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Perfect Time to Give Joba One Last Rotation Try

By Joseph Delgrippo ~ February 24th, 2012. Filed under: New York Yankees.

Since the trading of A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates, some in the media has worried the Yankees might have a depth issue in starting pitching.  The Yankees, however, will have six major league starting pitchers on their 25 man roster to start the 2012 season, and three kids (David PhelpsAdam Warren and DJ Mitchell – all 25 years old) starting their second full seasons at Triple A Rochester.

One of these kids, Phelps, is participating in his third season at Triple A, had an ERA under 3.00 every season in the organization and is more than ready for a major league job. They also have Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances about to start their first full season at Triple A.

That appears to be 11 guys ready or almost ready to be in a major league starting rotation.

If the Yankees were smart, they could add one more to the list – Joba Chamberlain.

Now, before this turns into a starter vs. reliever argument again, the Yankees have a solid bullpen this season with Mariano RiveraDavid Robertson and Rafael Soriano returning to anchor the last couple innings and Boone LoganCory Wade and likely Freddy Garcia in middle relief. If Hughes falters in his starting role during the first half of 2012, he could switch spots with Garcia.

Hughes has usually shown better numbers overall as a reliever than as a starting pitcher

And a singular truth in baseball is that almost all pitchers will be better as a short stint reliever than as a starting pitcher. That includes Hughes, Joba, Pedro MartinezCC Sabathia and even Tom Seaver. Velocity improves and you never have to see the same hitter twice in a game.

However, this is the perfect time to allow Joba to build up to be a starting pitcher once again, the role he was drafted for, the role his repertoire is perfectly fitted and the role which gives the Yankees the greatest benefit.

Before the Jeremy Lin craze began a few weeks ago in New York sports, there was Joba. The primary difference is that Joba was a highly-touted first round draft pick who tore up the minor leagues and that Joba was never on a Sports Illustrated cover. 

Joba’s success was expected.

But Joba was SO good as a reliever to start his major league career, that people began clamoring for him to be put into the bullpen full time and he was the “heir apparent” to whenever Rivera decides to retire. And since Mo has recently hinted at retiring, Joba is coming off Tommy Surgery and nowhere near his heir apparent.

And that surgery is the key. Having to rehab the elbow and going through the slow grind of small increases in workload, this is the perfect opportunity to allow Joba to convert back to a starting pitcher.

The last report was that Joba threw off a full mound on Wednesday and he felt “really, really good.” His progress will improve to the point where he will throw change-ups and curve balls sometime in March (interesting the report did not indicate sliders), and progress to where the Yankees hope he will be ready to join to the major league bullpen in July.

But the entire pitching staff is loaded. Unless someone gets hurts, why force Joba into a situation where a pennant race will be beginning and the team has three more than solid back-end relievers?

Let Joba work up to being a full-time starter once again. He has the capability for that role and would enhance both his value and his career as a Yankee if he becomes a starter.

While as a starting pitching prospect in the minors, Joba was hitting high 90s while throwing all his pitches: fastball, slider, curve and changeup for strikes. He was aggressive on the mound and was hitting his spots with pinpoint accuracy.

His one true major league season as a starting pitcher was decent with 31 starts, a 9-6 record and 4.75 ERA. At the end of July that year, Joba was 7-2, 3.58 ERA with 97 K’s in 111 IP. Last season, Michael Pineda was 9-7, 3.53 ERA with 133 K’s in 130 IP. Joba was in the AL East while Pineda pitched in the AL West.

Those are pretty good numbers to work on as a young starter. The Yankees always try and use the phantom Chamberlain “injury” in Texas during 2008 where Joba was forced to tumble after an errant Ivan Rodriguez throw to second base. I believe it was the Yankee veterans always wanted Joba in the pen since they believed it was their best chance for another World Series ring. Guys like Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter were always for Joba to the pen, since it was better short term for them, but not better long-term for the Yankees organization. Posada had even caused a small uproar when he proclaimed his Joba to the pen statement on Michael Kay’s YES show, Center Stage.

While rehabbing, why not let Joba start in the minors? This has become the new trend in baseball. Convert former starting pitchers, who are currently relievers, back into starting pitchers. Texas has performed the feat very well with C.J. WilsonAlexi Ogando and now with Neftali Feliz. After needing him in the bullpen for a few seasons, Boston is converting Daniel Bard back into a starting pitcher, where it currently needs him. And the Mets are likely to convert Jenrry Mejia back into a starting pitcher when his rehab starts.

Pitchers are more valuable when they are starters. There is no need in the bullpen this year for Joba, and unless he will be the Yankee closer, Joba really wants to be a starting pitcher. There is ample opportunity to see if Joba’s shoulder is better after all this rest. There is no concern over conditioning either as that is one of the “benefits” of TJS; the conditioning aspect of the rehab is grueling with lots of leg and core work, two factors which help with pitching endurance and velocity.

And if Joba is not getting the opportunity to close or start for the Yankees, it is a certainty that Joba will leave via free agency after next season. There is a team somewhere who will sign Joba to become a starting pitcher, maybe even his “hometown” team in Kansas City.

