Feb
18

From Girardi, a primer in Spring Training results

By

Joba Chamberlain starts his quest to secure the fifth starter spot in the Yankees’ rotation. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Early this morning, Joe — RAB’s Joe, not the guy in charge of the Yankees — discussed how it will be a quiet spring for the defending World Series champions, and in a way, he’s right. When the biggest questions of Spring Training center not around what PEDs the All Star third baseman took but rather over who will be the fifth starter and the 25th man on the roster, the overarching questions aren’t too pressing.

Yet, this is New York, and in New York, the sports media will obsess over that fifth starter. Will it portend a career in the bullpen, heir to Mariano, for the young star that doesn’t earn a spot after 20 innings in March? Will the guy who isn’t starting be The Eighth Inning relief ace? Will reporters and talking heads continue to act as though the 25th man — the not-Johnny Damon of the 2010 team — make or break the Yanks’ season?

Of course, these questions won’t be answered this spring, but that won’t stop everyone with a keyboard from trying to tackle them. I’m sure we’ll be guilty of that sin over the next six weeks too. Even with pitchers and catchers on the field in Tampa, it’s still a long haul until Opening Day.

With that in mind, something Joe Girardi said to the gaggle of beat writers on Wednesday, struck a chord. Somehow, the Yankees are going to have to make these decisions, and it’s nearly impossible to do that based solely upon Spring Training results. It’s too early in the year for players to get into their grooves, and most games pit pitchers against a bunch of AA hitters unlucky enough to have to make a long Grapefruit League bus ride.

And so per Mark Feinsand, Girardi had this to say about the fifth starter spot:

“I expect two guys to pitch at a very high level. Will statistics play 100 percent of the decision? No. We’ll look at guys, how they’re throwing the baseball, and what we feel as an organization and coaching staff is the best for everyone involved. … It is a healthy competition for the fifth starting spot and I love that. I think that brings out the best in people.”

That is a word of warning from Joe Girardi about Spring Training. We’ll sit here in New York, far from Tampa, and look at how Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain perform over 50 or 60 pitches every five days next month. We’ll analyze their lines for a hint of who has a leg up, but the real work will be down in Tampa where the eyes on the ground will be looking at process and not results. The Yankees will look at which pitcher has better command of his pitchers, who is dominating and attacking the strike zone, who is mixing and matching and who just looks better suited for a particular role.

In the end, those roles can change. The fifth starter can become the fourth starter very quickly, and that sixth guy can be pressed into service before too much time has elapsed. That’s just the nature of pitching in baseball. Today, with a blank slate, anything is possible, but even with that Grapefruit League stat line is looking more robust come the end of March, just remember that it’s only Spring Training. Beyond symbolizing the return of baseball after a three-month hiatus, it doesn’t really mean that much at all.

Categories : Spring Training

108 Comments»

  1. Rose says:

    Will reporters and talking heads continue to act as though the 25th man — the not-Johnny Damon of the 2010 team — make or break the Yanks’ season?

    I still don’t get it. Why the hell would the Tigers get rid of Curtis Granderson to “clear payroll” and then be after a much older Johnny Damon for even more money…I just don’t understand…

    • Option A: Keep Curtis Granderson and don’t sign Johnny Damon; pay the dubious Edwin Jackson more money in arbitration than he’s probably worth; don’t make any upgrades anywhere else

      Option B: Move Curtis Granderson’s contract AND Edwin Jackson’s contract for Austin Jackson’s dirt-cheap cost controlled CF production for the next 6 years AND Max Scherzer’s dirt cheap cost-controlled production in the rotation for the next six years AND Phil Coke’s quality bullpen cost controlled production for the next 5 years; replace Granderson’s production with Johnny Damon’s production; create enough budget flexibility to jettison the crappy Fernando Rodney and replace him with the more expensive but better eminently Jose Valverde; make that total net upgrade cost-neutral now and cheaper later

      • pete says:

        BOOM

        seriously though, TSJC’s right. The tigers are better in 2010 than they were in 2009, and figure to improve in the next few years. That’s why.

        • I bet if you add up the WARs of all the players they lost and added, they’re probably either breaking even or slightly improving, and their payroll is probably either staying level or slightly decreasing.

