Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Jay Hyne, a lawyer who grew up in Wayne, N.J. and now works as a law clerk for a federal judge in West Hartford, CT. He’s regular blogger at www.nyat.net, a blog with beginnings that trace back — believe it or not — to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where most of the writers co-hosted a sports talk radio show on Thursday nights from midnight until 2:00 a.m. “I guess that was the only timeslot that WBRS would give to a bunch of Yankees fans!” Jay wrote.
In 1998, Jay experienced three of his finest Yankees memories: He traded for his first and only Mickey Mantle baseball card (a 1964 Topps), attended his first and only World Series game (Game 1), and won a sweepstakes that allowed him to play actual baseball in the actual Yankee Stadium. A few hours before a September game against Toronto, Jay took the field with about 25 others to go through drills with various Yankees coaches. “My only regret is that my sister exposed the film in my dad’s camera so I only have a couple of blanched photos as proof of this once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he wrote.
For his guest post, Jay took on a familiar subject: The best role for Joba Chamberlain. His opinion is an unfamiliar one: He actually likes Joba in the bullpen.
Nowhere Else To Go: The Case For Keeping Joba in the Bullpen
One of the keys to the Yankees dynasty from 1996 to 2001 was the strength and depth of its bullpen. The Yankees didn’t always have the best rotation in the league, but they approached each game as though it were only six innings because the bullpen could protect the lead through innings 7, 8, and 9.
Notwithstanding the value of a lights-out bullpen, you need starting pitching to win championships. That’s why Brian Cashman tried hard to acquire Cliff Lee this offseason. It was a logical pursuit, given the Yankees’ surplus of cash and obvious need for another top-of-the-line starter. Unfortunately, Lee signed with Philadelphia and there aren’t many appealing names left on the market.
Without Lee and facing the prospect of Andy Pettitte’s retirement, Cashman seems committed to the next best option, which is to offset the impact of a thin rotation by building the best bullpen in baseball. Sound familiar?
Sure enough, the sting from losing out on Lee has since been assuaged by the acquisition of Rafael Soriano, who is going to be a tremendous weapon in the eighth inning. He and Mariano Rivera represent the best setup/closer combination in the league.
But how will the Yankees get through the sixth and seventh innings? They have David Robertson and two lefties in Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan. The bullpen clearly needs another righty, preferably someone who can generate swings and misses. The best person for that job is Joba Chamberlain, whose 9.67 K/9 trailed only Kerry Wood and Robertson in 2010. To add another chapter to the starter vs. reliever debate, here are six more reasons why Joba should remain in the bullpen:
1. Brian Cashman finally stated what many have suspected: Joba’s shoulder has never recovered from the injury he suffered in Texas in 2008. Or perhaps his arm isn’t strong enough to handle a starter’s workload. Either way, his velocity remains down and Joba seems unable to make up the difference with his control. Consequently, he got knocked around a lot in 2009: 167 hits in 157.1 IP.
2. In fact, he’s gotten hit pretty hard, especially in Yankee Stadium. His career ERA is more than a run higher at home versus on the road (4.26 vs. 3.21). Despite identical .317 BABIP splits, his OPS jumps in the Bronx. Furthermore, his K/BB ratio is lower at home, and he even struggles to hold runners close (31 SB home, 14 SB away). Not a very impressive track record in 43 career starts.
3. There is a significant difference between the value of Joba’s primary weapon, his fastball, as a starter and as a reliever. Fangraphs calculates Pitch Type Linear Weights to denote the standardized amount of runs that a pitcher saves with each pitch over the course of 100 pitches thrown. As a starter in 2009, Joba’s wFB/C was -1.21, but that figure improved to 0.36 as a reliever in 2010. In other words, while Joba’s fastball might not be as devastating as it was three years ago (1.51 wFB/C in 2007), it is noticeably more effective in short relief stints than in full starts.
It also bears mentioning that Joba’s 2010 WAR (1.4) was the second highest among all Yankee relievers, behind only Mariano. Yet it was just 1.8 in 2009, far lower than the other pitchers who started at least 30 games: CC Sabathia (6.3), Andy Pettitte (3.6), and A.J. Burnett (3.4).
4. Joba hasn’t started a game since September 30, 2009, so his arm is not stretched out. Even if Cashman wanted to make him a starter, he would need considerable time in Scranton to get ready. This puts a hole in both the rotation and the bullpen for an extended period of time early in the season.
Here is another thing to consider: Right now, Joba could pitch two innings out of the bullpen, and possibly more in a pinch. Keeping Chamberlain in the bullpen could conceivably help entice Andy Pettitte to come back; he would only need to get through five innings because Joba could bridge him to Soriano and Mo.
5. Unless Cashman intends to sign another right-handed reliever, what better options do the Yankees have? Andrew Brackman and Romulo Sanchez have pitched a combined 4.1 innings in the big leagues. I don’t think either one is ready for the job.
6. Joba may never regain his 2007 magic, but we all saw how much he embraced his setup role that season. His bulldog personality is best suited to bullpen work where he can empty the tank in just one or two innings. His improved wFB/C in relief confirms this perception.
These may be moot points, as Cashman has already said that there is no chance that Joba will be in the rotation. But it’s one thing to take a stand in January, and quite another to remain patient if Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre are injured or ineffective and the Yankees start to fade in the standings. We’ll see if Cashman can take the pressure and keep Joba in the bullpen when things get messy.
Associated Press photos