After Phil Hughes turned in an impressive effort against the Astros last night, Joe Girardi had the following to say:
“He threw the ball extremely well tonight,” Girardi said. “Attacked the strike zone. Had a good curveball. Threw some good changeups tonight. He let his fielders do the work, too. He looked good tonight. It seems like his fastball command gets better and better each outing, and that’s important.”
Being that spring training results are largely irrelevant (Hughes pitched 4 innings against scrubs from the worst lineup in the sport), it is important to see that Girardi felt Hughes was throwing well. This has rightfully lead many to proclaim Hughes as the obvious frontrunner for the 5th starter job. However, it has also lead to some posts that have imparted an air of finality to Joba Chamberlain’s career as a starter. Most notable is the following article by Joel Sherman, that I will run through in order to dispel some of the myths included therein.
Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to pitch four innings today. This is possibly the last time we will ever see him stretched out this long. He is still considered a candidate for the fifth starter’s spot and Joe Girardi is saying he will get at least one more chance after today to work in extended fashion.
But, at this point he would have to change an awful lot of minds – and quickly – that he is best suited for that job. Or else there will be no next long outing or the next long outing will merely be a formality. Today is his starting Waterloo.
I find it hard to believe that the Yankees will give up on three years of development based on 10 spring training innings. Joba had an ERA of 3.58 entering August last season, an admirable number for a pitcher in his first full year as a starter. At that point, he began to approach his career innings high and his performance suffered mightily. Basically, we are talking about two bad months as being the impetus for the Yankees sacrificing an immense amount of value for the future. I highly doubt that Brian Cashman would be that shortsighted, and I firmly believe that the loser of this competition will get another chance at the rotation. Expect both Joba and Hughes to be in the rotation in 2011. (On that note, see Fack Youk for an explanation of why sending Joba to AAA rather than the bullpen might make sense).
As I reported on Feb. 3 in this column , many Yankee officials were heading into spring already believing that Phil Hughes was going to be the fifth starter and that Chamberlain was going to be Mariano Rivera’s set-up man. That was based on how Chamberlain’s best fastball returned in the postseason as a starter and so did his confident strut – both elements mostly missing when Joba worked as a starter last year.
This is a myth. Joba’s fastball improved out of the bullpen because that is what happens to most pitchers, but his “best fastball” did not return at all. He was throwing 95-96, which is actually the velocity that he was averaging as a starter in 2008. In fact, that “best” fastball has been mostly absent from Joba’s repertoire since his shoulder injury in late 2008. Regarding the silliness of Joba’s “confident strut,” I did not see it when he nearly cost the Yankees Game 3 against the Angels (triple, sac fly, double in a tie game) and Game 4 against the Phillies (Feliz homer to tie game). He allowed 10 baserunners in 6.1 innings in the postseason. I’m not saying that he cannot be an effective reliever going forward, but the 2009 postseason is certainly not evidence that supports such a conclusion.
The Yanks truly wanted to believe his repertoire screamed front-of-the-rotation starter and they did an awful lot of work – most of it controversial based on the Joba Rules – to try to shoehorn him into that role. But actions speak louder than words. And Joba’s actions – no matter what he says – are those of someone who wants to relieve and, more important, is mentally built to relieve.
I like Joel Sherman, but this is the typical revisionist history that is only spewed by people who never heard of Chamberlain until he toed the rubber in New York. Joba was a starter in college, a starter in the minors, and became a mega-prospect based on his work in the minor league rotation. The Yankees did no shoehorning, and it was not a matter of the Yankees “truly wanting to believe” that he was a fit as a starter. On the contrary, there was not a scout in all of baseball that would have pegged Chamberlain for the bullpen before the Yankees put him there in August of 2007. He was seen as a power arm with four above average pitches, and projected as an ace. If Joba had never been put in the bullpen for that stretch run, we would be discussing whether he should be in the rotation or in Scranton, because the bullpen would not be an option.
He gets, perhaps, a final chance to change minds today. But if it is more of what we have seen so far in spring, a combination of lack of endurance and refinement, then Joba might not get another shot in five days to work extended innings. Instead, he might be heading to his old new job out of the pen; this time permanently.
I certainly hope not. If Joba Chamberlain never sees the rotation again, the Yankees will have made a massive mistake.
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