training itself should not evoke this debate.Call me when something changes. Even then, chances still are that Joba’s ideal role will be in the rotation.

Categories : Spring Training
  • Joe R

    The only thing I would see Joba going to the pen for is if, Mo forbid, we lost Mo early in the season for possibly the rest of it. And even still it’d be a tough call.

    • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

      In that case, Melvin Croussett would simply have to be called up.

      • Jack

        No, Melvin will call himself up when he’s good and ready.

        • Mike Pop

          Heh, Melvin.

        • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

          Well played.

    • Mike Pop

      I am all for Joba as a starter, but lets say this happens. In Spring Training, Hughes is throwing lights out ball. Ya know, giving good innings, getting K’s, and working through the innings fairly easily. Then Joba is getting hit hard and really not throwing the ball well. What happens then? I know that probably won’t happen but say it does, do the Yankees give the 5th spot to Hughes or go with Joba anyways and put Hughes in AAA.

      • MattG

        Spring training stats = irrelevant.

        Small sample size stats = irrelevant.

        Both pitcher are healthy, Joba starts in the rotation, Hughes at AAA.

        • Mike Pop

          Well I don’t think you should call it irrelevant. I think there would be a big problem if this happens.

          • whozat

            There wouldn’t be a big problem. One pitcher has already dominated at the big league level, while being a bit inefficient with his pitches. The other has struggled.

            Spring states tend not to mean much…I think you’re certainly concerned, and if Joba continues to struggle through April and Hughes is retiring hitters in his sleep, you think about making a change. But you have to weigh what Joba did last year over a crappy month of March.

            • Mike Pop

              If Joba wasn’t pitching well, would it be back to AAA or to the bullpen if Hughes takes over for him? That is the concern it causes for me.

              • whozat

                I think it’d be back to AAA for a bit, for him to get his head on straight. They see him as a starter; I don’t think a couple of months of struggle is going to change that.

                This is the great thing about having Hughes in AAA. If there’s an injury, or if Joba struggles, I feel pretty good about swapping him into the rotation. And, if (when) he breaks out, they just let Andy go next season and boom, they still have a real good rotation. Or, they trade Wang for a real good young player, bring Andy back as a stopgap, and use Kennedy/ZMac/someone else as their primary insurance.

                • Jay CT

                  Didn’t Joba struggle last spring training? I don’t think its fair to him to continue this back and forth nonsense. I think the Yankees did the right thing by telling everyone he is a starter. It has to mess with the kids head to contstantly hear this “debate.”

                  I think there are worse things in this world if Rivera got hurt, and was lost for the season, and they moved Joba to the pen, but then he must stay there (which I do not want, but the yoyo shit is just wrong).

                  Its interesting how none of these reporters would consider moving Hughes to the 8th inning and use Joba as the starting pitcher. I mean, they obviously think Hughes is good if he can replace Joba, and they obviously feel that the 8th inning is of vital importance.

                  In the end, this is all Mariano’s fault. If he wasn’t so damn good back in ’96, when Torre would have him for 2 followed by John, there would be none of this debate.

  • MattG

    I am not going to waste my time on Harper’s article, as you did, but from what you summarize, it sounds like a great argument for Hughes to the bullpen. If Hughes and Joba are both on the staff, the better pitcher starts. Its not more complicated than that.

    • Ryan S.

      Hughes to the bullpen? That’s almost as bad as Joba. Hughes needs a starter’s workload so that he can build up his innings, and he’ll make an extremely serviceable #6 starter when the need for it inevitably arises. If you keep him in the pen in 2009, then we may not have the opportunity to use him as Pettitte’s replacement in 2010.

      • MattG

        That’s my point: almost as bad as Joba. If you have Joba and Hughes on the same staff, along with the other four, which one should pitch out of the bullpen? That’d be Hughes.

        This doofus would have the Yankees move Joba to the bullpen so Hughes could start. Why would you move the BETTER pitcher to the bullpen?

        • Ryan S.

          Okay, now I get your point…that makes sense. That is rather mind-boggling. At the end of the day though, keeping them both as starters (even though it means Hughes being in AAA this year) is the best thing to do, and it is what is going to happen.

      • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

        No, I disagree. Hughes in the bullpen would allow him to just use his 2 best pitches (fastball/curve) and give him more time to develop his secondary stuff. He’s known for having a steel trap memory when it comes to hitters, and likes to know his enemy. Learning an entire league all at once was a bit much.

