When word leaked that Joba Chamberlain would stay in the bullpen for the remainder of the season, we deemed it big enough news to get an instant post. Ben briefly discussed the decision yesterday evening, but left it as mostly a report. There’s a lot more to say about this move, and while regular RAB readers might think we’re against it, I’ll take a stand and say it’s the right move.
This isn’t the regular season. The Yankees cannot afford to hand Chamberlain the ball and hope for the best, as they did in September. During the regular season teams have a margin for error. The Yanks were able to use Joba every fifth day because there were four other starters to help cover up his bad starts. If the Yanks were facing another team’s fourth or fifth starter (or, really, any of their non-ace guys), they might have even been able to put up more runs than Joba allowed. This is not the case in the playoffs.
There is no covering up for mistakes in the playoffs. If Joba has a bad game, as he did for almost the entire months of August and September, it puts the Yankees one loss closer to elimination. That’s something no team can afford, even for one game in the playoffs. Given how Chamberlain pitched in August and September — 39 earned runs in 46.2 innings with a 36:26 K/BB ratio and a .913 OPS against — the Yanks are wise to seek alternatives in the ALCS.
The only place to turn is to Chad Gaudin, the team’s fifth starter down the stretch. In five September starts he pitched 26.2 innings, allowing 11 runs on 27 hits, walking 10 to 18 strikeouts. Those aren’t sterling numbers, but they’re far better than Joba’s. Gaudin shouldn’t be starting for a playoff team, but the Yankees find themselves in dire circumstances. Their fourth starter has proven ineffective, so the fifth starter must take over if he’s pitching better.
There is, of course, a chance Gaudin pitches poorly and puts the Yankees out of a game early. Given how he pitched compared to Joba, though, it would appear that the Yanks’ chances are better with Gaudin. There is also an issue of stamina — Gaudin pitched six or more innings only twice, and once was against the Royals. I would guess that when the Yankees say Gaudin will start in the ALCS, they mean that Gaudin will start and Aceves will act as his caddy, as he did for Joba in August and September. It’s not an ideal solution, but the Gaudin-Aceves combo, while wasting a roster spot, puts the Yankees in a better position.
On top of all that is the issue of Joba’s innings. Between college and the Hawaiian Winter League in 2006, Joba threw just under 130 innings. He is now three years removed from that total, and he pitched just under 160 innings this year. In addition, he has pitched just 370 innings as a professional. The Yankees worked Joba plenty in the regular season, and while he’d get only two starts, those are two starts in which he’d be well past his high water mark, and way, way beyond his 100 inning total from 2008.
The decision is not perfect. The Yankees surely don’t want to have Chad Gaudin pitch in the ALCS and World Series. (Though, again, if they pitch CC once on three days’ rest in the ALCS, they won’t need a fourth starter.) Given the alternatives, it is the only decision. Forget about how Joba can play a big role in multiple games out of the pen. The decision is based on performance, and Gaudin clearly outperformed Joba down the stretch.
As to Joba’s future, I wouldn’t read anything into this decision. Maybe Joba shines in the playoffs and the Yankees deem him a future closer — though I doubt they’d base a major decision on a small stretch of games. They have a long-term plan, and I assume they’ll stick to it. But when it comes to the playoffs, long-term thinking goes out the window. The Yanks want to win this now, and given how they’ve pitched, going with Gaudin (or, really, Gaudin and Aceves) is the right call.