The Yankees admitted to the worst-kept secret in baseball yesterday by officially announcing that Joba Chamberlain would start the year in the bullpen. Shocker.
I largely avoided the What To Do With Joba debate over the winter, in part by avoiding blogging in general more than I should have, and in part because, to my mind, there's no debate. Save for two months of last year, Joba Chamberlain has always been and should continue to be a starter. Peter Abraham said it best last week, using a pitcher with Chamberlain's talent in relief is a waste equal to using Alex Rodriguez as a pinch-hitter.
That said, here's the point everyone seems to have missed thus far: The decision to put Chamberlain in the pen to start the year isn't about how to get the maximum value out of Joba, it's about how to get the maximum value out of the team. The Yankees have six legitimate starting pitchers. Three of them have no innings limit this year and of the remaining three, Chamberlain has the fewest innings to work with. Chamberlain also has the most and most recent bullpen experience of the six. Putting Chamberlain in the bullpen is best for Joba because it will help limit his total innings (though the team will also have to make sure he gets right up to that limit so he can increase that total next year), and it is best for the team because it allows the Yankees to maximize the value of their roster.
The second thing is that putting Chamberlain in the bullpen in April of what is still officially his rookie season does not mean he's going to be a reliever for the rest of his career. Someone in the rotation is going to get hurt, or is going to stink up the joint, and when that happens, Chamberlain's going to get his shot (unless he's hurt or stinking up the joint himself). Remember, the Yankees used 14 starters last year, six of whom made a dozen or more starts. In 2006 they used 12 starters, six of whom made nine or more starts. In 2005 they used 14 starters and nine of them made nine more starts. Even going back to the "five aces" rotation of 2002 (Clemens, Mussina, Pettitte, Wells, El Duque), the Yankees used ten starters, six of whom made 11 or more starts and seven of whom made eight or more. Remember all of the debate about how and when to work Phil Hughes into the rotation last year? That worked itself out, didn't it? Joba will start games this year. Mark my words.
As for the words of Joba himself and of manager Joe Girardi, have fun: MLB.com, Girardi audio from Pete Abe. Key points: there will be no Joba Rules this year, and the Yankees still think of Chamberlain as a future member of the rotation.
The Yanks outslugged the Pirates 12-9 last night. There were six homers, five doubles, and four errors in the game.
L - Brett Gardner (CF)
R - Derek Jeter (SS)
L - Bobby Abreu (RF)
R - Alex Rodriguez (EB)
L - Jason Giambi (1B)
S - Jorge Posada (C)
L - Hideki Matsui (LF)
S - Wilson Betemit (DH)
R - Cody Ransom (2B)
Pitchers: Phil Hughes, Billy Traber, LaTroy Hawkins, Kei Igawa, Ross Ohlendorf, Edwar Ramirez
Subs: Morgan Ensberg (1B), Bernie Castro (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (PR/SS), Nick Green (3B), Chad Moeller (C), Greg Porter (PR/RF), Justin Christian (CF), Jason Lane (LF), Jason Brown (PH/DH)
Opponents: It's the Pirates, does it matter?
Big Hits: Two-run homers by Jorge Posada (3 for 4) and Nick Green (1 for 1), and a solo shot by Chad Moeller (1 for 1). Doubles by Hideki Matsui (2 for 3), Derek Jeter (1 for 3), and Alex Rodriguez (2 for 4). Bobby Abreu went 2 for 4, Jason Giambi went 2 for 3. The dingers by Green and Moeller both came off Byung-Hyung Kim in the eighth inning. Kim also allowed a pair of homers to the Yankees in the Billy Crystal game on Thursday and now has given up four homers to the Bombers in two innings this spring.
Who Pitched Well: LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect sixth inning, getting two outs on the ground. Edwar Ramirez pitched around a double while striking out two to pick up the save. Honestly, that's about it.
Who Didn't: After a great start to his spring, Phil Hughes got roughed up for the second straight start. He gave up three solo home runs in the first two innings (to Nate McLouth, Ryan Doumit, and Chris Gomez) and the runs just kept coming, exacerbated by a Cody Ransom throwing error in the fourth. By the time he hit his pitch limit after the first batter of the fifth (Hughes got to 77 pitches), he had allowed seven runs, six earned, on seven hits, four of them for extra bases, two walks, a hit batsman, and a wild pitch, though he did strike out three and get six other outs on the ground. Despite all that, Hughes says he feels good and that taking a few spring beatings is normal for him. Billy Traber replaced Hughes and allowed a single, walked a man, and uncorked a wild pitch, letting in two more runs in the process, though Ransom's E combined with another bad throw from Alex Rodriguez on a double-play ball rendered them both unearned. Kei Igawa, working in short relief for the first time this spring, gave up two singles and walked one in his lone inning, but managed to escape unscathed. Ross Ohlendorf allowed a single and a walk in his lone scoreless frame, which was neither good nor bad, but I had to put him somewhere.
Oopsies: In addition to the wild throws form Ransom and Rodriguez, Morgan Ensberg botched a pickoff throw at first base.
More:Pete Abe reports that the appeals of Shelley Duncan's and Melky Cabrera's suspensions won't be heard until April, which means they'll both be available for Opening Day. Also, the Padres returned Rule 5 draft pick Michael Gardner to the Yankees. A Miami University of Ohio product, Gardner is a righty reliever with a low three-quarters delivery and some nice minor league numbers. He's also going to turn 27 in May, has moved slowly through the system, and will be repeating double-A to start the year. There's a reason he was left unprotected in the first place.