Leave Joba Chamberlain Alone (Image by Keith Allison via Flickr)Joba Would be a Waste in the Bullpen
Joba Chamberlain is more useful as a starting pitcher than he is as a reliever, even if he has the ability to be the Yankees go-to eighth inning guy.
Chamberlain is 23 years old. In his 21 career starts, he has an impressive 3.25 era. He has not been dominant, but he has been good. Despite that, every time the sophomore hurler has a rough outing, a chorus of critics erupt. They call for the Yankees to return Joba to the bullpen, where he can be used for three outs at a time to preserve leads and ties.
A while back, True/Slant's resident baseball brain Matt Pack explained Joba's relative value in terms of Win Shares (WS). The WS is a valuation, created by statistician Bill James, which assesses a players overall contribution to his team's total victories for an entire season.
Pack explained that, "the top ten relievers last year had an average value of 12.8 WS. You don’t have to exactly be a world beater as a starter to have that sort of value." In fact, the pitchers Pack listed for me who were in the 12-13 WS range barely made it into the top fifty most effective starters.
Why would Yankee fans want to turn a good young starter into a reliever? Because we think that the perfect eighth and ninth inning combo is the only guarantee of playoff success. The late 1990s glory years were marked by unflappable setup men: first in 1996, Mariano Rivera played the eighth inning stopper for John Wetteland. Then, in '98, '99 and '00, we had setup success from such forces as....Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton?
Don't get me wrong, Nelson and Stanton were absolutely dominant at times, and the Yankees certainly would have had a tough time winning those World Series' without them - but Nelson and Stanton were career relievers.
Chamberlain has shown the ability to pitch effectively as a starter and has done so for much of this season, but moving him back and forth between starting and relieving could screw with that cogency. Pitchers rely on set routines to keep their bodies and minds prepared for each performance, but as a result of the Yankees' frequent fiddling with Joba's status, until now he has had little opportunity to develop that consistency.
Chamberlain may someday return to the bullpen permanently. Perhaps he'll turn out to be mediocre as a starter and the Yankees will be looking for someone to follow in Mariano Rivera's hallowed footsteps. Hopefully though, the Yankees will continue to ignore the catcalls every time Joba has a poor outing. We will never know what kind of starter Chamberlain can be if we don't give him a full season to figure it out.
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