        It would allow him to wade into the big league waters slowly. Phil seemed a bit over matched by the pressure of being ‘Phil Phranchise’ and having to produce immediately for the win-now Yankees. He became too predictable, throwing every fastball the exact same speed and his curve often in the same spots. He was simply trying too hard. Pitching is about ‘putting a little on, taking a little off’. Al Leiter uses the old line about each pitch being ‘pages of a book’. Phil was stuck on page 1.

        Giving him limited exposure, bit by bit he can both gain confidence and knowledge about hitters tendencies. Its a VERY good idea IMO.

        • Ryan S.

          Letting him work on all of his pitches and building up his inning count as a starter in AAA would also help him gain confidence. Putting Hughes in the bullpen would limit his innings too much, and I’m worried that his overall long term development as a starter would be hurt as a result. Hughes has always been a starter and that’s where we need him the most. His likely role as a #6 starter will still put him to good use at the major league level this year and get him a little more familiar with opposition, and it primes him up to be ready to pitch 175+ innings as our #5 starter in 2010.

          • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

            He’s already proven he’s mastered AAA. In both his and IPK’s case, I think the only way they will learn what they need to learn is to do it at the MLB level.

            • Ryan S.

              Agreed about IPK. Hughes has thrown less then 60 innings over 2 years in AAA though. There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting have a full, healthy season in the minors and as the go-to guy when one of the front 5 inevitably goes on the DL. Let him build up his innings and let him have a stable season to hone his other pitches and gain confidence. I wouldn’t be opposed to using him in the bullpen in September and October, though, if we have the need for him.

        • Sweet Dick Willie

          Jeez, can we stop with this starters to the bullpen BS?

          Starters are more valuable to a team than relievers. So until you prove that you can’t cut it as a ML starter, you’re a starter. Once it becomes evident that you are not going to be an effective ML starter, then, and only then, should you be relegated to the bullpen.

          Pettitte in all likelihood is gone after this year, and there is also the Burnett durability factor to consider, so we can’t be sending potential top of the rotation starters to the bullpen for ANY reason. The major strength of the Yanks minor league system at this point is the relievers, so it’s unnecessary and foolish send potential top of the rotation starters there until they prove they can’t cut it in the rotation.

          • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

            I agree. Starters should never go to the bullpen.

            Just ask Chad Billingsley, David Price, Joba Chamberlain, Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, Ron Guidry, and a zillion other guys.

            Starters are starters, and that’s it.

            • Sweet Dick Willie

              Yeah,when they go on re-hab, or innings limits or such, not because that is where they are best utilized.

              Where is David Price penciled to pitch this year?

              Starters are starters, and that’s it. until they prove they can’t cut it as a starter.

              Fixed.

        • TheLastClown

          I don’t know. The “could-have-been” no-hitter in 07, & the dominant postseason rescue job by Hughes tell me he’s not “overwhelmed” by the league.

          I do agree that he tried too hard last year, but in my opinion, this was secondary to his injuries.

          Hughes in the bullpen would not get a chance to develop his secondary pitches. Especially if he’s coming in in high-leverage situations out of the pen. How many curveballs did we see out of Joba before he started transitioning to a starter last year? How many changeups? The year before?

          Hughes & Joba have no place in the pen UNTIL they prove, in the timeframe of at least a few years, that they can NOT handle, physically, the strain of 200 IP/season & 100 – 130 pitches/start.

          Until they prove their breakability, no pen, no how, unless its some emergency or the playoffs or whatnot.

  • MattG

    Also, using the drop-off from Bruney is dubious. How about using the drop-off from the pitcher having the best season out of Bruney, Marte, Robertson, Ramirez, and Albaladejo in April, plus Melancon and others in the middle of the summer?

    There are no good arguments for Joba to the pen.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      There are no good arguments for Joba to the pen.

      Amen brother, a-fucking-men.

      • Steve H

        Exactly. The only time I ever want to hear a Joba to the pen argument come up again is if in 5 years he hasn’t established the ability to stay healthy as a starter. Beckett didn’t hit 150 innings until his 3rd year in the majors, and 200 innings until his 5th. Why didn’t they make him a reliever? Shit, why didn’t they even consider it? Because it’s stupid.

      • Drew

        I want Joba to be our current/future ace but there is one argument for him in the Bullpen, We have so many damn pitchers! this is great, for all the heat Cash has taken I sure hope we thank him for this year! BTW I never want to see Joba in the pen, I’m just saying that some nutballs could argue for it.