          What the Tigers are doing makes sense. Sometimes you take slight talent downgrades in one area to free up money to make talent upgrades in another.

      • Rose says:

        True, but the Tiger’s will have some financial breathing room over the next few years to have easily afforded Granderson’s contract.

        The additions of Scherzer was nice…everybody else you could have found for cheap internally or traded cheaply for. And you still could have signed Valverde and changed your Fernando Rodney diapers.

        But I guess it at least makes a little more sense than before…

  2. In other words, remember how Nick Swisher outhit Xavier Nady last spring but was still the 4th outfielder when the team broke camp and headed north?

    Exactly. ST stats are just one portion of the decisionmaking. Loyalty to incumbency counts a lot. Joba’s currently the incumbent.

    ————-

    On the other hand, looking at that photo of Joba with his scruffy, unruly, bulldog-mentality beard and his menacing bull-in-a-china-shop black shirt makes me think we should just end the race now and make Joba the permanent Bridge to Mowhere and end the silly games. It’s the smart thing to do.

    Sincerely,
    Any and every idiot employed by the Post or Daily News

  3. Zack says:

    So wait, they’re not going to decide the 5th starter based on their ERA after 20 innings of baseball? I bet they just want to play the game on a spreadsheet too huh?

  4. IRememberCelerinoSanchez says:

    I think I’ve discovered a new psychological condition: Bjobberphobia (n. A fear that another idiot will state that Joba Chamberlain should be a reliever, without valid grounds).

    I read this line above, “… and who just looks better suited for a particular role,” and my first reaction was, “No, not another B-Jobber.” And then I realized, “Wait, it’s Ben, he’s not a B-Jobber.” And that’s when I realized I had Bjobberphobia, unfairly accusing Ben of being a B-Jobber (even if it was only for .5 seconds). (In my defense, I had just heard John Kruk’s Yankee “analysis” on Mike and Mike, so my brain was still hurting.)

    This is what sportswriters have done to me. Bastards. Sorry Ben.

  5. Pasqua says:

    If Hughes manages to win the 5th spot, is the assumption that he and Joba would simply switch roles? Or, do you think Joba would have to “compete” for his bullpen role as well?

  6. gc says:

    I don’t know why people are so worried. According to Justin Terranova of the New York Post (who used to cover NASCAR, so he’s obviously an expert here), it’s all but a foregone conclusion that Joba will NOT get the 5th spot in the rotation. At least that’s what his article said yesterday. Highlights include:

    “The prevailing thought after the World Series was that Chamberlain’s postseason performance as a reliever proved to the Yankees he was better off in the bullpen. Chamberlain showed the emotion and velocity that made him so dominant when he broke in to the league in 2007 as Mariano Rivera’s setup man — the same qualities he has lacked at times as a starter.”

    “And because most fans already figure he is better off in the bullpen, anyway, few would question it.”

    And my personal favorite…

    “The smart money isn’t on Chamberlain.”

    I love RAB.

    • Mike Pop says:

      Awesome.

    • Pasqua says:

      I feel like there’s a prevailing notion in the world of the MSM that, just because there’s a competition for the job, it somehow validates the B-jobbers’ argument and means that they are being “heard.”

      There’s a tone of, “Ah, see! There’s a competition! They don’t think he’s a starter either! Therefore, he’s not a starter.”

      It’s ridiculous.

    • IRememberCelerinoSanchez says:

      Joba in the post-season last year:

      6.1 IP, 2 ER, 9 H, 1 BB, 7 K.

      Not saying those numbers are awful, but they hardly scream “I MUST BE IN THE BULLPEN” (assuming, of course, that 6.1 IP should make the decision, which is just batshit crazy).

      Wait, am I asking the Post to do homework and look at basic numbers? Oh, my bad.

    • The prevailing thought after the World Series was that Chamberlain’s postseason performance as a reliever proved to the Yankees he was better off in the bullpen.

      The prevailing thought after the World Series was that Wainwright’s postseason performance as a reliever proved to the Cardinals he was better off in the bullpen.

      Sincerely,
      Theoretical Justin Terranova
      St. Louis Post Dispatch Sports Columnist, 2007

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

        Well, Wainwright has never won a Cy Young, so therefor my hair is a bird.

