My logic was simple, and based on two pillars. First, there are not a lot of ways for the Yankees to get better this offseason. Seven position players, four starting pitchers and the closer were all coming back in 2010 no matter what. The simplest way for the Yankees to improve was to sign a reliable 4th starter. John Lackey was the best starter available.
I don’t feel as strongly about any of the other free agent pitchers. Lackey appealed to me for his reliability. He would have given the team the steady fourth starter the Yankees desperately needed in October. Ben Sheets could fill that role, or his arm could explode. The Yankees need a pitcher who will be healthy in October, not a pitcher to help them get there.
Chamberlain will need to improve. Joba had a bad season by almost any standard. His 4.75 ERA translated to an ERA+ of 90. He was 4th in the AL in walks with 76 even though his workload was limited severely. His WHIP was 1.544. More disturbing is that Joba’s performance has gotten successively worse in each of his three seasons in the big leagues. His WHIP went from 0.75 to 1.256 to 1.544 between 2007 and 2009. His hits per 9 innings went from 4.5 to 7.8 to 9.6. His walks per 9 innings went from 2.3 to 3.5 to 4.3. His strikeouts per 9 innings went from 12.8 to 10.6 to 7.6. I’m sensing a trend here, and I don’t like it.
Joba supporters (and I count myself among them) may argue that part of this struggle to perform is because the Yankees moved Joba from the pen to the rotation. Perhaps. Joba has certainly struggled as a starter, and had something of a resurgence coming from the bullpen this past October, but the Yankees need a starter. Even a mediocre starter is more valuable than almost every reliever, save one.
Limiting Joba’s innings didn’t help. He complained about the treatment openly, a strong indicator that this unhappiness was translating to his pitching. Some of his struggles were self fulfilling. Some starts at season’s end he was limited to as few as 3 innings, which would artificially inflate his ERA.
Given the way the Yankees baby him, Chamberlain will need to bring his pitches per inning down if he is going to keep middle relief from playing a big role in his 2010 starts. The easiest way for him to do this is to throw more strikes, something that may sound surprising considering his reputation for accuracy when he first burst onto the scene.
Hughes, unfortunately, is actually less efficient than Joba. Continuing with this separated at birth string of similarities, Hughes has also averaged 17.3 pitches per inning in his career. Unlike Joba, that number doesn’t budge when he’s in the pen. Hughes averaged 17 pitches per inning this past season, even though he logged most of his innings in relief.
With no sure-thing starter left on the market (and at $17 million a season I’m actually glad Cashman passed on Lackey) and the position players staying the same in value so far, the Yankees may nee
d one of these two to become a legit starter if the team is to get better in 2010. Both players need to work on the same problem, but in different ways. Chamberlain needs to throw more strikes while Hughes needs to get guys out just a little quicker. Because of this key difference in 2010, my money is on Hughes to make the jump to full-fledged effective starter.
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