More Joba

Apparently, Joba Chamberlain may start the season in the bullpen, in an effort to limit his innings. This makes sense. However, against all logic, people are still clamoring for Joba the Closer.

[…] The plan all along had been to use the 22-year-old Chamberlain as a starter, the role in which he excelled as a minor leaguer. But last year he proved to be an exceptional reliever, and in this era of ball, there’s no one more important to a team than a great closer.

Closers are important. Mariano Rivera is my favorite player ever. I named a blog after his best pitch. I don’t have a problem with people who claim he was the most important player to the Yankees dynasty. But closers are NOT the most important player on the team. It’s not even close. How is that you ask? Well let me explain.

Closers only pitch 60-70 innings a year. The entire point of baseball is who can score the most runs while allowing the fewest (it amazes me how many times I find myself explaining that simple point). So if you have a shutdown pitcher, getting him to pitch 200+ innings is far more useful than 60 for winning as many games as possible.

Rivera wasn’t the most important person to the Yankee World Series victories because he got them to the playoffs. He was the most important because the Yankees already had tremendous pitching and hitting. Rivera was (and is) only important in close games and the Yankees had the starting pitching to ensure most every game would be close. So in this sense, Rivera was both essential and non-essential. He didn’t mean that much to the Yankees being a very good team; they would have been very good without him. But he was crucial to them being a great team.

The Yankees know that as well as anyone, having had the luxury since 1997 of the services of Mariano Rivera, arguably the greatest closer ever. We spend inordinate amounts of time every year talking about the mighty Yankee offense, but the reason they’ve been in the playoffs every year since 1995 is their closer, first John Wetteland and then Rivera.

This is certainly not true. If you exchanged Rivera for a league average closer, the Yankees probably still make the playoffs every year. Do they have 4 World Series rings? Well I don’t know about that.

[…] What’s notable about Rivera is that the Yankees brought him up through their farm system. They’ve gone everywhere for starting pitching and position players, but Rivera has been there year in and year out. Lord knows where the team would have been if they didn’t have them [sic] and had pursued their usual course of hiring over-the-hill free agents with bloated salaries to do the job. But I’d say you can get an idea by checking out what Billy Wagner has done for the Mets — or is that to the Mets.

What are you talking about here? I wouldn’t trade Rivera for Wagner, but come on now. Look at Wagner’s numbers the past 2 seasons: 2.24 ERA, 195 ERA+ in 2006, 2.63, 162 ERA+ in 2007. Look what he did to the Mets! He gave them a good closer!

Last year, as Rivera’s set-up man, Chamberlain pitched 24 innings in 19 games. He gave up just 12 hits and one earned run while striking out 34; his ERA was 0.38. I submit those are better numbers than he would have had as a starter.

I’ll assume you don’t think the “24 innings” number is better. So we’ll ignore that. It is likely true that Joba’d have a higher ERA and WHIP as a starter, but what you’re ignoring here is that Joba is a totally different pitcher than Rivera and most relievers for that matter. He has four plus pitches. He is capable of mowing through an order multiple times. Rivera is a closer because he uses one pitch (and luckily for him, it’s the best one in baseball history).

I understand the Yankees thinking. They’re tired of old and overpriced starters like Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson who are no longer reliable and spend too much time on the disabled list. Going into this season, they have two old-timers — Mike Mussina, whose effectiveness has been declining, and Andy Pettitte, still a premier left-hander. The rest of the starting rotation will be Chien-Ming Wang, Hughes and Kennedy. Chamberlain is supposed to be there to step in when someone gets injured or proves ineffective.

Chamberlain isn’t just a stop-gap starter. He’s a potential number one starter. All offseason, people have been criticizing the Yankees for not having an “ace.” Well they may have one on their team right now. Chamberlain has the type of ceiling where we could be calling him “the best pitcher on the planet” in 4 years and not Johan Santana. But we’ll never find out if that’s the case if he’s left in the bullpen. Starting out there? That’s fine. You know who else started in the pen to limit his innings? Of course, Johan Santana.

[…]I know it’s a huge sacrifice in the short term to put a potentially great starter in the pen at the age of 22 to be a back-up and an insurance policy. But I’m not sure how smart it is to have three kids in the starting rotation of a team that wants to win – now.

This is precisely wrong. It’s a huge sacrifice in the long-term to keep Joba a reliever. In the short term, it could make some sense because they have to limit his innings anyways.

And before you start asking about how smart it is to sacrifice a potentially great starter to the bullpen, ask yourself where Boston would be without closer Jonathan Papelbon, a highly promising young starter who was forced to the closer role by injury and then chose to stay there.

Completely different situation. Boston had and has a deep starting rotation and Papelbon doesn’t have the repitoire that Joba has. Still, Papelbon very well could have been more effective as a starter. But it seems like now we’ll never know.

It’s the most important job in baseball. The Yankees got a kid who’s showed he can fill it. Leave him there.

It’s not the most important job in baseball. And just because Joba can be the closer, doesn’t mean he should. He needs to play where he’ll have the most value to the team winning and losing. They need him to be their future “ace.”

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