        • Riddering says:

          I, for one, dream of an America where everybody knows that the Bird is the Word.

          • Theoretical Justin Terranova: Huh! That’s odd. I thought that would be big news.
            Brian: You thought what would be big news?
            Theoretical Justin Terranova: Well, there seems to be an absence of a certain ornithological piece. A headline regarding mass awareness of a certain avian variety.
            Brian: What’re you talking about?
            Theoretical Justin Terranova: Oh, have you not heard? It was my understanding that everyone had heard.
            Brian: Heard what?
            Stewie: BRIAN, DON’T!!!!

      • Steve H says:

        The prevailing thought after the ALCS was that David Price’s postseason performance as a reliever proved to the Devil Rays he was better off in the bullpen.

        Sincerely,
        Theoretical Mike Salinero
        Tampa Tribune Sports Columnist, 2008

    • Accent Shallow says:

      Postseason performance? He was shaky, and then in Game 4 of the World Series, (after obliterating the previous two batters) gave up a game tying homer to Pedro freakin’ Feliz, which is about as close as you can come to making an inexcusable mistake. Damon/Teix/His Rodness bailed Joba out, but come on.

    • Riddering says:

      One day when Joba gets his own biography, I hope it’s entitled “The Emotion and the Velocity”. Faulkner-esque style.

      It amazed me at the time and still does now how certain members of the media–be it YES or ESPN or, uh, NASCAR–found so much confirmation for Joba’s success as a reliever with so little 2009 relief work. As for the velocity–it’s not like the guy came out throwing 100+ fastballs each inning. Or even once.

    • ColoYank says:

      Is Terranove, or is Terranova not, familiar with Cashman’s ductum “I’m not going to judge a player’s ability on a week in October”? (Cash was referring to Matsui, but I feel comfortable putting those words in his mouth for Joba, too.)

      • ColoYank says:

        Next time, I’ll try to spell his name the same way both times, and hope it’s the correct one.

      • ROBTEN says:

        Here’s my FJM reading of this entertaining article about the Joba/Hughes debate:

        Chamberlain or Hughes? And while some believe the Yankees’ staff would be better with Chamberlain and Hughes both in the pen, that’s not likely to happen.

        Yes, “some” believe this. “Some” also believe in mothmen, black helicopters, chupacabras, a 6,000-yr old Earth, shaking hands with Posada after he has just left the restroom, that the NY Post has well-thought out sports coverage,…”Some” believe a lot of crazy things, but that doesn’t make it news or worth reporting.

        Force an answer from the organization and Hughes is the leader going into camp. In order to add a third pitch to a fastball and curve, Hughes will devote a lot of time to developing a change-up. That will be done with starting in mind.

        Did you know that if you waterboard a groundskeeper they’ll tell you where they buy the sod for Yankee stadium…oh, and that Hughes is leading the competition for 5th starter.

        Another reason is that Chamberlain has been a dominant major league reliever and a pedestrian starter, although it is difficult to judge the latter part of last season when he was harnessed by an awkward schedule designed to limit innings

        I will use statistics, except when they don’t fit in with my argument. Then it is all about feeling. I am warning you now. BE WARNED!

        As a reliever the past three years, Chamberlain is 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA in 50 games and has allowed 39 hits in 60 innings, fanned 79, walked 20 and held hitters to a .186 average. As a starter he is 12-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 43 games and has allowed 227 hits in 221 1/3**** innings, fanned 206, walked 101 and batters hit .266 off him.

        Joba has very good stats as both a starter and a reliever. While his statistics as a reliever are exceptional, his starts as a young pitcher in the AL East are also quite good…wait, I’ve lost my train of thought…oh, yeah, how to microwave a burrito in less than ten seconds.

        Hughes, who didn’t make a relief appearance until last year, is 8-9 with a 5.22 ERA in 28 games as a starter, has allowed 144 hits in 141 1/3**** innings and fanned 112, issued 59 walks and hitters batted .265.

        In 44 relief outings last year, he was 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA. In 51 1/3**** innings he gave up 31 hits, struck out 65, walked 13 and held hitters to a .172 mark.

