The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Pinch hitting: River Ave. Blues

Posted by: Peter Abraham - Posted in Misc on Jan 15, 2008 Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

January is usually a slow month for baseball news. So we’ve lined up a series of guest bloggers to entertain you. Next up are the guys from River Ave. Blues.

Ben, Mike, and Joe have been blogging about the Yankees for years, but only came together to form River Ave. Blues a year ago. One’s an engineer, one’s a writer, and one’s an aspiring lawyer, but you’ll have to figure out which is which.

Here is their post:

Ten days ago, the YES Network polled its readers on a topic that’s left Yankee fans divided: Who should be Mariano Rivera’s primary set-up man?

As expected, YES gave us the usual suspects: Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, or Joba Chamberlain. They finished in that order reversed. Fifty-three percent of respondents thought Joba would be the most effective in getting the ball to Mariano. And you know what? They’re right.

Take a look at the team’s pitching splits from 2007. First, notice that the bullpen’s ERA — 4.37 — was actually a tick lower than the starter’s 4.57 mark. Looking at splits by innings, the 8th actually comes out ahead: opposing hitters had a .779 OPS against Yankee pitching, fourth-best frame for the team.

Remove Joba’s twelve 8th inning appearances, and the numbers get worse. That OPS jumps to .788, second worst among the Yanks’ nine innings. Clearly, the Yankees have 8th inning problems, but the answer, we believe, isn’t to sacrifice Joba the starter to improve one inning.

Why, if we see how Joba can impact the 8th inning, do we believe Joba should start? Simple: The more innings you get out of a stud like Joba, the better. Yes, the eighth inning is a critical one, but so are the ones that precede it. We should be able to agree that the Yanks can do things in the earlier innings to make life easier in the eighth.

So then we have to explain why so many Yankee fans would prefer to see Joba the reliever instead of Joba the starter. The answer to this paradox is called informational cascading. Wikipedia, if you please:

…a situation in which every subsequent actor, based on the observations of others, makes the same choice independent of his/her private signal…even if all participants as a collective have overwhelming information in favor of the correct action, each and every participant may take the wrong action.

The vast majority of Yankee fans haven’t been exposed to Joba the starter. The first time many heard of him was a rumor that he could be in the second-half bullpen mix. After the hype, we saw the results: His fastball touches 100, and his slider is unhittable.

Because we Yankee fans, as a collective, are familiar with him only as a reliever, we think he’s the ideal setup man for Mo. We’ve seen it with our own eyes and heard peers talk about it. Most importantly, we’ve seen journalists tout his abilities as a reliever. These scribes really push the informational cascade in one direction, because they have the farthest-reaching voices.

So let’s reverse the cascade. In 1998 and 1999, the Yankees finished first and second in the league in ERA, respectively. In 2001 and 2003 they finished third, and in 2002 they finished fourth. In 2005, they were ninth, 2006 they were seventh, and in 2007 they were eighth.

Now, what’s going to help bring down the team ERA more, 75 innings of Joba, or 150 innings of Joba? Of course, he’s not a proven starter yet, but he’s certainly earned his shot. He has the ability to get the Yankees back into the top third of the league in pitching.

We can’t deny that Joba the reliever would work, but to get to your stud 8th inning guy, you have to lead in that inning. Joba the starter gives you a better chance of doing that. We clearly need help there, and the fact that we have six starters penciled in doesn’t change that one bit. Joba the reliever was larger than life; Joba the starter could be even better.

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