The Joba conundrum from someone who’s been there


A few weeks back I had the chance to meet Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster. I’ll start off by saying he was an extremely nice, down to earth guy, and from now on I’m a fan of his. While I only had a few minutes to talk to him, my first question was what he thought the Yankees should do with Joba Chamberlain. As a pitcher who has had success in both the rotation and then pen, I was intrigued on what he had to say on the subject.

Dempster first said they need to just make up their minds one way or another, which I completely agree with. The bouncing around Joba has been through isn’t helping anyone and they need to make a decision and stick with it. It’s pretty interesting to note, that while Dempster has pitched in both roles, in his 12 full seasons, he had a defined role and wasn’t switched back and forth. The closest he had to being bounced around was in 2005 where his first 6 appearances were starts and he spent the rest of the season in the bullpen. That is clearly the easy way to transition, from the rotation to the pen not the other way around. There’s no building up of innings or stamina, and once he was moved to the pen, he stuck.

Dempster believes, primarily because of pitching in the AL East, that Joba should probably remain in the bullpen. He mentioned the way lineups wear you down and how the pitch counts can grow pretty quickly, especially for a guy like Joba who racks up a lot of strikeouts. While I do disagree with him in that I am fully in the Joba as a starter camp, it is interesting to think about what Joba’s career path might have been like coming up in another division, or even in the NL as a starter. Obviously there’s no way the Yankees can ease their starters into the big leagues against weaker competition than the AL East, but the bullpen might be the way to go, as long as there is a set path to get a good young pitcher back to the rotation. While both Joba and Hughes have somewhat followed this path, it wasn’t by design, instead it was by necessity.

After talking with Dempster I decided to take a look at his career arc and found that after his time in the bullpen he became a much better starter. Phil Hughes may have gotten a boost in confidence last year in the pen, but Dempster had a full 3 seasons of relieving, and came out of it significantly improved in the rotation. In his 3 years as a starter before going to the pen Dempster had a 4.6 BB/9 ratio and a 6.9 K/9 ratio. In the three years since he’s been back in the rotation he’s at 3.2 BB/9 and 8.1 K/9, all coming in the NL.  While there are likely a ton of reasons why Dempster improved, I wouldn’t be shocked if spending time in the pen was one of the main factors. As much as I want Joba in the rotation (and wanted him there for 2010), I really hope he can take advantage of his time in the bullpen to help him as a starter down the road.

My few minutes with Dempster certainly made me think about what’s going to happen with Joba’s future and how the (hopefully) temporary banishment to the bullpen (and yes, it was a demotion) makes him better down the road As much as I want Joba in the rotation (and wanted him there for 2010), I really hope he can take advantage of his time in the bullpen to help him as a starter down the road (even if with the Diamondbacks).


  1. kenthadley says:

    Joba’s approach reminds me a bit of John Wetteland, who also struggled as a starter…..I think the NYY thinking is that Joba will slot into the closer role if that ever becomes necessary…..and I think the closer role would push Joba to be better…..regardless of how he’s struggling, I think Joba would get the first crack at following Mariano if there was an injury. I dont see him starting as long as he’s with NYY.

  2. Matt :: Sec105 says:

    Great first hand insight, but I think the Joba as a start boat has sailed and it aint coming back (with the Yankees at least), agree/disagree otherwise…

  3. Ryan Dempsta is a starthin pitcha!!!

    Na seriously If the Yankees have no interest in Joba as a starter they need to trade him to a team that does. If its for Haren, even better as Haren is in his prime and cost controlled(well under market value). It solidifies the rotation and gives them a pticher who at his peak is a top 5 pitcher in baseball.

    • Matt :: Sec105 says:

      I agree, at this point he has more value to other teams as a starter than to the Yanks as a (struggling) reliever.

    • Rob says:

      Agree. Time to trade Joba. He won’t be a starter with the Yanks and he’s still valuable as a starter to other teams. Flip him for a proven, cost-controlled arm like Haren.

      The only hang up I can see is them saying “If we just hold out we can have Lee for cash AND Joba plus”. Hell, perhaps they could flip Joba for Soria. :)

      • I wouldn’t flip Joba for Soria, or any bullpen piece. That’s basically a wash. If I’m gonna trade Joba, it’s for someone like Haren.

        • Rob says:

          Soria is consistent (>180 ERA+ every year), young, and cost-controlled. If the Royals think Joba can be a starter, and the Yankees don’t, then Soria is a great way to get longer-term value back.

