As a general rule, I prefer to ignore the media-based talk concerning Joba Chamberlain’s proper role with the team. I can only listen to some know-nothing sports commentator mouth off about Joba’s “bulldog mentality” and the fact that he “just fits better” in the bullpen so many times before I need to take a long walk or strangle a cute puppy to get out my anger. After an offseason of listening to George A. King take shots at the Yanks for their Joba approach, though, it is an article by John Harper in the Daily News today that put me over the edge.
The article in question can be found right here, and from the minute you read the headline, you know what’s about to happen. “New York Yankees change tune on Joba Chamberlain’s role, says it may be in bullpen,” Harper’s editors wrote. The article, though, suffers from a fatal flaw. What the Yankee coaches are saying and the words Harper attempts to put into their mouths just don’t line up.
“I think we’ve all seen the difference in him when he starts and relieves,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. He continued, “”I’ve told Joba that if he wants to be a starter for us, he has to have the same mound demeanor, the same aggressiveness, and repeat his delivery as a starter the way he does as a reliever. hat’s who he is. He’s got to be an aggressive, come-right-at-you, power-type guy. Sometimes when he started he’d fall behind, he’d try to show all his pitches. Yes, he does have four pitches but he doesn’t have to use them in every at-bat.”
Nothing in Eiland’s statement suggests that the Yanks are at all considering moving Joba to the bullpen, permanently or otherwise or that Joba is better in the pen. Rather, Eiland thinks Joba has a different approach while in the pen, and the Yanks’ coach wants Joba Chamberlain to come out there as a starter with the same confidence in his stuff that he had as a reliever. He wants Joba to come out there pitching as he did in the minors where, as a starter, he went 9-2 in 15 starts with a 2.56 ERA and 125 strike outs in 84.1 innings. He wants Joba to come out there with the confidence he had before an incessant sports media drumbeat began urging the Yanks to push a suggestible young kid into the bullpen.
And it’s that suggestibility that highlights how the media has created this beast of a B-Jobber problem. In the same Harper piece, Joba starts talking about his various roles. He talks about mentality and approach, and it sounds as though he’s starting to buy into this whole bullpen/starter bifurcation debate. “You can’t be the same person,” Chamberlain said. “It’s two different adrenaline rushes. It’s two different approaches. Out of the bullpen you only have to face a guy once. As a starter you’ve got to get him out three or four times. These guys are so good, you’re not going to be able to get them out the same way twice. So it’s the same feel for pitching, but it’s a different approach. To try and stay in that [mode] for six or seven innings is a lot different than going at it for one.”
There, Joba confronts what we all know: Pitchers who need to throw just an inning or two every four out of seven games can approach their outings differently than pitchers expected to throw 12-15 innings twice in seven games. Yet, again, nothing in Joba’s words suggest he wouldn’t be able to start. Rather, he needs to carry over a mentality.
Harper, though, will have none of it. He writes of the Yanks’ “bad idea” to have a starter try to be a starter and how it will be “better late than never” to move Joba into a less valuable role. It’s lunacy and idiocy all rolled up into one, and it never ends. Joba might be susceptible to the constant questioning of his ability, but if Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland show enough faith in him, he will be a great starter.
As this whole debate has unfolded, I keep returning to a question of blame. I fully blame the Yankees for creating this mess. In 2007, they believed their bullpen to be so inept that they moved a successful young starter who was fast-tracking his way to the Big League rotation into the bullpen to both limit his innings and help out the Big League club. He was a star out of the pen, one of those fist-pumpin’ strike out machines, and even after he faltered in the biggest of spots while surrounded by midges, the media couldn’t let go of that image of Joba the Eighth Inning Guy. It’s always been more important to find top-flight starters; it’s always been easier to replace the bullpen production with your next best guy; and it will always be, in part, the Yanks’ fault for starting this endless debate in the first place.
As Joba himself said last summer, “I could win 20 games and people are still going to think I could save 50.”