A role, defined or not, for Joba


When Brian Cashman announced last week that Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes would not have significant innings limits next season, he hedged his bets on the two youngsters’ true roles. “I look at them as starters that can relieve,” Cashman said. “But I look at them as starters.”

In one sense, that characterization gives the Yanks some flexibility. They know for a fact that Phil Hughes can be a lockdown reliever, and they believe he can be a dominant starter. They know for a fact that Joba Chamberlain can be a lockdown reliever, and they know that he can be a dominant starter. If knowing, as they say, is half the battle, well, then the Yankees are halfway there.

This flexibility gives them the opportunity to take a wait-and-see approach to this winter’s pitching market. They have CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett inked in to the top two slots and will likely enjoy the services of Andy Pettitte as well. Behind those three await some combination of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin and Ian Kennedy with Al Aceves, Sergio Mitre and Chien-Ming Wang as potential options as well. John Lackey is out there; Roy Halladay is out there; Ben Sheets is out there. Any addition would be icing on the depth chake.

With this plethora of pitching comes some uncertainty though. Talking to reporters last night as his Wrap to Rap charity event, Joba noted that his role for 2010 remains undefined. Here’s how’s Anthony DiComo put it:

As for Chamberlain, the Yankees have not yet told him whether he should prepare as a starting pitcher or a reliever. With Spring Training still three months away, Chamberlain has not even begun working out again, much less throwing…

By the time the postseason rolled around, the Yankees had decided to proceed with a three-man rotation, thereby relegating Chamberlain back to the bullpen. And his future remains unclear. The only hints he has received have come from general manager Brian Cashman, who said last week that he envisioned both Chamberlain and Phil Hughes as starters — but starters who are capable of relieving. “So he didn’t really answer the question,” Chamberlain cracked.

In a way, this is a spurious extrapolation by DiComo. The Yankees remained committed to Joba the starter throughout the 2009 season, and despite a late-season slide — possibly brought about by inconsistent rules — Joba met expectations. He stayed healthy throughout the season and made his starts to greater or lesser degrees of success.

The postseason, though, has a funny way of clouding perception. Although Joba’s overall October numbers were in line with his season totals, the eyes can tell a slightly different story. During the AL playoff rounds and World Series, Joba was indeed throwing a tick harder. During the playoffs, he averaged around 94/95 and dialed it up to 97/98, up a few miles per hour over his season numbers. That difference can turn Joba from an above-average pitcher to an elite one, and although he doesn’t have to sustain that velocity over the course of 34 starts, that it disappeared this year after it was there for 2008 led to a few questions this season.

In the end, as I mentioned in the comments to Joe’s post on Ben Sheets, Joba’s role may very well depend upon how the Yanks’ off-season unfolds. If the pitcher depth is there for the Yanks, they have the luxury of knowing that Joba (and Phil) can succeed in the bullpen, but on the depth charts, Joba probably has an edge for a rotation spot over Phil simply because he has the innings, experience and success under his belt.

In the meantime, Joba doesn’t mind the uncertainty. “It’s a great problem to have for Phil and myself,” he said. “We’ve been in situations and there’s a lot of things we can be. I think it’s an advantage for our team that there are so many different options to make us better for 2010.”

I believe Joba is a starter and should spend the off-season preparing as such. He doesn’t really need Brian Cashman to come out and say it, but we know it. When all is said and done, 2010 will seen Joba in the rotation, and the Yanks are better off for it.

Categories : Pitching


  1. I can has starter please?

  2. Rob says:

    Why do you guys rate Sheets higher than Bedard?

    • Via TSJC:

      Erik Bedard, 2004-2009 (BAL, SEA):
      141 starts, 821.1 IP, 3.70 ERA (121+), 8.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.321 WHIP

      Ben Sheets, 2004-2008 (MIL):
      128 starts, 839.1 IP, 3.24 ERA (134+), 8.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 1.095 WHIP

      That’s right, despite missing ALL of 2009, Ben Sheets not only outproduced Bedard across the board for the past 6 years, HE ALSO PITCHED MORE INNINGS.

      They both miss bats, and Sheets has been better. If Sheets is really actually healthy this year, he stands to be better than Bedard. It’s close though.

      • Not only that, but the specific injuries and the injury timelines make it a slam dunk.

        Sheets had surgery to repair a torn elbow flexor tendon (serious, but far less troubling than other potential surgeries) back in February 2009. He should be ready for Opening Day, and is probably fairly healthy given that he hasn’t had to use the elbow since September of 2008.