  • http://deleted Al

    Um, Joe, that is not a good argument for Joba in the pen. The drop-off from Joba to Bruney is a HUNDRED TIMES SMALLER than the drop-off from Joba to Phil, and I believe Phil will eventually be good. We know Bruney can be a decent middle-end reliever. What do we know about Phil Hughes other than that he can throw one helluva batting practice fastball? This guy really wants to entrust a spot to Hughes (hmm, how did that work last year?) just because he doesn’t have confidence in Brian Bruney? The same Brian Bruney who posted a sub-2.00 era (albeit in limited time) last year?

    • http://liberalmusings.wordpress.com Pablo Zevallos

      The drop-off from Joba to Bruney is a HUNDRED TIMES SMALLER than the drop-off from Joba to Phil

      No way. I’m all for Joba in the rotation, but absolutely not.

      • http://www.new.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/profile.php?id=594331910&ref=name Jamal G.

        It may not be the hyperbolic amount that Al exaggerated it to be, but it is a well-known fact that the production of a replacement-level reliever is a much smaller drop-off from the league-average reliever than its starting-pitcher counterpart.

        • Ryan S.

          I would bet money Hughes does better than a replacement level starter when he is used this season, but yes, this obviously makes sense.

        • Thomas

          Just to throw some numbers out to the people in a very simple exercise. We’ll assume Joba as a starter posts a 3.50 ERA and 1.50 as a reliever, Hughes’ ERA will be 4.25, and the top non-Joba reliever will post a 2.50 ERA. Over 150 starting for Hughes and Joba starting, Joba gives up 58.33 runs and Hughes 70.83 runs (a 12.5 run difference). For relieving over 80 innings, Joba gives up 13.33 runs and the next best reliever gives up 22.22 runs (a difference of just under 9 runs). So having Joba start versus relieve saves the Yankees 3.5 runs or pretty close to one win.

          Thus, Joba is worth more as a starter and a replacement level reliever is a much smaller drop off than a replacement starter, in this obviously simple exercise

          • http://statspeak.net dan

            3.5 runs isn’t so close to one win, its closer to zero wins. And how can you assume he’ll put up a 1.50 ERA as a reliever? Is he suddenly THE BEST reliever in the entire major leagues? He wasn’t even that good last year.

            I obviously agree with your conclusion that Joba should start, but that’s not exactly a flawless exercise.

            • Thomas

              As I said the exercise is simplified.

              Joba for his career has a 1.53 ERA as a reliever (and 2.76 as a starter). I was trying to show even if Joba pitches spectacularly as a reliever and good, but not great as a starter, he is still most valuable in the rotation. If you increase his relieving ERA, his value in the rotation just increases.

              My bad about the 3.5 runs, I definitely miscalculated.

              Just trying to show by some basic numbers (with best case for Joba in the pen) that Joba is worth more as a starter.

  • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

    There is only one justification for Joba in the pen, well if we stretch it…there could be two.
    1) Joba keeps breaking down after 100/150 innings. This would put him in the pen.
    2) Mo breaks down but, the caveat being…their is no one to replace him. We have some great arms in BP that may be able to save games (Melancon), plus we have guys that are starters i.e. Phil, Aceves and Coke etc. I don’t see a need (except in #1) for him to go to BP.
    Joba to the Bull Pen is a non-starter for me, I don’t like it and never will…unless, one of the two problems above happen…Mo forbid!

    • whozat

      Joba to the Bull Pen is a non-starter for me

      Pun intended?

      • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

        At least he didn’t call it the ‘ball’ pen, like I’ve seen elsewhere.

    • Artist formerly known as ‘The’ Steve

      “1) Joba keeps breaking down after 100/150 innings. This would put him in the pen.”

      Bingo. That’s the only way it makes sense. He’s never thrown more than 120 IP in any season, and may simply not be able to. But even that determination is a few years off at 23 years old. Rubber-armed David Wells threw 157 IP at age 20 and then never threw more than that again until he was 27 years old. So nothing should be set in stone.

      http://www.thebaseballcube.com.....ells.shtml

      • http://statspeak.net dan

        Wow, I never knew that. Thanks for the info.

    • Mike Pop

      Exactly, number one is the only reason he should be in the pen.