          Here’s the direct comp of their relieving numbers:
          Soria – 228 IP, 1.003 WHIP, 6.5 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 2.5 BB/9, 10.1 K/9
          JobaC – 101 IP, 1.234 WHIP, 7.9 H/9, 0.4 HR/9, 3.2 BB/9, 11.1 K/9

          I take Soria, most especially since he’ll be making $10 million across 2011-2012 then $17 million across 2013-2014. Joba may be a bit more cost controlled but that’s underpaid as a closer, especially if he has to step in for Mo. And right now, would you want Joba to step in for Mo? If not him, who?

        • Brien Jackson says:

          If the Royals would take Joba for Soria straight up, and the Yankees have no plans to use Joba as a starter, I’d do that deal in a second.

    • nsalem says:

      Haren qualifies as an all star. I don’t think he is a “top 5″pitcher though

      • No, but he might be top 15-20. That’s a borderline ace.

        • Bernard says:

          Haren’s season rankings by WAR among pitchers:
          ’05 25th (4.0)
          ’06 26th (4.0)
          ’07 15th (5.1)
          ’08 5th (6.5)
          ’09 9th (6.1)

          15th, 5th, 9th the last three years sure seems pretty damn ‘ace’ like to me. Not really sure how a top 15 pitcher would ever NOT be considered an ace…

          Pitchers I’d take over Haren: Halladay, Lee, Greinke, Price, Lincecum, Verlander, Hernandez, Lester, Sabathia, Johnson, Jimenez, Wainwright, Strasburg. I think you could make a case about a few other guys considering his down year this year (Hughes, Danks, Hanson, Cain, Carpenter, Santana, Garcia, Weaver, Anderson). But what it comes down to is whether you think he’s a top 10 guy or a top 25 guy, Chamberlain/Nova/McCallister/? seems like a pretty fair trade for an under-market-value contracted pitcher of his caliber.

  4. I wonder…if Joba is traded to the D-Backs, will the “people in the know” change their opinions of him? With the Yankees, he’s an overhyped loser who never should be given the chance to start. When with the Diamondbacks, he’ll likely be a ‘sky is the limit’ talent. If that happens, it’ll remind of me A-Viz going from a three star prospect with the Yankees to a five star prospect with the Braves.

  5. Rob says:

    It’s time to trade Joba and especially for a top-flight starter. The Yankees simply won’t develop him as a starter. They can’t send him to the minors next year and they’ll have little patience especially with the grunt and fart reliever always lingering. He’s a fricken’ setup guy through and through. An utter waste of a good arm who’s already shown league average, and better, performance as a starter.

    The problem with Haren, I think, is that his contract makes any chance of them also signing Lee slim-to-none. Considering that Lee is clearly the better pitcher, and can be had for only cash, I can see why the Yanks are holding firm. Joba plus upper organization depth is too much. But Joba shouldn’t stand in their way. Send Joba and a lower level arm – like Stoneburner or Warren – and call it a deal.

    • The problem with Haren, I think, is that his contract makes any chance of them also signing Lee slim-to-none.

      I disagree. I think if they do get Haren, they’ll hedge their bets that Pettitte won’t retire and just won’t offer Vazquez arbitration or consider bringing him back (at least until they know Pettitte will retire). If Pettitte does retire, they can bring back Vazquez and go with this rotation:

      1. CC
      2. Lee
      3. Haren
      4. Vazquez
      5. Hughes

      If Pettitte doesn’t retire, you don’t even bother with Javy and go with:

      1. CC
      2. Lee
      3. Haren
      4. Pettitte
      5. Hughes

  6. phughesisgod says:

    Heres the thing with the Haren deal. The Diamondbacks want the Yankees to do Joba, Nova, and 2 other prospects and take on all of Harens contract as well as Qualls’ and/or Snyder’s. Now that I’ve had time to sleep on it, I gotta tell ya, I want some of what the D’Backs are smoking! Haha. In no way would I do that. Now, if the Yankees can get Arizona to do Z-Mac, Nova and 2 prospects for Haren, like say a Nunez and Noesi for Haren, I’d be all for taking on Harens contract.

  7. bottom line says:

    I suppose after we trade Joba for Haren we can let Mitre handle the 8th inning.

    Robertson could probably handle it too, and make it even more exciting by putting the first runner on, as he so often does.

    Or maybe we can put Hughes back in the pen, screwing him up as much as Joba was. Fact is, when asked to pitch a scoreless inning, Joba has come through roughly 75% of the time. That’s not great– and it would be nice to have someone better — but I’d bet it will look awful good in a month or so as we struggle to replace him.

