Look out, Baseball’s version of Freddy Kruger is sneaking up behind you once again. Speaking to reporters at the annual Thurman Munson awards dinner last night, Joba Chamberlain commented on the issue that never seems to die, Joba the Starter vs Joba the Reliever. Here’s what he said:
“Being down [in the bullpen] for two stints, you get to see how good [Rivera] is, and you know there is going to have to be somebody who comes behind him that replaces the legacy that is Mariano,” Chamberlain said. “If that opportunity comes, great. If we sit down and they say that, then we’ll get after it.”
But even as the Yankees appear intent on shifting Chamberlain back to a set-up role, the right-hander said his total focus is on starting.
Chamberlain plans to report to Tampa for spring training on Monday, more than a week before pitchers and catchers are required to arrive.
“I made 31 starts last year, and hopefully I’ll make the same and get about 200 innings,” Chamberlain said. “As a competitor, you want to be out there every fifth day [starting]. I want that opportunity. I have to go out and prove it, and I understand that. I like it that way.”
“The biggest difference is that, as a starter, you know you’re going to have to face a guy maybe three, four or five times,” Chamberlain said.
“In the bullpen, you’re only going to face him once, so you don’t really have to set him up. You don’t have to worry about, ‘OK, I got him out on a curveball in his first at-bat.’ That’s the biggest difference, the planning in the game of how you are going to get guys out.”
A few things here. First, the guy who replaces Mariano River might as well be working with Mike Rowe cleaning out a grease trap. That will be one of the more impossible tasks imaginable. It’s good to be young and confident in your abilities, but you don’t want that job. He would have to pull off a repeat of his 2007 0.77 ERA dominance in order to make fans and the media happy.
Next, I don’t doubt for one minute that he’s currently more comfortable working out of the bullpen. As he stated himself, it’s a far easier task. One that a young pitcher who is finding his way at the professional level would find less challenging. Working out of the bullpen simplifies his approach and allows him to just go out there and air it out. But at the end of the day it’s really not about his approach, ‘Bulldog’ mentality, or the adrenaline rush he gets working out of the bullpen that the B-Jobbers seem to find so persuasive. It’s just about executing pitches, whether it’s the 1st, 5th or 8th inning. As a young pitcher, he’s still learning how to blend what he has working on any given day (or in any particular inning) and learning the opposing batters strengths and weaknesses. But that will come in time.
The main reason why he was so good out of the bullpen in 07/08 is that he’s overqualified for the job. Given his repertoire, it would be a waste to stick him in the bullpen when he has the stuff to not just be a good, but a top starting pitcher. How soon people forget, but he pitched to a 2.76 ERA as a starter back in 2008 and shows flashes of brilliance last year as well, so we know it’s there. Yankee fans aren’t known for their patience, but this is all part of the process of developing starting pitching. Like stocks, very few go up in a straight line. There are bumps along the way and if you believe in a player, you stick with him.
This will be the first season Joba will have the training wheels off completely and we will get to see him go out every five days as a full-fledged starter. If he fails miserably, and last year was the beginning of a downward trend, you could always flip him and Hughes mid-season. But until then, he’s a starter and lets just put this tired debate to rest.