Joba Rules or Bust

Mike Nanna

Yankee relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain inspires more man crushes among Yankee fans than anyone not named Jeter. He looks like a half-baby, half-frat boy, or a mix between a goofy, harmless manchild and an intimidating dominator whose intensity makes even the most powerful hitters quiver. Joba is a man, a myth and a legend; a truly special player who comes about once in a blue moon. He has the ability to breathe life into any stadium, inspire any fan base and strike out any hitter. After giving up just one run in his first regular season taste of the majors, Joba has been almost as dominant so far this year in his setup role. Many have made comparisons to a young Mariano Rivera based on the similarity between their pure dominance despite their different pitching styles. Joba represents hope for all Yankee fans, but controversy currently surrounds him. Should Joba Chamberlain be a starter or remain in the bullpen?

Those baseball experts and scouts who believe Joba should stay in the bullpen make some convincing arguments. Most people familiar with Joba claim that his stuff and mindset are perfect for the bullpen, with his bursts of intensity tailor made for the closer role. This certainly seems to be the case when looking at his dataset from his past performances. In short, Joba has made hitters look silly with his fastball/slider tandem out of the bullpen, and many people think that the Yanks shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Having the most dominant reliever in baseball is definitely a boon, especially considering how important bullpens have become in the modern game. Plus, who is to say that Joba will be as good as a starter as he has been as a reliever? He was not considered as talented as Phil Hughes when in the minors, but now everyone seems to think that Joba will put Phil to shame. But what if Joba can’t maintain his usual velocity when pitching into the sixth inning and beyond? What if pitching so many innings early in his young career takes a toll on his arm? What if his performances are just OK? With so much that could go wrong, it doesn’t make much sense to fiddle with what works. Johan Santana spent much of his early career perfecting his trade in the bullpen while conserving innings in his left arm. Some would say that this is one factor that has contributed to Santana staying relatively healthy as a starting pitcher thereafter. Obviously spending that early time in the bullpen worked pretty well for Johan, so rushing Joba to the rotation may not help him or the Yankees in the long run.

Despite the strong arguments for Joba staying in the bullpen, at least for now, some people (including Old Hank himself) continue to stand by the Yankees original plan to make Joba a starter this year. The argument is generally that, rather than having a team’s best pitcher pitch only 70 innings, why not have him throw 200? Also, the World Series-starved Yanks are in desperate need of that playoff ace to carry them to another title, and Joba seems to be the only candidate for that job on their current roster. In New York ,where the mantra is always “Win Now,” one can’t help but wonder whether Joba is the missing component to getting another ring. With Manager Joe Girardi already feeling some lukewarm heat from Uncle Hank and with GM Brian Cashman on thinner ice then some might think, the temptation to move Joba into the rotation will be great. While upper management consistently denies that a move could be in the works in the near future, Hank’s insistence on the move continues to be the elephant in the room. What the owner wants, the owner gets, especially if that owner’s name is Steinbrenner.

In the end, the Yankees’ decision will come down to patience versus competitiveness. The Yankees would probably have a better chance at the title this year if they move Joba to the rotation, but they could be making the wrong decision for the long term by moving him now. The Yankees have always been notorious for making rash decisions and after a 12-10 start, could easily be poised to make another one. I would stress patience however, since Brian Cashman’s philosophy switch this off-season would not be consistent with yet another mortgaging of the Yankees future. My advice would be to let Joba dominate for at least another year in the bullpen and then reevaluate next off-season to at least give him all of spring training to prepare should a change be made. This would not only protect Joba’s arm and the Yankees future, but it would also give the Yanks the best reliever in the game for a year. Not a bad concession prize if you ask me.