    • Darth Stein

      I can see your first point. If Joba cannot handle a starter work load then I would rather have him in the pen then wash out of the league. With the caveat that it would take several consecutive years of injuries to establish this. However, your second point regarding a Mo injury I have seen surfacing in a couple of places and it makes no sense. If your closer gets injured why in the world would any rational person convert a stud started prospect/future ace to be a closer. Let me ask it another way, if Mo gets injured and Joba also gets injured would the next logical move be to make CC the closer? If it makes sense to fill the closer role from the rotation then moving CC is the next logical step.

      Bottom line is that the only wat it makes sense for Joba to be moved to the bullpen is if he proves beyond any doubt that he cannot start.

      • kSturnz

        WADR, if Joba cannot handle a starter work load, you keep him at it until he can handle it. Just because we have 3 other front rotation arms is no reason to move Joba to the pen if he has a setback.

  • RobC

    How long has this “end of Mo” topic been coming up?
    Did it start in 04 with a few bad outings against the Red Sox?

    He pitched very well last year injured I would not worry about his this year.

    Any word on him toying with a change-up?
    Even if his cutter declines if he adds a change and he knows how to pitch I could see him effective for another 5 seasons.
    If I were someone like John Kerry I would introduce a Constitutional amendment against Mo ever using a change-up.

    • Ryan S.

      That’s kind of what I’m thinking. What if Mo added another pitch? If he could throw a quality change-up and locate it like he does his cutter, he could shock the league a little bit. Mo is pitching better than Hoffman was at 39, and doing so in the toughest division. Rivera is incomparable, and I agree, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he pitched another 5 good years for us. I could also see him being done at the end of his current contract, but its far from a foregone conclusion than that is the case.

      • TheLastClown

        I could very much see Mo hanging it up when he felt he couldn’t perform to the “Mo” standard that he’s set.

        Kind of like Joe D.

        I don’t think we’ll see a gradual decline from Mo. I think he’ll sense it coming & hang it up.

        Just a guess based on what, of his personality, I know.

        I, myself would be thrilled to see jaws hit the dirt as “the change that was never supposed to exist” comes tumbling through the zone for strike 3 ;)

        *is there anyway to do a backwards K in here?*

        • Ryan S.

          People would literally crap in their pants if he unveiled a change-up for another out pitch. And I’m curious just how much of a velo drop it will take for his cutter to not be effective anymore … its really not conceivable how he can locate his pitches so well.

  • http://statspeak.net dan

    We have at least this year and next year for Mo. Maybe at this time a year from now I’ll start to really care about this issue. Hopefully Mark Melancon (or Melvin Crousett) can help to ease those worries though.

  • Mike Pop

    Will be a sad day when Mo is no longer closing games for us. We have been spoiled.

    • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

      In my life time, I have seen some good Closers (even before they were called closers). I have never seen one as consistent, for as long, as our own Mo.
      When the day comes, for him to hang it up, hopefully we have “Mellow” ready to; “kick ass and take numbers!”.
      Sometimes, (try, all the time) it is hard to think of a good, reliable reason for; “Joba to the pen”. The only one that I would endorse is the #1 reason (I posted above). The number 2) reason would have to be; “looking to win now…at any cost!”…but, I still would be very disinclined to make that move.

      • Ryan S.

        Ideally, the switch from Mo to Mellow would be the closer equivalent of the switch from Joe D. to The Mick in center field… but I doubt things work out so elegantly. Still, I do think that by the time Rivera is definitely read to call it quits, I think we will have a worthy replace for him ready to go, whether it be from someone we’ve developed ourselves or through a trade / FA acquisition I do not know.

  • Dan

    Just put him in the pen and put Hughes as the 5. I’d rather win a title and a shutdown pen is way more valueable than a 5 starter

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

      Evidence to support statement: zero.

    • Mike Pop

      B-Jobber alert.

      • Dave

        Joe,

        I agree. You hit the nail on the head saying why in the world does spring training bring this debate back up? That means that anything could bring the debate back up – going to the bronx, allstar break, going to the playoffs. Does every single time the yanks make some small transition open up this debate again? I dont understand why it would. The only thing that brings up this debate is if Mo gets hurt and Hughes is dominating AAA but that hasnt happened and even then, joba is not needed in the pen unless someone else out of the pen fails miserably in the ninth and it likely would have to be more than one person. It is not just bruney who would be up for the replacement job – i DONT even think bruney would be the first one to lay claim to it as unless it is in april, melancon has a good shot to be the first one subbing in.

