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.

17 Responses to “Joba the Starter vs Joba the Reliever”

  1. The last paragraph nails it. I think they should repeat last year’s ‘competition’ , only with the guys you’ve mentioned and maybe one or two others.

    As far as him being better as a RP, most pitchers are. The difference may be greater than ‘normal’ in his case, but not a lot of highly regarded starters get a lot of work in MLB BPs any more.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    No doubt that’s true of many pitchers. I only brought it up to illustrate that the Yanks arent being irrational or unreasonable, the way the hard core Joba-starter crowd seems to believe.  (Quote)

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    Sean Reply:

    but there is a difference between a little better and “almost two different pitchers”  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    Do you think that’s an unreasonable sentence when you look at those two sets of numbers? Go line by line through his rate stats.  (Quote)

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    Disco Reply:

    Joba the starter and Joba the reliever are not two different pitchers.

    People look at his first full season starting, 2009, and think he cannot do it.

    But how many pitchers his age in their first full season pitch like Cy Young? Very few. He performed fine and given his youth and status as a top talent, we should have expected improvement from 2009.  (Quote)

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  2. Joba, now 25 would be allowed to take his lumps as a 5th starter on any other team in baseball. How many pitchers come up in their early 20’s and just waltz through a 15-20 year career? Damn few. Joba is now at the point that is body is mature, if his head checks in then he should be good to go. Enough of this bullpen BS until he proves after, let’s say 2 years that he can’t handle the job. The Yankee Brass now needs to show some guts instead of worrying about their jobs….  (Quote)

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  3. Joba had that fastball coming out saying that he could get to the upper 90’s and sit in the mid 90’s.  (Quote)

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  4. A few issues. Firstly, looking at a season and 23 and drawing conclusions about what he can and cannot do from that seems short-sighted. Pitchers tend to develop, especially ones that are THAT young.

    Also, you doubt he has the ability to be a front-line starter, but the fact is that you don’t get to being the top pitching prospect in baseball without having that potential. Furthermore, he flashed some of the potential before the injury, and was distinctly worse after it. There is a clear demarcation in terms of both performance and velocity at that point. You can dismiss it if you’d like, but it isn’t excuse making to acknowledge that observable fact.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    I don’t completely dismiss his ability to be a front line starter, but that probability grows less and less likely with every passing year. Even at his best in 07, I saw red flags that I knew wouldn’t last. His control in the strike zone was never great and his fastball very straight, though I thought he was more consistent with the slider back then.

    I’m thinking of doing a followup posting the scouting reports I referenced.You and so many others cling to the notion that he has 100MPH stuff in that arm, but outside of one very unique circumstance in 2007, we’ve seen little of it. I think that was the aberration, and the real Joba is what we’ve seen recently and what went on in the minors.

    I also wonder about the effect of conditioning or lack thereof. Joba was clearly in better shape in 07 than he was the past two years, and that could play into it as well. Don’t forget Stephen Strasburg was a middling, low 90’s starter his sophomore year in college. Then he went on an intense training program and started throwing 100MPH consistently.  (Quote)

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    Kevin Ocala, Fl Reply:

    His fastball very straight? Really? I wasn’t behind home plate, but the swings that hitters were taking looked weak and over-matched. At least on TV.

    I believe your dead-on with his conditioning, or lack thereof. His breathing always looks labored (could be over-amped), and he is “chunky”. I’ve been of the belief that the Yankee brass isn’t happy with him regarding his mental approach to the game. Maybe they’ve held him back to protect his arm and also to dangle a carrot to get him hungry. If he gives up the beer and parties, with that frame of his he could become a Clemens type power pitcher. He’s 25, generally when connective tissue reaches maturity and should be un-leashed. If he’s been training and dieting this off-season, well maybe he’ll surprise a few people. I’ll be interested in seeing what kind of a body shows up next month….  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    His fastball has never had good movement it. He got by on stuff and unfamiliarity in 07-08.  (Quote)

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    Moshe Mandel Reply:

    Agree with the conditioning thing. I never really did, but this year he looked positively chunky at times. As for the scouting reports, it never was all about velocity. When he first came up, and even through 2008, he had 4 above average MLB pitches, and two of them were plus-plus. The velo is down, the two lesser pitches have entirely atrophied. He went from a guy that John Manuel called the best pitching prospect since Beckett to a 2 pitch guy with spotty command.  (Quote)

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  5. Check out some of his old post game interviews. This one was soon after his debut in 07

    “I struggle with my release point, I use the slider to get me back to my release point. That’s something I’m going to have to get better at” and “I was flying open, and cutting a couple balls off”

    He was struggling with his mechanics since the day he was called up, when he was blowing away hitters. For those worried about a shoulder injury causing a drop in velocity, it can also be explained by his mechanics, which may have got worse. Especially…..