There are three young pitchers the Yankees have coming up for free agency in the next several years. Joba and Hughes are free agents after the 2013 season, and Robertson is eligible after 2014. There are many who feel that any of the three could be the Yankees future closer, but if Hughes or Joba are not starting pitchers or the closer (both which command much higher salaries) then both likely will leave via free agency.  And if Robertson continues to pitch well and is not given the closer job by the end of 2014, then he will probably leave to close somewhere else.

Due to the new budget restraints they have, the Yankees are not going to be able to keep all of Hughes, Joba and Robertson, but it would be nice to be able to keep two of the three.

That means allowing Chamberlain to begin this season as a starting pitcher after his rehab is complete. See if his velocity is improved and can be maintained over multiple innings and if he can throw all four of his pitches. While I am high on quite a few of the Yankees minor league starting pitchers (Phelps, Warren, Banuelos), it is no guarantee any or all of them will succeed as major league pitchers.

If  by the end of August and about 10-12 starts in the minor leagues that it appears Joba is not holding his velocity, and IF the Yankees need another relief pitcher for the post season, the conversion back to a reliever can be made. But consistently developing starting pitchers will help a team’s financial flexibility and not force them to overpay for free agent starting pitchers such as Cole Hamels and Matt Cain.

The Yankees were careful with Joba throughout his career and moved him back and forth, in and out of the bullpen and rotation. They would have been better served to let him develop innings as a starting pitcher but impatience ruled the day. Coming off his current injury, you know they will be extra careful this time around with pitch counts, inning limits and general workload.

And we all know how well that worked out the first time around.

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Joseph Delgrippo is an aspiring sportswriter and TV baseball analyst. He played NCAA baseball, at tiny Marietta (OH) College, participating in the Division 3 World Series. In addition, he's coached baseball at the high school level. His knowledge of this game goes far beyond what is shown on television.

8 Responses to Perfect Time to Give Joba One Last Rotation Try

  1. Chuck Johnson

    Absolutely and completely disagree.

    You present, as usual, a solid argument Joe, but Joba’s days as a projectable member of the pitching staff are behind him.

    As you mentioned, Joba is a better option as a reliever, and with some of those Scranton starter candidates profiling better as relievers in the future, there really isn’t a place for him.

    I agree sending him to Scranton and “stretching him out” is the right thing to do, but with Robertson, Soriano, Mitchell, Banuelos and Phelps around as possible replacements for Mo next year, all Joba is is another candidate.

    His 24 innings in ’07 was the worst thing that happened to him because everyone thought he WAS really that good, when in reality his stuff was overrated and he had some serious command issues.

    If Kansas City wants him, they can have him.

  2. David S.

    Not Happening! Cashman has stated it over and over again that the Joba as a starter experiment is over. He’s in the bullpen as long as he remains a Yankee!

  3. Mike Silva

    Chuck said everything that I would – but I would add that if they could develop him into some sort of starter, perhaps they could get value for him in a trade. Right now, no one would give you much for him as a reliever (TJS notwithstanding).

  4. Joseph DelGrippo

    Correct Mike. His value is as a starter and dealing him before he becomes a free agent. Get something for him before he leaves.

    It is a crying shame what they did to this kid. Worst thing they did was push him in 2007 then push/pull him for several years after.

    Even with the Joba Rules in place he still got hurt.

    Relievers are easy to find, and the Yankees are doing a great job drafting and developing relievers in their system.

  5. Chuck Johnson

    The problem with giving Joba a half season or so in Scranton is the residual effect it would have on the staff there.

    The loser of the fifth spot battle in New York.

    Which guy(s) end up in Trenton?

  6. Joseph DelGrippo

    No one ends up in Trenton.

    Banuelos and Betances are likely on innings limits (prob max 160 for each), and I feel the Yankees will (mistakenly) trade one or both of Warren or Phelps for a bat sometime before the break.

    That would give Joba time to hit the starting rotation in Tampa. Even if there is overload there (if a trade doesn’t happen) piggy backing two guys during a game is something Joba is used to.

    I know there are many people who don’t think Joba has starter stuff and makeup, but he was pretty darn good as a starter at Nebraska and during his brief stint in the minors. If Joba was left as a starter, then the Yankees likely would not have signed AJ Burnett.

    That would have been worth it no matter how Joba fared in the rotation in 2009 and 2010.

  7. Steve S.

    I think you’re putting the cart before the horse, Joe. If Joba flashed the 96-100 MPH stuff that he had in 07-08, that would change the equation dramatically. Even in his prime he never had great command, he was more of a guy who challenged hitters and dared the to turn around his FB/SL combo. Since 09, the stuff just hasn’t been as good. The FB is down a few MPH and the SL just doesn’t have the same bite, some of which are just cement mixers. His stuff plays up in the bullpen, so rather than run out a middling starter you try to get better performances from him out of the pen given what he’s been working with the past few years.

    Word is he’s worked his tail off in rehab, and looks great according to Cash. Maybe the decline was related to the injury and will return now that he’s had surgery. If the stuff is there, in a way we haven’t seen since 08, then you reexamine the situation. But not before.

  8. Steve S.

    BTW-I like the idea of leaning toward starting him for trade purposes. As a rehab guy, it makes sense to build up his arm as a starter to both get innings under his belt as well as keep your options open should someone get hurt. If he looks good, you could up his value on the trade market as well. I see no downside to sending Joba down to AAA and letting him start. DJ Mitchell can work out of the pen, which is where the Yanks would most likely use him anyway. They’ve sent him there before, so no biggie.

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