    • I suppose after we trade Joba for Haren we can let Mitre handle the 8th inning.

      No way, man. Putting a pitch to contact guy in high leverage situations is asking for trouble.

    • Bernard says:

      Joba has allowed at least an earned run in 13 of his 42 appearances this year (31% of the time). He’s allowed 7 SBs (3rd most on the entire staff including starters). I’m having trouble finding inherited runners allowed to score stats, but he’s given up some of those this year as well. Let’s not pretend Joba has been any good in the 8th this year (though I recognize his FIP and xFIP has been far beneath his ERA).

      Without getting into the whole starters vs relievers value argument, I think you’d agree with me that if a starter gives up a run or two fewer over the course of his appearance than it’s easier for the relief pitchers to finish the game…

      But if you’re gonna say something like Robertson so often puts the first runner on, why don’t you make the effort and find the stats to back it up?

  8. nsalem says:

    We do not have the time or patience to let Joba develop into the top flight starter he has at least the potential to become. On the Yankees his future is a as a reliever and there is a good chance he can develop into a very effective one. We have control over him for approximately 3 more years and I think we should commit to keeping him in the bullpen and see what happens. In 2013 or 2014 he can determine is own fate and choose what he wants. I don’t think we are stuck for a starter right now and would much rather have Cliff Lee for the long term than Haren. Considering what we have now I don’t think Haren (although a quality pitcher) improves are chances that much for a championship.

    • oldirtyfishkilla says:

      But “we” had the time to hype him to superstardom, enact the “Joba Rules” and generally set Griswold-like standards for him?

      He is stressed to the max and it shows. You could see it on his face after his 8th inning the other night when Posada kept going to the mound. Every move of his is under a microscope. We could play the what-if game but I agree with nsalem about letting him play out his contract with the NYY and then see what happens.

  9. Pete says:

    Great stuff, Steve. I’ve actually thought a lot about the whole reliever-starter transition myself. I think that there are ways that pitching out of the bullpen can help a pitcher, and I think that the Yanks feel the same way.

    Pitching out of the bullpen, there’s no real need to conserve yourself, so you can pitch every AB as if you needed a strikeout. So instead of just trying to throw a two-seamer down in the zone and get a ground ball, you try to set up your pitches, and execute each one to perfection. Since you only face each hitter once, you don’t really need to vary it up too much – in Joba’s case, he can stay fastball-slider, and each to only a couple of locations.

    Where this could wind up helping in Joba’s (or any starter’s) development process is in the development of strikeout ability. While Joba’s fastball and slider are, when he’s right, “out pitches” as far as velocity and movement are concerned, they aren’t out pitches when they are in the dirt or right down the middle. (This is where “control” and “command” differentiate; people tend to generalize by saying that control is throwing strikes and command is throwing good strikes, but it goes a little deeper. Control is more innate – if you have great control, you can hit any target with (at least) your fastball. You can have great command without great control, though, by being able to hit a few key targets consistently (usually with multiple pitches), but not able to hit any random target). But the more opportunities he gets to throw those two pitches to their ideal locations, the better he (theoretically) will become at doing so.

    Think of it this way: if you’re learning a musical instrument, you’re better off practicing 15 minutes every day than 2, 3 or even 8 hours once a week. Naturally, pitching is more complex because it is a higher level of muscular exertion (meaning it can’t be done every day) and requires many more muscles working in sync than any musical instrument does, but the principles of muscle memory are the same. Repetitions, if properly focused (which would theoretically be easier in the bullpen, where fatigue is a less likely factor, and situations are typically higher-energy), are the best tool for developing muscle memory.

    I know I’ve said it before, but Dempster’s career (and to a much lesser extent due to SSS, Hughes’s career) more or less backs it up; pitching in the bullpen can help a pitcher develop skills (namely the ability to consistently execute key pitches in key situations) that would take much longer to develop if the pitcher does nothing but start.

    • dalelama says:

      If the guy can’t get through one inning how is he going to get through six. My main problem with Joba is he refuses to get into shape. If the guy won’t do the basics to do his job then I say cut him loose.

  10. Adam B says:

    I still think he has to much talent to just give up on him. here’s a guy who experienced varying degrees of success in the majors in both roles (yes, he has experienced success as a starter, sub 3.00 ERA in 2008, please don’t start yelling at me for how dumb i am, its a fact) and now that he’s hit a rough patch everyone wants to just give up?

    if the yankees can swing this deal without him or even if they cant swing this deal SEND HIM TO THE MINORS and let him make up for his lost time down there, they only have like 2 more weeks before they’ll have to send him through waivers right? I mean its not like he’s particularly helping right now no?