        Bedard had surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum (shoulder injuries are much harder to recover from than elbow injuries are, and the shoulder labrum injury is probably the worst shoulder injury to have) and he had that surgery just a month ago. He probably isn’t ready for Opening Day, and if he is, he’ll be far behind Sheets in the progression back to full strength.

        Bedard has a harder rehab road back, and even if he gets all the way back to the old Bedard, the old Bedard is still not as good as the old Sheets.

      • Rob says:

        And my reply there:

        “In the weakest division in baseball…

        Of course, that’s also a nice cherry-picked range. 2004 was Bedard’s rookie year while Sheets had three full, and below-average, years under his stirrups.”

        Besides, we’re not talking about a #1 or #2 so the innings are less important. There’s also the salary. Bedard seems like the clear better value. And I place much great weight on him being successful in the AL.

        Sheets against the AL?:
        3.55 ERA, 16 GS, 106.1 IP, 96 H, 34 BB, 77 K

        Bedard against the NL?:
        1.94 ERA, 15 GS, 92.2 IP, 70 H, 29 BB, 109 K

        Case closed.

  3. A.D. says:

    Jesus, just have them start, if last year taught anything the pen can be a crap shoot (and SP can make up for the pen) so throw stuff against the wall for a pen and something will stick.

  4. miketotheg says:

    just to indulge. a happy thought for the winter. how about a rotation of


    with all of them dominating. feels like a new dynasty to me.

    robertson, melancon, marte, coke and bruney can battle out the bullpen bridge to mo.

    wow. i can’t wait for the repeat!!

  5. Zack says:

    “As for Chamberlain, the Yankees have not yet told him whether he should prepare as a starting pitcher or a reliever. With Spring Training still three months away, Chamberlain has not even begun working out again, much less throwing…”

    Why is there no direct quote from Joba saying this? I’m going to guess that Joba just made a comment trying to just brush off the question he’s gotten for the 2 millionth time and DiComo took it as OMG HE’S CLUELESS!1!

  6. Jake H says:

    Joba should be a starter until he proves over the course of at least a year that he can’t do it.

    Joba before he got hurt in 08 had a 2.63 until he got hurt in Texas. Also if you look at his stats Joba lost his control and the easiest stat to show that is that 110 innings in 08 2 hbp. In 157 innings in 09 he hit 12 guys. Also his walks went from 39 to 76. Walks went up and k’s went down per 9.

  7. Will says:

    I know Joba has the innings and more experience as a starter, but if it comes down to only 1 rotation spot available I’d like to see Phil Phranchise have it. I just feel more comfortable with him as a starter. He seemed to be just as good as Joba for the brief time he pitched as a starter in 2009, and his pitches seemed much more polished and sharper than Joba’s, especially down the stretch.

    I know Hughes struggled in the post season, and Joba seemd to find his spark towards the end, but I don’t think we should judge that time because the sample size is so small.

    Ideally, I’d like to see both of them in the rotation, but that rules out a possible trade or FA signing. (This is all assuming Andy comes back for the 3rd spot). But if its up to 1 guy to take that 5th spot, I want Hughes.

    • Spaceman.Spiff says:

      I’m of the opposite view. They both had times where they dominated as relievers. That is because good starters make great relievers.

      You say you feel more comfortable with Phil as a starter however and I’m not sure I can back you on that. Phil’s ERA as a starter was 5.45 in 2009, 5.22 in his career and 1.40 as a reliever in 2009. Joba as a starter was 4.78 in 2009, 4.18 for his career and 1.50 era as a reliever for his career. I don’t know what about that signifies that Joba should be the one back in the pen if either. I’m a little busy right now but I’d presume that more reliable stats than ERA are along those lines, correct me if I’m wrong.

      I’m glad you feel more comfortable with Phil but I’ll trust the stats unless you have more tangible evidence than comfort level, no disrespect to you.

      Again, like you I’d rather have both in the rotation, probably more than I want a trade or FA signing (beyond a low-risk flexible signing like Duke). But if it’s up to 1 guy for the 5th spot, I want Joba. But I have high hopes for both, I would never try to put them in the bullpen long-term before knowing for sure that they can’t start.

      • Spaceman.Spiff says:

        In fact, here are some more stats:

        Joba as a starter career
        4.18 ERA
        8.4 K/9
        2.04 K/BB
        1.480 WHIP
        .759 Opp OPS

        Hughies as a starter career
        5.22 ERA
        7.1 K/9
        1.90 K/BB
        1.436 WHIP
        .778 Opp OPS

        Joba as a starter 2009
        4.78 ERA
        7.6 K/9
        1.74 K/BB
        1.554 WHIP
        .806 Opp OPS

        Hughies as a starter 2009
        5.45 ERA
        8.0 K/9
        2.07 K/BB
        1.500 WHIP
        .868 Opp OPS

        Joba’s career numbers are better in every way and 2009 is probably still in his favor even though he had a lot more control problems this year than in his career (hopefully that’s correctable). People seem to forget how much trouble Hughes had as a starter this year before we shifted him to the bullpen and he became the Joba of 2009. With that said, neither should be considered a reliever long-term, let’s trust our young talent to develop and become frontline starters.