        And then, there is the other 5 relievers to consider in guys like ramirez, robertson, albadejo, etc. It is not definitely one person that will fill in as it is more likely to be whoever is pitching the best ball at that point. And perhaps even a closer by committee situation god forbid. Truth is, there is no reason whatsoever to decide who would replace rivera in the event of an injury right now and even less reason to think no one behind mo would be capable enough to pitch the ninth without being forced to tear joba from the rotation. If joba sucks as a starter – then, maybe the debate can be re-ignited but spring training is not a signal to start one of the more ridiculous yankee conversations around.

        • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

          I know I’ll be sorry for this but, Marte is #1 to look at for the 9th…he has done it before.

  • Drew

    [("Abreu left without paying," Matsui said. "Jeter has one more month.") From Lohud..] about their marriage wager. Come on Bobby what’s with that!?

    After reading about the wealth of pitching down in ST I am even more excited for this season! This staff is unbelievable. With AAA killers like Kennedy I’m hoping he shows teams what he can do and we trade him and maybe one guy for a real prospect.
    I’m still trying to grip my hands around the fact that we have Melky Gardner Mastsui Nady Swisher in the OF.

  • Drew

    Does anyone know if the Cuban Defectors have to wait till July to get signed? It seems like they have fallen off the face of the earth the past few weeks.

  • Hawkins44

    If MO get’s hurt (or ineffective) and Hughes is throwing lights out in the minors it will get interesting… I’m one of the many morons that get’s lambasted on a regular basis for my belief that Hughes/Kennedy should battle it out for number 5 and Joba should hedge our “Mo might get old” concern….. Joseph, nice to hear that you see a shred of logic in the move.

    No Mo or Joba in the back end of the bullpen and we become last years Mets….

    • Dave

      Hawkins,

      There is a guy named mark melancon in the st complex you might have heard of him. He is perhaps one of the best relievers prospects around and improved in every level of the minors pitching almost 100 innings the year after TJ surgery. He is already good to go to the bronx if we need him. I think he could make a very viable replacement for Mo in the event of an injury. And not only that – Bruney was just dominant last year and could be even better now. We also have about 15 other relievers whp most of which have not yet shown their potential. Not to mention, one of the better pen arms in the game in marte. And Mo is fine – there is no reason to start debating replacements when they guy is not a concern right now.

      I think the only way this debate really gets some steam or some legs or whatever is if joba fails as a starter. Then, he is certainly destined to go back to the pen. But if hughes is pitching really well and mo is injured, there are other options besides joba to turn to and who knows if the rest of the rotation will be fine all next year? Someone may go down at any point and we have far more depth from relievers than starters still. We should not take away from our starting depth to add to the pen. Its not worth it.

      • Dave

        I usually like your guys trades and signings ideas but getting pedro would be a waste of money. We might as well throw that same amount at cruz and see if he comes wondering this way. Pedro will not be effective in the AL and he would be way down the least of replacements most likely. He would net us back very little in a trade and there is a chance we get stuck with him. With this one, I am going to say i dont really think that move would help us. I almost always agree with you guys on this stuff though but i just dont see us benefiting from anything we would get back in a trade for pedro after the spring is over. And i really think he would not do well in the spring either. I dont even know if he would take a minor league deal but if not, there is no way he is worth the roster spot either.

        • Hawkins44

          Right… let’s go into the post season with Melancon closing out games against the Red Sox in Fenway…. that will work. and I love Bruney, but he walks an unacceptable amount of base runners to ever be a closer.

  • Troy in NJ

    I really get annoyed with the Joba to the pen garbage.

    The Yankees have a ton of depth in their bullpen. A starter is worth so much more than a reliever. Even a great reliever. AJ Burnett gets more than Mo or K-Rod.

    But Harper’s argument is garbage as well. Bruney was excellent last year (better than Joba out of the pen). Plus there is Ramirez, Marte, Robertson, Veras, Melancon, Sanchez and even Phil Hughes who could pitch out of the pen if need be.

  • David

    I foresee the “Joba in the pen” debate starting again for the 2009 post season. (I am confident that the Yanks will get that far.) Since only 3 or 4 starters are needed for the post season, it will make sense to move Joba to the pen at that time unless he’s substantially better than 3 other SPs. Also, his lack of experience could justify a move to the pen for the post-season.

  • http://ranger2709.blogspot.com Old Ranger

    I am opting out of the Joba to the pen debate…if it starts again. It is a waste of time and energy. Joba to the Pen is a non-starter ( ok, so it is a pun…and much intended as such) for me and most others around the game, with a cell in their brain to think with.