        Hughes is also very good in the pen, but he has struggled in the rotation. So, given the fact that Joba has put up better numbers as a starter and is further along in his development, you can see why the choice is clear. Hughes to the rotation, Joba to the bullpen. Also, down is up, right is left, and I just drank a bottle of something that someone in my office screamed was Windex, but looked like Kool-Aid to me.

        (I warned you, didn’t I…DIDN’T I!)

        Neither was spectacular in postseason relief. Hughes was 0-1 with an 8.53 ERA in nine games and Chamberlain was 1-0 with a 5.41 ERA in 10 games.

        This just proves my point. What that point is, however, I don’t know.

        Each hurler has insisted he will do what is asked, but there is no avoiding where the money to be earned is: starting or closing.

        …Ah, there’s my point. It’s all about money. It always is with the Yankees.

  7. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    Disrespecting the game by laughing. Typical Centaurian behavior.

  8. JobaWockeeZ says:

    I cannot wait to see the media flip out and cut their wrists if Joba wins. Apparently it’s flat out impossible for him to win but if he does oh boy I cannot wait to see the mediots react.

    If they all fall of a cliff it’s a win-win.

    • If Joba beats out Phil for the rotation despite Joba’s obvious bulldog mentality, I’m cancelling (sic) my season tickets.

      Sincerely,
      Bronx Teechur

    • radnom says:

      Let’s be a little fair here guys.

      If it wern’t for the innings situation, and where each pitcher is in their development right now – say that was 100% equal between the two – who would you consider the favorite to win as fifth starter?

      Personally, I would go with Hughes.

      Now of course, using a little long-term thinking make Joba the clear cut favorite, but picking Hughes over Joba for the 5th starter this spring isn’t necessarily a symptom of rabid B-Jobberness.

      • bexarama says:

        But the innings situation is such an important part of the whole thing. It kind of can’t be ignored.

        • radnom says:

          Obviously.

          All I’m saying, which some don’t seem to realize, is there are other reasons (such as lack of foresight) to advocate Hughes for the spot. It isn’t all about Joba and where he is best suited.

      • Steve H says:

        But the problem is that mediots are completely ignoring that they aren’t at the same stage in their development. It’s not a true competition for the spot, like they think it is. If Joba’s era in the spring is 3.00, and Hughes’ is 1.50, Joba will get the rotation spot, and the mediots just won’t figure out why, even though it’s blatantly obvious.

      • JobaWockeeZ says:

        Now of course, using a little long-term thinking make Joba the clear cut favorite, but picking Hughes over Joba for the 5th starter this spring isn’t necessarily a symptom of rabid B-Jobberness.

        Of course it isn’t. But with the media saying boshit insane reasons like ‘Joba’s mentality is better suited for the pen’ or ‘Joba’s postseason success makes it clear he can only succeed in the bullpen’ thus making Hughes the better candidate is extremely aggravating.

      • If it wern’t for the innings situation, and where each pitcher is in their development right now – say that was 100% equal between the two – who would you consider the favorite to win as fifth starter?

        So, we’re pretending they both have no innings limits of any sort and they can both go a full 200+ IP in the rotation all year, but nothing else has changed?

        Joba Chamberlain, career ML games started: 43
        Phil Hughes, career ML games started: 28

        That’s still the tiebreaker. Joba’s started more recently and more frequently. Let him keep building on that success.

        • radnom says:


          Joba’s started more recently and more frequently. Let him keep building on that success.

          In this hypothetical (unlike in actuality) there is no bad choice. This is a good case for Joba.

          If this were the actual situation, I think there would be a legitimate spring training battle, with the guy throwing the best getting the spot.

        • Steve H says:

          Phil Hughes ERA as a starter:5.22
          Joba Chamberlin ERA as a starter:4.18

          There’s that too.

          • radnom says:

            I dont think that is particularly relevant. Hughes’ 2008 numbers have little bearing on the now. But like I said, in this hypothetical Joba wouldn’t be a bad choice, I just personally would give Hughes a slight edge.

            • radnom says:

              With how each guy looks this spring as the determining factor (not results).

            • But like I said, in this hypothetical Joba wouldn’t be a bad choice, I just personally would give Hughes a slight edge.

