While the origins of the Joba Debate date back to 2007, Jorge Posada struck what some considered a major blow last September, during his edition of the YES Network’s CenterStage:
“I think if you start him and he pitches 200 innings in one year, you’re going to lose him. He’s going to get hurt. I don’t see him as a starter.”
This got a lot of people going. After all, we’re just spectators. Jorge actually catches Joba. Well, kind of. At that point Jorge had seen Joba far more frequently as a reliever than as a starter, so he might have fallen victim to the confirmation bias.
Then, six months later, after Jorge had seen Joba pitch through Spring Training, he changed his tune:
“He’s our fifth starter and I’m happy with that. He was so good out of the pen (in 2007) and I hadn’t seen him as a starter. He’s been showing me and he’s proving me wrong.”
Last night went a long way in reinforcing that line of thought. Joba pitched masterfully, going eight strong innings and picking up the W in a 5-2 Yankees victory. He did it far more efficiently than in his last few starts, tossing 66 of his 106 pitches for strikes (62 percent) and just 13.25 pitches per inning.
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we have an instant look at Joba’s pitch repertoire, courtesy of Brooks Baseball. Joba’s average fastball was almost 94 mph, and he topped out at 97.6. That’s the gas we’ve seen from Joba in the past. Perhaps after his last start, in which he averaged just 90.36 mph on the fastball and topped out at 93.3, he just decided to let it fly. In any case, it worked remarkably well. Also of note: Joba threw 21 sliders, 18 of which were strikes. He also tossed 14 curveballs, another good sign for the young starter.
One of the stronger criticisms of Joba is that he doesn’t pitch deep enough into games. His eight strong innings tonight shows that he can indeed give the team length. This isn’t to say that he’ll do this every time; not even CC will pitch eight innings every time. The Yankees have to be pleased to know that Joba can do it. He’s far from a finished product, and to demonstrate the ability to pitch through the eighth inning is a big check mark in his development.
Last night was a lot of things for Joba, but it was not a check in the starter column. Nor was the start in Texas a tick for the reliever argument. The fans may perceive it that way, but the Yankees have made it clear that the plan is to develop him as a starter. Tonight just illustrated the upside of that decision. It was marvelous, of course, but it doesn’t advance the argument in either direction. It just shows that hey, this is what the Yanks are talking about.
(That’s not to say it can’t be used as an argument. It’s just that this outing doesn’t, as Nick Swisher cheerily remarked after the game, move the Jobameter towards starter. No one game does. Otherwise, we could cherry-pick all the favorable outings we wanted to make the argument.)
On the offensive side, the Yanks struggled a bit with runners in scoring position, picking up just three hits in 16 at bats. They did, however, draw 11 walks, which ended up powering their offense in the seventh. After squandering a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the sixth, they again sat back in the eighth as the Indians walked the bases loaded with one out. This time, Nick Swisher wouldn’t let the opportunity slip away. He slammed one off the top of the high left field wall, a home run in plenty of parks, for a two-run double. The Indians then decided to walk Mark Teixeira to re-load the bases for Alex Rodriguez. Fools. With nowhere to put A-Rod they had to throw him strikes, and he made them pay with a two-RBI single.
Those were the only runs the Yankees would need. With Joba rolling and Mo ready to close things out, the Indians didn’t stand a chance after the seventh. The win capped a 5-2 road trip, including three of four from the Indians. The Yanks are now 6-3 in their last nine games, and in two of those games they lost in the final inning. It looks like, just as in 2005, a big win streak has reenergized the team.
While the news today was grave on Jose Molina and Xavier Nady, the Yanks got some good news from Nick Swisher, who doubled twice in the game. If Nady’s going to miss additional time, Swisher’s presence in right field will become important. He won’t be as good as he showed in April, but to have a career-averages Swisher would be big for this already imposing lineup.
The Yanks take their winning ways back to the Stadium for what is essentially a 13-game homestand with a three-game trip to Fenway sandwiched in there. A.J. Burnett, who went home to get some rest in advance of his start, will face off against
a goomba Vicente Padilla. The Yanks should get quite a warm reception for this homecoming.
Oh, and here’s last night’s Web Gems. You’ll see Joba’s belly flop in the top spot.