With the Yanks signing of Rafael Soriano, the never ending Joba debate has reemerged in full force, with long time Joba the Starter supporters clamoring for him to return to the rotation. Mike Axisa of RAB penned a very entertaining piece to that effect yesterday. Rasheeda Cooper from Bomber Boulevard asks why not? Matt from the Yankeeist wants him traded, doesn’t care where, in the hopes that he can rebuild his value elsewhere. Andrew Marchand of ESPN NY thinks a return to the rotation could help the Yanks in 2011 and rebuild his value for a possible trade down the road. No matter which side you’re on, Joba always seems to spark discussion and inflame passions among Yankee fans.
Before we even get into breaking down Joba’s splits, let’s dispose of this report. There are no “viable starting pitchers” available so that possibility is an academic exercise, at best. The Yanks themselves have backed down from it, and Yankee officials should know better than to address hypothetical scenarios in public. But then again, they have their own issues these days.
Next, I wanted to look at Joba’s splits as a starter and reliever. Even after the Soriano signing, Yankee officials are still saying they have “no plans” to move him back to the rotation. I know this infuriates the Joba-Starter supporters, but it’s not an unreasonable position to take. The Yanks aren’t wrong when they say his stuff plays up as a reliever and he’s been much better in that role. He has, and it’s not arguable. Here’s his splits from BR:
I Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ as Starter 43 980 852 117 227 37 4 25 32 12 101 206 2.04 .266 .351 .407 .759 347 16 14 7 6 4 8 .322 114 as Reliever 123 542 495 48 110 25 2 8 13 1 42 156 3.71 .222 .285 .329 .614 163 9 2 2 1 3 5 .307 74
I Split W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF WHIP SO/9 SO/BB as Starter 12 7 .632 4.18 43 43 0 0 0 0 221.2 227 117 103 25 101 4 206 14 4 8 980 1.480 8.4 2.04 as Reliever 6 6 .500 3.08 123 0 26 0 0 4 131.2 110 48 45 8 42 3 156 2 1 7 542 1.154 10.7 3.71
One thing that jumps out at me right away are his walks as a starter. They’re abysmal. One might even say atrocious. He walked 101 batters in 221.2 IP, which effectively wipes away his other positive peripherals by allowing too many baserunners. His WHIP as a starter was almost 1.5 (1.15 as reliever). OPS against jumps almost 150 points as a starter as well. Pretty much every rate stat you look at gets worse when you compare the two roles. It’s as if they’re two different pitchers, one who’s effective and another who has potential, but is very frustrating.
But is there an explanation for all the walks? Was it because he was on the Joba Rules and hitters waited him out? Sure, that could have had a lot to do with it. Just getting into those deep counts meant he had to come in with 3-2 fastballs and is therefore all the more hittable. Did the league just catch up with him? I suspect that played a part as well. His go-to swing and miss pitch is the slider, and he rarely throws it for strikes. Hitters aren’t stupid, once they recognize the pitch as a slider (especially the 2nd and 3rd time through a lineup) they lay off and take their walks. His fastball is pretty straight and always has been, so when he gets it up in the zone it gets hammered. I don’t know where he found that 100MPH heat in 07. Maybe it was a result of building his arm up as a starter all year and switching to relief, or maybe it was a juiced radar gun. Maybe he was just a young kid who was scared to death out there and the adrenaline gave him that extra heat. But the scouting reports I saw of him as a college pitcher and in the Yankee farm system had him sitting in the low to mid 90s as a starter. So I really don’t think he permanently hurt his shoulder on that hot Texas night in 2008. Every pitcher gets shoulder tendinitis at some point of their career, and people forget Joba came back and pitched that same year out of the bullpen in September. I think Joba just reverted back to being who he always was before 2007. All of this is why I think all the excuse making surrounding Joba is just that. I don’t think he has the stuff to be an elite pitcher like we saw in 2007-08, which for me was a classic first time through the league effect. I have long felt he would be well served to work in his curve more often, if for no other reason to just to keep hitters off balance because there are basic flaws in his fastball-slider repertoire.
But with all his warts, I still think he’s better a option than Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova as the #4 or 5 starter. So for that reason alone I’d like to see him given an opportunity to move back to the rotation. Without pre-judging the outcome, I think we can all agree that it wouldn’t hurt to let him throw his hat in the ring this March. The Yanks would be foolish not to give him an opportunity to win the job out of Spring Training, and despite unnamed quotes from members of the Yankee brass to the contrary, they usually wind up doing the right thing. Let’s not forget, Joba battled for a rotation spot as recently as last spring. Brian Cashman was quoted saying this after he lost the job to Phil Hughes last year:
“He’s a starter in the bullpen. He can do both. He’s a starter who was just beaten out in the competition. That’s what we honestly believe, but we only had one spot.”
The question for the 2011 Yankees isn’t Joba the Starter vs Joba the Reliever, the question is ‘Is Joba better than Sergio Mitre or Ivan Nova?’ Let’s hope we get a chance to answer that question in a few weeks.