              Based on what, though? That’s what I’m trying to understand. What gives Hughes the edge in this alternate reality where there’s no innings limits to tilt the equation?

              Why Hughes, in your opinion?

              • radnom says:


                Why Hughes, in your opinion?

                Well first off – in this hypothetical alternate reality, how each pitcher looks coming into the season would gain a lot of importance, and probably be the deciding factor. That being said, here is why I think Hughes would win.

                Higher upside – This is debatable, but I (and others) think Hughes is the better starting pitching prospect long term. I would like to see him in there as soon as possible.

                2009 – I think Hughes had a much better 2009, even taking into account his move to the bullpen. Joba’s Ks were down, walks up and his ERA was up 4.75, much more relevant that that 4.18 number posted earlier. Yes, this is all natural for a young pitcher, but Hughes did pitch better last season and I don’t think it is a stretch to expect that to continue.

                • 2009:

                  Hughes probably pitched better than Joba in 2009 for two important reasons:

                  1) Hughes was in the bullpen for 2/3rds of the year, using fewer of his pitches (i.e. only his best two), facing fewer batters at a time, never facing the same batter twice. His degree of difficulty is far, far, far, far lower. There’s probably not enough “far”s in there.

                  2) Joba pitched beyond his previous innings highwater mark, by a lot. If Hughes threw 163 innings last year, I bet his last 50 would have looked pretty shitty as well. Young pitchers hit walls; it’s what they do.

                • radnom says:

                  TSJC, I noted both of those points, but I still think Hughes pitched better. He had a much higher WAR than Joba in (obviously) less innings. It isn’t like Joba was pitching lights out all season then fell apart towards the end. His peripherals were down all year long.

                  I’m not saying its a slamdunk, I think its close. If Joba came into camp throwing great, that would be much more important than 2009.

                • It isn’t like Joba was pitching lights out all season then fell apart towards the end.

                  Yeah, it is, though.

                  He had a much higher WAR than Joba in (obviously) less innings.

                  Because he had an easier job to do. Starting degree of difficulty >>>>>>>>>>>>>> relieving degree of difficulty

                • radnom says:


                  Yeah, it is, though.

                  Um, excuse me? You would think you would back that up with something, but I’ll save you the trouble and disprove it first.

                  While his ERA was higher in the second half, his WHIP actually went down, his K/BB was right around the same and his OPS against actually went down.

                  He had an up and down year, inconsistent throughout. Which is to be expected, but I’m not sure why you would argue his was “lights out” all season until his last 50 innings. It just isn’t true.


                  Because he had an easier job to do. Starting degree of difficulty >>>>>>>>>>>>>> relieving degree of difficulty

                  Ok, so you’re just going to keep repeating this instead of reading what I’m saying. I understand this point.

                • radnom says:

                  Did he fall off more at the very end? Of course. But the reality of the season is nothing like you characterized it.

            • Mike HC says:

              Even with no inning limits, you would choose the guy who has yet to start more than 13 games in one Major League season (and that was in 2007), over the guy who just started the entire year last year, 31 starts in the AL East, with an ERA of 4.75 in his first full year starting.

              • radnom says:

                See, but I didn’t say innings limits. I said if they were in the same point in there development. Everything you just listed is part of the hypothetical “if this were not this case”.

          • bexarama says:

            zomg! Hughes is teh failure as a starter!!!!

      • …but picking Hughes over Joba for the 5th starter this spring isn’t necessarily a symptom of rabid B-Jobberness.

        It is when you’re picking which one of the two should be in the bullpen FIRST and putting the other one in the rotation SECOND, as all these media idiots are doing.

        They’re not giving the winner of the “battle” the fifth starter spot and sending the loser to the bullpen. They’re picking which participant of the “battle” they think should go in the bullpen spot WHICH THEY THINK IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ROTATION SPOT and choosing that one (in this case, Joba) as the “loser” who is secretly the winner and thus declaring the “winner” to be the one they’re less interested in being the Bridge to Mowhere (in this case, Phil) and putting him in the rotation as a quasi-consolation prize.

  9. A.D. says:

    “I expect two guys to pitch at a very high level. Will statistics play 100 percent of the decision? No. We’ll look at guys, how they’re throwing the baseball, and what we feel as an organization and coaching staff is the best for everyone involved.

