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Factors Dictate Joba Needs To Stay in the Bullpen

By Jed Weisberger ~ October 19th, 2009. Filed under: Digest Contributors.

As many, I have had my fill of the “Joba Rules’’ discussion and what it means to Joba Chamberlain himself.

If his work in this year’s postseason doesn’t demonstrate why he belongs in the bullpen – and the top in-house option to succeed Mariano Rivera as Yankees closer in a few years – what will?

Joba is a great kid who, in the minors in 2007, overpowered hitters as a starter. Then it was decided he could fill a need in the bullpen and, insect attack in Cleveland aside, was sensational.  During the 2007 season, he was 2-0, 0.38 with a strikeout/walk ratio of 34-6.

In 2008, throwing 100 1/3 innings as mandated, he was 4-3, 2.60 in 42 appearances – 30 starts – and had his moments, including getting the best of Boston ace Josh Beckett in Fenway Park. It appeared he was making progress as a starter.

However, there was no progress made toward that goal this past season and, frankly, one has a legitimate concern as to whether a pitcher with exceptional talent has been done an injustice by the organization.

Chamberlain was 9-6, 4.75 in 32 appearances, of which 31 were starts - or shortened starts -to keep him at an innings limit that turned out to be 157 1/3.  His strikeout/walk ratio, which was 118-39 in 2008, fell to 133-76 in 2009.

Those numbers show regression in command and control.

Yet, Joba can’t be blamed for all of this.  Is the Nebraskan a starter or reliever? We keep hearing he’s a starter. We keep seeing he’s better as a reliever.

He has the personality to be a reliever. He has the stuff to be a reliever. He is all any team would want as a late-inning stopper.

The other key is it is obvious he feels comfortable as a reliever.

There are two ways the Yankees can go with Chamberlain. The first is to remove all restrictions on his innings count and see if he can reach the 200 mark and hold up over such a stretch.  The other is to put him in the bullpen and not worry about innings.

Concern that Joba could hold up making 35 full starts, given some of the injuries he has had in the past, are legitimate.  Another reason he should be put in the bullpen.

On the other hand, return Phil Hughes to the rotation in 2010. Yes, he’s been terrific as an eighth-inning bridge this season, but, having watched him develop through the minors, and having several conversations with him during his minor-league rehabs in 2008, he has the perfect temperament to be a starter.

If the Yankees are in need of another starter, they could dangle several solid bullpen prospects as trade bait. Mark Melancon is a probable blue-chipper. Michael Dunn throws hard and repeats his delivery well.  There are others who will pitch at the Double-A level in 2010 who are developing in addition.

Alfredo Aceves has become an excellent long man.  Lefty Phil Coke has also found his role, while David Robertson keeps getting better and better and pitching with more confidence. After that group, Chamberlain and Rivera seem to be the club’s best bet.

This is an issue which will make Spring Training 2010 interesting.

Burnett and Blyleven: Watching A.J.Burnett pitch, both the strikeouts and the wild pitches, make me think he is this generation’s version of Bert Blyleven.

Blyleven, a pleasant sort I got to know well when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates (1978-80) during a 22-season career in which he played for Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the then-California Angels.

He compiled a 287-250 mark with a 3.31 ERA.  He had records of 16-15 (1971), 17-17 (1972), 20-17 (1973) and 17-17 (1974) with Minnesota.  His three-best seasons were 12-5 with Pittsburgh in 1979, 19-7 with Cleveland in 1984 and 17-5 with the Angels in 1989.

Blyleven, 58, is an excellent analyst for Twins telecasts on FOX Sports North at present.

Burnett, in 11 seasons, is 100-85. His best year was that 18-10 with Toronto in 2008.

Whether Burnett, 32, pitches 22 seasons is unknown at this point, but, like Blyleven, many baseball observers wonder how he ever loses. When he is on, his stuff is basically unhittable.

Bert and A.J.  Definitely two of a kind.

Jed spent 35 years in the newspaper business working as both a writer and editor, in both sports and news under tight deadline pressure. As both sports editor at the Indiana (Pa.) Gazette and a copy editor/columnist at The Times of Trenton, he made daily decisions on overall coverage and designed and produced thousands of pages and special sections. Since accepting a buyout from The Times, he has concentrated on broadening his writing and editing horizons to the medical, academic and business fields. Anyone is welcome to Google Jed to see the different places in print, on the Web and in front of the camera his professional expertise has spread to.
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7 Responses to Factors Dictate Joba Needs To Stay in the Bullpen

  1. Viper

    People really need to start using common sense regarding Joba and his role for next season.

    The Yanks did not go through this much trouble to keep his innings in check this season (so he can pitch a full season without imitations next year) just to abort their entire long term plan for him.

    It’s just not going to happen. Period.

    Also, this is not the same Joba we saw in 2007. He’s not throwing 98-100 MPH like he did then - he’s maxing out at the same velocity he had been most of this season (95-96 MPH).

    He also relies too much on his slider, which is the same issue he had in the rotation. His issues went far beyond his role.

    Stop beating a dead horse and take a dose of reality. Joba will be a full time starter in 2010.

    Worry about replacing Mo when he officially retires. He’s still the best closer in MLB and there’s nothing written in stone that says he’s retiring at the end of 2010.

  2. James K.

    Comparing A.J. Burnett to Bert Blyleven is like comparing Nick Swisher to Mickey Mantle.

  3. Jason

    Regarding Blyleven/Burnett comparison:

    It’s not even close and just shows how stupid it is to evaluate pitchers using their win/loss record.

    Blyleven pitched 22 seasons, threw 242 complete games with 3701 strikeouts. His ERA+ for his career was 118, with a peak of 158. He had 13 seasons with an ERA+ of 125 or better.

    Burnett has pitched 11 seasons, has 20 complete games and 1473 strikeouts. His career ERA+ is 111 but he hasn’t gone through his decline phase, his peak ERA+ is only 125 and he did it just once.

    Blyleven is one of the best pitchers of all time. Burnett is just above average.

  4. Mike Silva

    It’s going to be hard to compare any modern pitchers with a workhorse like Blyleven. You are correct in saying The ERA+ doesn’t match up.

    I think Jed was talking more in terms of style of pitching than actual raw numbers. Blyleven had a tendency to walk batters, give up some homers, and dance around runners on base.

    I didn’t see enough of Blyleven to say whether AJ is or isn’t. Considering Jed covered the guy I would have to defer to him.

  5. Jason

    “It’s going to be hard to compare any modern pitchers with a workhorse like Blyleven. The ERA+ doesn’t match up.”


  6. Mike Silva

    typo I edited that comment - sorry

  7. Jason

    I still don’t know what that means. If by “doesn’t match up” you mean Burnett isn’t anywhere near as good as Blyleven, then yes I agree.

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