        • Will says:

          What trouble did Hughes have this year? Sure his numbers aren’t great as a starter, but he wasn’t demoted to the bullpen by any means. He looked promising as a starter, and just moved as to the pen because CMW came back.

          Sample sizes, my friend. The numbers for Hughes as a starter are small. He threw nearly half the amount of innings as Joba this year.

  8. A.D. says:

    Frankly, I’m not going to be pleased if Joba is put back in the pen.

  9. Anthony says:

    As for Joba and Phil, what happens if IPK or Gaudin comes in and absolutely lights it up in spring training? Do we put Joba or Phil in the bullpen, or in order to keep our options open with them starting do we put them in the minors (where they really don’t have much left to prove) so that they can keep their innings up? OR are they just handed spots in the rotation regardless? Definitely a good problem to have at any rate.

    • If Gaudin and Kennedy both have great, dominant springs, then Gaudin still goes into the bullpen as the first SP replacement and Kennedy starts in Scranton as the second.

      If Kennedy has a great, dominant spring, and Gaudin is just average, they both still go to the same places (Gaudin to the pen, Kennedy to Scranton), but Kennedy is the first SP replacement and Gaudin remains in the bullpen.

      • Mike HC says:

        I can see Kennedy ending up in the pen next year at some point. When the bridge to Mo looks shaky, which it will at some point next year if both Hughes and Joba are in the rotation, Kennedy will be called to the pen, like Joba and Hughes in their respective years.

        • As tempting as it is to make that parallel between Kennedy and Joba/Phil, the reality is something different. Phil and Joba have the stuff to excel in the bullpen as lockdown, strike-out relievers. That’s what you want for the set-up role. Kennedy’s stuff is more suited to starting. He relies on finesse, location and changing speeds. It could work out of the pen, but it’s not as good a fit as a power pitcher. How many non-lefty relievers really rely on an arsenal of pitchers that Kennedy can sport?

          • Mike HC says:


            I do agree with you though. He does not throw as hard, but if Kennedy is pitching well in Scranton for half the year, and all the rotation spots are filled, and there is a glaring hole in our middle relief, I have a feeling we will still see Kennedy in the pen. Maybe not though.

            • Yeah, but Aceves is what, 3 years older than Kennedy? When IPK is Ace’s age, I bet he probably could pull off the bullpen weapon deal. Probably not yet, though. Still too raw/not enough command of his stuff/not enough confidence.

              • Mike HC says:

                You may be right. But I think the hope is that Kennedy is flat out better than Ace. So a young Kennedy should be at least as good as Aceves in his prime, but who really knows.

                Ben is definitely right that Kennedy does not have relief, blow you away with a fastball type stuff. But if the Yanks are “desperate” for relief help, I would think Kennedy would be an option if he is pitching well in Scranton and has gotten enough innings to keep his arm strength up.

              • Bo says:

                3 yrs older?


                He looks 15 yrs older. Not to mention that no one ever knows the real age of any Latin player.

  10. Steve S says:

    I said this two years ago, Cashman needs to stick to his guns on keeping these kids in the rotation, even if they struggle. I hope this is the year for Joba to hit his stride and becomes a solid number 3 but I really think 2011 will be the year when he becomes a front line starter. The fans and the front office need to be patient here. I hope that all the measures to protect Joba the last two years finally start to pay dividends. I am now convinced that they have told him (and Hughes) to hold back when they are starting. I hope that now that Joba’s been set free they let him go out and pitch.

  11. hawkins44 says:

    Why was Joba’s velocity up again as a reliever? My math had him in the mid 90′s as a reliever and low 90′s as a starter. I think he’s a starter, but I think he’s a 4.5-5.5 ERA/1.5 WHIP guy. This BLOG has maintained that his velocity was exclusive of whether he was a starter or reliever… I simply don’t agree, he’s an emotional pitcher and I believe that manifests itself in the relief role. But he does have 4 pitches so he SHOULD be a starter… just an average one. He is valuable to the Yankees because he can fit the 4-5 starters role (forget about 1-2) AND be effective out of the bullpen.

    • I don’t understand why you’re writing off Joba’s upside after one mediocre year.

    • This BLOG has maintained that his velocity was exclusive of whether he was a starter or reliever.