    I read this as Joba’s position to lose. Given he makes the most sense as the 5th starter at this point.

  10. Mike HC says:

    This is clearly a competition in theory only. Joba has the job. Unless his fastball is sitting at 88 mph, it is done. This whole, “spring stats is not everything” bit is just so people realize that regardless of who actually pitches better in the spring, they are going with Joba. ha. Just my opinion of what is actually going down.

  11. ROBTEN says:

    Chamberlain or Hughes? And while some believe the Yankees’ staff would be better with Chamberlain and Hughes both in the pen, that’s not likely to happen.

    Yes, “some” believe this. “Some” also believe in mothmen, black helicopters, chupacabras, a 6,000-yr old earth, shaking hands with Posada after he has just left the restroom, that the NY Post has well-thought out sports coverage,…”Some” believe a lot of crazy things, but it doesn’t make it news or worth reporting.

    Force an answer from the organization and Hughes is the leader going into camp. In order to add a third pitch to a fastball and curve, Hughes will devote a lot of time to developing a change-up. That will be done with starting in mind.

    Did you know that if you waterboard a groundskeeper they’ll tell you where they buy the sod for Yankee stadium…oh, and that Hughes is leading the competition for 5th starter.

    Another reason is that Chamberlain has been a dominant major league reliever and a pedestrian starter, although it is difficult to judge the latter part of last season when he was harnessed by an awkward schedule designed to limit innings

    I will use statistics, except when they don’t fit with my argument. Then it is all about feeling. I am warning you now. BE WARNED!

    As a reliever the past three years, Chamberlain is 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA in 50 games and has allowed 39 hits in 60 innings, fanned 79, walked 20 and held hitters to a .186 average. As a starter he is 12-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 43 games and has allowed 227 hits in 221 1/3**** innings, fanned 206, walked 101 and batters hit .266 off him.

    Joba has very good stats as both a starter and a reliever. While his statistics as a reliever are exceptional, his starts as a young pitcher in the AL East are also quite good…wait, I’ve lost my train of thought…oh, yeah, how to cook a burrito in under ten seconds…

    Hughes, who didn’t make a relief appearance until last year, is 8-9 with a 5.22 ERA in 28 games as a starter, has allowed 144 hits in 141 1/3**** innings and fanned 112, issued 59 walks and hitters batted .265.

    In 44 relief outings last year, he was 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA. In 51 1/3**** innings he gave up 31 hits, struck out 65, walked 13 and held hitters to a .172 mark.

    Hughes is also very good in the pen, but he has struggled in the rotation. So, given the fact that Joba has put up better numbers as a starter and is further along in his development, the choice is clear. Hughes to the rotation, Joba to the bullpen. Also, down is up, right is left, and I just drank a bottle of something that someone in my office screamed was Windex, but it looked like Kool-Aid to me.

    (I warned you, didn’t I…DIDN’T I!)

    Neither was spectacular in postseason relief. Hughes was 0-1 with an 8.53 ERA in nine games and Chamberlain was 1-0 with a 5.41 ERA in 10 games.

    This just proves my point. What my point is, however, I have no idea.

    Each hurler has insisted he will do what is asked, but there is no avoiding where the money to be earned is: starting or closing.

    …Ah, there’s my point. It’s all about the money. It always is with the Yankees.

  12. king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

    all irrelevant. meat tray is the 5th starter out of camp. book it.

  13. Dinky Donuts says:

    Joba needs a spot in the starting rotation, as far as I’m concerned it should be a battle for the fourth or fifth spot with Hughes and Vasquez. Or at worse, a 3 man battle for the fourth or fifth spot. The reins are finally off Chamberlain, give him a full year with no rules and see how he does, just make sure it’s a FULL year. They put a lot of time effort and criticism over the Joba rules, prove that they were to serve a purpose. They don’t need him in the bullpen at the beginning of the year, you have Marte as your setup man who finally showed up in the post season and the world series last year to pitch in front of mariano. If the team is in trouble at the All-Star break or later then put Chamberlain or Hughes in the bullpen or just trade for someone. You don’t win the pennant in April or May.

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