    We have seen Hughes struggle in 2008. Remember the beginning of the season when him and IPK were like 0-8 with a 12.00 ERA or something like that. THEY WERE YOUNG and joba still is. if they trade joba i will faith in the yankees ability and desire to actually be able to produce their own players because of dumb decision-making (Chamberlain should have never touched the pen again after 07) and lack of patience.

    • Bxbomber says:


      My lord….

      This site is gonna have the kneepads out for Joba for a long time I see.

      It’s called scouting. It’s called not adjusting. His early ERA is meaningless. His early performance is meaningless. The book is out on him now. He hasn’t adjusted. This is what he’s going to be for us and we need to stop saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers that it will be any different. I don’t get the attraction with this guy. He’s Kyle Farnsworth all over again, great talent, should be lights out, but isn’t. The league is littered with these guys. There’s a sucker GM out there that thinks just like you. Cashman needs to bend him over and get something of value for him before everyone else just sees what I have for over a year now.

      This guy hasn’t even had as good first couple of seasons as Dontrelle Willis had and look at that cat now. Dont give me this back and forth bullshit. If you’re a great talent you perform no matter where you’re slotted in. We’re making excuses for subpar performance which is unacceptable. “He’s young” He’s been bounced around” blah blah blah. What’s next, we didn’t rub his nipples gently enough?

    • Pete says:

      completely agree. Nothing irks me more than when people talk about Joba as though he’s some kind of finished product, despite throwing 2/3 of the career innings (400) that starters are supposed to have thrown (600) by the time they have been called up. Innings-wise, he’s 2/3 of the way through his pre-MLB development process (generally pitchers take another 2-3 years to really hit their strides at the major league level), and considering the fact that he had a fairly major pitching-shoulder injury in 2008 from which he is still recovering lost velocity, I’d say he’s at a point closer to 1/3 of the way through the overall development process, if that.

      To me, Joba and Brackman are very comparable cases. Both had electric stuff once, went through injuries, came back to throw statistically unimpressive but healthy full seasons, and are now pitching with improved-but-not-all-the-way-back stuff and better peripherals than last year. I’ve been saying since 2009 that we can’t really start to judge Joba the starting pitcher until 2011 at the earliest, and that was before they put him in the pen for 2010. Now I’d say we can start making final assessments in 2012.

      Of course, many will ridicule the idea of waiting 5 years for a pitcher to develop (Joba was drafted in ’06 but didn’t start pitching professionally until ’07), but it really isn’t ridiculous at all. Phil Hughes was drafted in 2004, and he’s still probably at least a year or two away from fulfilling his promise. There’s a reason people say that ages 27-32 players are in their “primes”, and it’s not because they’ve become more physically gifted than they were at age 22-25 (which is already past the typical male athletic peak, which is age 18-21).

      • Rob says:

        The problem is: Where and when do they develop Joba? They screwed up his development but how do they correct it now? They won’t send him down this year and they can’t send him down next year. He’s a relief pitcher to the Yankees. If he can be flipped for a top flight starter or Soria, that’s value added over what Joba is to the organization.

        • If he can be flipped for a top flight starter or Soria, that’s value added over what Joba is to the organization.

          As a Joba supporter, I can get on board with the acquisition of Haren for Joba because the potential upgrade of Haren the starter over Joba the reliever is large.

          I can’t sign off on the Soria for Joba trade, though, because Joakim Soria, even at his absolute best, is still only a reliever and the upgrade from Joba the reliever to Soria the reliever is not a large enough upgrade to give up on Joba’s future.

          Joba’s still young enough that he could pitch his way back into SP contention, and that possibility precludes me from dealing him for any relief pitcher. Crazier things have happened. I’ll give up on the best-case scenario to get Haren in the rotation, but not simply to get Soria in the bullpen.

          • Pete says:

            It’s unlikely (though not impossible) that Joba is ever better than Dan Haren, making that trade an absolute “do”. I completely agree about Soria, though; you simply don’t trade anything of ANY potential value for relievers. You just don’t.

          • ZZ says:

            Joba is under team control for only 3 more years.

            Do you really think over the next 3 years Joba is making his way back to the rotation?

            Soria is locked up through 2014.

            I have a very hard time imagining Joba producing more value than Soria.

            When judging reliever value, you also have to take into account that this is the Yankees.