      It is. Velocity matters far less than command, and that command wasn’t so great during the post-season. Remember the Pedro Felix home run? Or the 5 H he gave up in 1.2 IP against the Angels when he couldn’t hit his spots for the life of him? His velocity, though, as I said in the post, will impact whether he is above-average or elite in the long run.

      • Command > control > location > movement > velocity

        • Mike HC says:

          what is the difference between command, control and location. They all sound the same to me, unless that is what you were going for.

          • Location is the ability to put the ball in a certain area of the plate consistently (i.e. up or down, inside or outside).

            Control is simply the ability to throw strikes and not balls. Good command = the ability to not walk a guy.

            Command is basically location + control. It’s the ability to make pitches that are specifically balls or strikes (i.e. making the pitch low and outside a ball just off the plate when you want it to be a ball, or a strike when you want it to be a strike.) in specific areas.

            Command is the full dominance of your pitch, the ability to throw it to any spot you want, either off the plate or on the plate, for strategic reasons.

            Basically, though, all three of those things are more important than raw velocity or raw movement. If you have location, control, and command, you can get anyone out even if your pitches are fairly straight and slow.

    • Mike HC says:

      Why do you assume that Joba will get no better than what he was at this year? It was his first full year starting on the Major League level.

      I can see if you think he will never be an ace, but to assume that Joba of last year is the best we are going to get is extremely shortsighted. He will improve, it just depends on how much.

    • no.27 says:

      That makes a ton of sense. For his career, Joba has a 4.18 ERA as a starter and all those starts were before his 24th birthday. There’s no reason to think he’s going to get worse as he develops.

      Yea, he had a bad 2nd half, but over his career, he’s been good just as many times as he’s been bad.

  12. Mike HC says:

    The Yanks would have to be completely retarded to have Joba in the bullpen next year, to put it bluntly.

    Hughes is a different story for me. I want him to start, but I would rather have a rotation of CC, AJ, Pettitte, Joba and Lackey, with Hughes in the pen, rather than relying on both Joba and Hughes to hold down two spots in the rotation. As we saw this year, depth is extremely important.

    I know most people here are not a fan of acquiring Lackey, but I think it would be a good move (obviously if he asking for like 7 years 125 million, forget about it … but 5 years at 90-100 million would be good with me)

    • I’d rather pass on Lackey and use that money for something else between this year and next. Roll with CC/AJ/Andy (hopefully)/Phil/Joba

      • Steve S says:

        Yeah, Id rather pass on Lackey and make a play on Beckett in 2011.

        • Mike HC says:

          Signing Lackey does not preclude the Yanks from making a run at Beckett in 2011. I don’t even want Beckett. Talk about having to overpay a pitcher based on reputation. He got his reputation for being a Yankee killer. If the Yanks sign him, that takes away his biggest strength.

          • Steve S says:

            I think it does to certain extent, or at least it should. If they sign Lackey and Beckett that would mean four starters over thirty in 2011. Plus Beckett has been a healthier and better pitcher than Lackey over the last three years.

        • Reggie C. says:

          Ehhh … I gotta see a good solid season from Beckett before jumping on board and offering an Burnett-like deal. I dont want some crazy outlier season, ’cause that’d only fuel the “money-run” angle. Beckett’s gotta stay healthy and solid.

      • Will says:

        I’d take Lackey for the right money. However, the “right” money isnt going to be what he demands.

        • Mike HC says:

          exaclty. That is the problem with all these hot stove discussions. You really can’t talk about it in a bubble. We have no idea what these guys are asking for money wise, what teams they prefer to play for, etc … But it is still fun to bullshit about it.

        • It’s not the money, it’s the length. If Lackey said he’d take a 3 year deal, then I’d be more open to that and letting Pettitte walk. However, that’s not going to happen, so pass.

          • Will says:

            meh. you still want andy. you want another lefty in the rotation. andy is experienced, a leader, cheap, and coming off a great year.

            i wouldnt let him walk even if lackey was free.

            • Mike HC says:

              I second that. Pettitte gets signed no matter what. It is a one year deal. That is as little risk as you can possibly get. On second thought, the Roger Clemens special half year contract is the least possible risk. On third thought, the Pedro special one month of starts and playoffs is the least risk.

              • Bo says:

                Whats so wrong with bringing Andy back on a 1 yr deal even if that $ is 10 mill?

                Even if they do bring in Halladay or Lackey or whoever. I’d much rather have Andy sitting in the back end than anyone else out there.

                And I’d let the kids fight for one slot instead of handing them 2.

              • Will says:

                Bo, we’re both agreeing with you. Bringing back Pettite is the obvious move.

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