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When the Yankees announced that Joba Chamberlain was headed to the bullpen, most of the Yankee blogging community went into a tizzy. While most conceded that picking Hughes over Joba was a defensible decision, we were confused as to why Joba was going to the bullpen rather than AAA, where he could further develop as a starter. One notable exception was Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues, who graciously agreed to speak to me on the subject.

Me: A few days ago, I stated that I could survive if Joba went to the bullpen, provided that he uses all his pitches and that he went back to the rotation in 2011. Many bloggers have disagreed and believe that he should be in AAA no matter what the circumstances. When this same discussion was brought up a few weeks ago regarding Phil Hughes, you advocated that he go to the bullpen rather than AAA. Do you feel the same way about Joba, and why?

Mike: I do still feel the same way. The biggest thing he has to work on is his command and willingness to attack the zone. Triple-A hitters are in Triple-A for a reason, they’re not good enough for the big leagues. Joba can still nibble down there like he did last year, except he’ll get outs because hitters will chase. There’s nothing to be learned by that.

It sounds harsh, but he’ll have to take his lumps in his big leagues if he wants to improve. This isn’t something unique to Joba, basically all young pitchers go through it. And you know what? There’s a chance he’ll never learn to be more aggressive, and if that’s the case, then he was never going to be great to begin with.

Me: Are you concerned that he will not be using all of his pitches in the bullpen? He has already stated that he will be almost exclusively fastball-slider in the bullpen. What happens to those other pitches?

Mike: Yeah somewhat, but I think that concern is generally overstated. It’s been clear that he would be a fastball-slider guy since college, the curve and change just came along for the ride.

Me: What about the decrease in innings? If the organization changes it’s stance and Joba goes into the rotation in 2011, do you think that jumping from around 80 innings back to the rotation might be a problem?

Mike: The innings thing sucks, it does. I don’t think he can throw 80 or even 100 innings out of the pen this year and then magically go into 2011 as an uncapped starter. He’ll have to be built back up.

But as far as I’m concerned, innings are secondary to learning how to pitch. I’d rather see Joba spend the year in the bullpen learning how to attack hitters so he can give you say, 150 above average innings in 2011 instead of spending the year in Triple-A overmatching hitters so he can give you 200 league average or worse innings in 2011. It would be a different story if he was 5 years older than he actually is. The sooner he learns how to consistently get big league hitters out, the better.

Me: That sounds eminently reasonable. Last question, Mike. It seems like you have a pretty clear plan for how you would develop Joba. If you could go back and start over in August 2007, and put yourself in Cashman’s shoes, is there anything you would have done differently from 2007-2009 in terms of Joba’s development?

Oh sure, in hindsight moving him to the bullpen in 2007 was a mistake for his development (he certainly helped them get into the playoffs, so it worked in that sense). Remember, he pulled a hamstring in Spring Training and didn’t get into a minor league game until May. If he stays healthy, then he would have hit his limit at the end of July instead of the end of August, and calling him up wouldn’t even have been an option. I thought in 2008 that he should have started in the rotation instead of either Hughes or IPK (probably IPK knowing me), then you worry about shutting him down when he gets whatever his limit was.

There’s a lot of people clinging to that 2007 reliever version of Joba, and he’s just not coming back. Even if he was still throwing 100, it wouldn’t matter, it was an unsustainable pace.

Thanks again to Mike for answering my questions. I think he makes a strong argument, and he certainly has me reconsidering the issue. Are you convinced?

4 Responses to “RAB’s Axisa: Develop Joba In Bullpen, Not AAA”

  1. Encouragement from Adam Wainwright, in an interview with ESPN, was asked if his bullpen and closing experience interfered with his development as a starter, or valuable.

    Moreorless, he said, “We were in a bases loaded, ninth inning seventh game, and I was pitching. If I get in a tough spot, I can remember what that’s like. I try to take that same approach out there, and pitch every inning like that.”  (Quote)

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  2. The primary issue with Joba is his reduced velo and the diminished depth of his slider. Until proven otherwise, I think that’s as much a consequence of arm strength as it is mechanics and approach.

    When he had that velo and the slider working in 2008, no one argued that he had to learn how to attack the zone or how to get big league hitters out. So the problem would appear to be more fundamental. Pitching in the mL would afford him a better opportunity to build up his arm strength and rediscover his pitches without the pressure of having to immediately succeed.

    I also disagree that we know what Joba’s baseline velo is. His approximate fastball velo as a starter in 2008 prior to the shoulder injury, according to PitchFx, was 95 mph. The most obvious explanation that he hasn’t fully recovered from the injury. Consequently, in the absence of medical information, we have no idea whether or not it was sustainable or if it’s ever coming back.

    The only caveat is if the Yankees believe that Joba has a physical issue that would be exacerbated by pitching more than an inning or two at a time. But since that information is not available to us, I don’t think our opinions should be predicated on it.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  3. Great stuff by Mike, couldn’t have said it any better myself.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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