As most who read here regularly know, I strongly believe that Joba Chamberlain should be the 5th starter. However, my stance on this issue has changed a bit over the last few days. What prompted that changed was my realization that two major elements of my argument for Joba were not entirely accurate or may not be true. This is what I said when I advocated for Joba:
Conversely, if Joba starts the season in the bullpen, he is unlikely to pitch enough innings to allow him to properly continue his development, even if he was returned to the rotation mid-season. He would likely finish with a maximum of 100-110 innings, and would almost certainly be on an innings limit in 2011, which leads me to my next point.
While this seems to make sense, it ignores the fact that some teams use a pitcher’s previous career high as the baseline when deciding innings limits. In fact, a few months ago, I surmised that the Yankees are one such club:
While the Yankees generally like to jump a player about 40 innings per year, there are two different baselines from which that 40 inning clock can start. The club can either consider the previous season’s total as the baseline, or use the pitcher’s career high. It seems clear that the Yankees are using the career high, as further evidenced by their treatment of Joba Chamberlain this year. They allowed him to pitch almost 160 innings this season, despite the fact that he had only thrown 100 innings the season before. Conversely, his career high was either 112 innings in 2007, or 118 IP for Nebraska in 2005.
If the Yankees do in fact use a player’s previous career high as the baseline, spending 2010 in the bullpen will not set Joba back in terms of his limits, it will simply maintain the statsu quo. This leads me to my second possibly mistaken assumption:
Depending on the performance and contract demands of Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez, the Yankees will be looking for anywhere from 1-3 starters next offseason. Having Joba Chamberlain established as a starter would go a long way towards allowing the Yankees to efficiently fill those empty slots. If the Yankees could have Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes providing quality innings at a low cost, it would allow them to invest in a player such as Cliff Lee. A rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Vazquez or Lee, Chamberlain, and Hughes (on an innings limit) would be expensive but dominant at the top and cost efficient and effective at the bottom.
This assumption was faulty in that it took for granted that having Joba in the rotation was the best option for 2011. However, if the Yankees use Joba’s previous career high as a baseline, this may not be the case. If Joba gets the 5th starter spot, he would be unfettered this year and next, while Hughes would be limited in 2011. Conversely, if Hughes gets the spot, he would be limited in 2010, but both pitchers would be unlimited in 2011. It seems that selecting Hughes may actually be better for 2011, at the slight expense of about 30 innings going to a Sergio Mitre type in 2010.
Taking everything I have said to this point as true, we come to the realization that the only thing really distinguishing between the two pitchers is talent. I happen to think Joba is more talented and would help the team more than Hughes would as a starter, and that is why I believe that the Yankees should give him every opportunity to succeed. However, Hughes does deserve a chance to show what he has as well, and I can understand if the club feels differently about their relative talents. Ultimately, this leads me to say the following:
I would be fine with Hughes winning the 5th spot, provided that
1) Joba will not be taking a step back in terms of innings limits, such that he will be unchained in 2011, AND
2a) Joba is then sent down to AAA (so that he can use all of his pitches) until the stretch run, OR
2b) Joba is put in the bullpen, but the club states very clearly that he will return to the rotation in 2011. Furthermore, the team must force him to utilize all of his pitches out of the bullpen, and should use him for multiple innings so that he accumulates as many innings as possible. It is not ideal, but it is forgivable.
The only unforgivable move would be to place Joba in the bullpen permanently on the strength of 2 months of poor pitching, but I will save that discussion for another time.