    ….since he looks about 40 pounds heavier than he did in 2007. The front leg comes up a bit slower, the shoulder drags get the idea. BI did a breakdown of Joba’s mechanical changes here.  (Quote)

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  6. I’d just like to note for the record that while Matt indicated he’d like to see Joba traded the other day, that was only under the assumption that the Yankees maintain the current party line and keep him in the bullpen. If Joba-the-starter ends up surprisingly being an option after all, I know Matt fully supports that.

    We at Yankeeist have always been Joba-the-starter people and will continue to do so until there’s convincing evidence that he can’t be an effective Major League starter.

    To wit, I strongly encourage everyone to read this:

    What happened to Joba Chamberlain, starting pitcher?  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    Sorry to be so blunt Larry (because I’m a fan of your blog) but his post was irrational. He was simply wrong on the Cashman stuff (as were many people, initially), he doesn’t seem to understand the way the Yankee budget works, and his goal seemed to be to do what’s best for Joba, and not what’s best for the Yankees. It doesn’t get any more wrong headed than that. As a rule, rants generally make for bad analysis. I’ve done my share, so I say this from experience. A rare bad piece on your otherwise fine site.  (Quote)

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    Larry Koestler Reply:

    Hey Steve,

    Not a problem, and I greatly appreciate the honesty. I think we were all a little blindsided with the move, and I think Matt’s post was probably a bit too reactionary and not as well-thought-out as he would’ve wanted it to be. I know he was in transit and wanted to get his initial thoughts down and sent the piece to me without the benefit of getting to thoroughly review it, and in the interest of timeliness I didn’t edit it as hard as I might otherwise have. Knowing what we know now, I’m certain Matt would’ve had a different take on it.  (Quote)

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  7. Hah! Thanks Steve for your assessment and the “strong praise.” Seriously though, I always appreciate feedback. However, I think you should consider a few points.

    1. At the time that I wrote this piece (in an airport mind you), there was no evidence available to me (or anyone as far as I know) suggesting that Cashman was overruled by other members of the Yankee organization. If that’s the case then yes, it would seem this situation was a bit different from what many of us expected.

    However, there have been several of occasions where Cashman and/or Yankee front office has simply acted in a manner that seems to contradict the public stance. As I acknowledge in my piece though, I’m okay with this. Some of these “180s” might have been entirely circumstantial, but they were still surprising nevertheless (hence my feeling that we as fans should remain somewhat skeptical).

    2. My point about the Yankees and their spending is also pretty straightforward. $35M for a reliever is a hefty price tag (at least in my eyes). On a semi-related note, I also don’t see how anyone can claim that the Yankees don’t operate on an entirely different financial plateau from the rest of baseball. While there seems to be a general consensus that NY has some budgetary guidelines, they’ve also shown willingness to redirect their resources during unique circumstances. My point (and perhaps this is unfair or unreasonable) is that “unique circumstances” seem at times to be a bit subjectively defined. If I am way off here, please by all means, clarify.

    3. As for Joba, you’re right to an extent. I was thinking on his behalf to a degree; it’d be nice to see him blossom into what we all (perhaps unfairly) envisioned him becoming. However, I was considering the benefit to the team to an equal degree. I accept the belief that a good starter is generally more valuable then a very good reliever. It would seem that the “starter” door has shut for Joba in NY though.

    One would have to assume that as long as Soriano is healthy, he’ll probably be the setup man. That leaves Joba primarily with middle inning relief work. I think his skill set is wasted there. Because of that, I wouldn’t be completely opposed to the Yankees trading him as part of a reasonable package that helps the team meet one of its primary needs – aka, a starting pitcher.

    Anyway, just food for thought.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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