            They are playoff bound almost every year and those late innings relievers pitch in the postseason are very important to this team.

            In most cases “value” can’t be judged on the same scale as other teams when it comes to the Yankees.

  11. Zack says:

    When Hughes struggled, the b-jobber media/fans said he’s a SP and Joba is the reliever.
    When Buchholz struggled, the MSM didn’t make him a reliever
    When Price wasn’t an ace last year, everyone said he was a starter long term.
    When Lester struggled (pre-cancer), he was still looked at as a starter.
    When Romero was working his way through the minors and a “bust” because he took longer than others in the draft class, no one said put him in the bullpen to get max value out of his draft position.
    Matusz is struggling this year, no one is saying he can’t be a starter anymore.
    Davis is struggling this year, people want Hellickson to take his spot, but no one is saying Davis shouldn’t be a starter long term.

    So this all goes back to Joba’s mentality, or what people think his mentality is. It has nothing to do with what division he’s pitching in, young starters struggle in every division in baseball. If Joba was given time to develop and didn’t make it as a quality starter, fine, he’s a reliever, but to say he should be a reliever because he’s a strike-out pitcher in the AL East is ridiculous, IMO.

    • Pete says:

      it’s all because Joba pitched 24 awesome innings out of the pen in 2007, which were neither indicative of his true talent level nor as valuable as people made them out to be.

      • That.

        It doesn’t even have anything to do with his mentality, that’s just a stupidly constructed backstory.

        It all has everything to do with the fact that Mo Rivera is getting old and some sportwriters SAW Joba be dominant as a reliever in 2007, and thus they’re going to attempt to shoehorn him back into that relief role over and over and over again.

    • ZZ says:

      The MSM didn’t make Joba a reliever.

      The Yankees did.

      And their decisions are certainly not affected by the likes of Mike Francesa.

      • Pete says:

        this is certainly true, but we don’t know how they view him long-term. Remember, Hughes spent all of last year in the bullpen, even when there was an opening in the rotation and he needed to boost his innings totals.

        The Yanks could see the bullpen as an opportunity for a starting pitcher to develop against major league hitters while not compromising the quality of the team as much as that pitcher could in the rotation (referring to what the Yankees clearly considered a downgrade from 2010 Hughes to 2010 Joba)

        • ZZ says:

          I have a hard time seeing Joba returning to the rotation with these recent Haren trade rumors, how much they love Cliff Lee, and Pettitte possibly coming back.

          • Pete says:

            I didn’t necessarily say the Yankees rotation. I still think it is in their best interest to develop him as a starter, because there’s a very good chance that Vazquez is gone next year, there’s a decent chance that Pettitte is gone next year, and there’s a perfectly solid chance that the Yankees acquire neither Cliff Lee nor Dan Haren.

  12. Januz says:

    Cashman is not stupid. There is no way they are taking added contracts, such as Snyder’s (Along with Haren’s), while giving them Joba (Which would weaken the bullpen), and prospects. Is there a reasonable way to make it work? If Arizona would substitute LaRoche or Kelly Johnson for Snyder. Then I would do it (It would give the Yankees a needed bat off the bench). But if not, I would say no.

  13. Brien Jackson says:

    Can I just say, again, that I don’t really care at all about Cliff Lee? I mean, he’s a great pitcher, but he isn’t exactly a spring chicken, and everyone acting as though there’s no worry in giving, say, a 5 year $100 million to a 32 year old pitcher who’s only really even been great for the past 3 years strikes me as a bit foolish. Given the choice between Lee at $20 million per over the next 5 years and Haren for ~$13 million over the next 3 years, I’ll take Haren. Especially considering that the saving also lets you put the extra money somewhere else, rather than committing another big contract to a starting pitcher.

    • nsalem says:

      Lefties take longer to develop and also pitch well at older ages
      ie Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton (till 38 anyway) and now Andy Pettitte. He’s intelligent and has a very healthy arm. The best is yet to come for him. Only 2 years older than Haren I think his career will be longer than Dan’s.

      • Brien Jackson says:

        Worth enough to commit twice as much money to him?

        • Rob says:

          Twice as much is an exaggeration. But Lee and CC with the Yanks would be pretty darn dominant in Yankee Stadium. And yup, he’s older, but that level of performance is really redunkulous. Dude’s got a 14.43 K/BB this year.

          There’s also the problem that Haren is homer happy in the weaker league.

  14. Stultus Magnus says:

    I hope the “joba conundrum” ends with him playing somewhere else.

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