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To Start, or Not to Start, That is the Joba Question

As a Yankees fan, one of the biggest debates amongst most talking heads in New York has been whether or not Mr. Chamberlain’s future should be in the bullpen or be in the rotation. And certainly, this is an issue that Boston Red Sox fans should be interested in what the end result is as how Joba is deployed will affect the Red Sox’s future chances of winning the division. We will examine the arguments for both sides here, then try to come to a conclusion about which is more sensible. Ultimately, I hope this exercise will allow us to tune out the cliches when we hear them on television.

Arguments for Joba remaining a reliever

We’ve seen him as a reliever in the majors and he performs very well in that role. He can get his fastball up to the very high end of the 90s, and snap off a ridiculous slider along with a curveball when necessary. With Joba setting up Mariano Rivera, Yankees games are at most a seven-inning affair. And there’s no need to worry about an innings limit: Joba’s already pitched more innings than he is likely to ever reach as a reliever. Heck it’d be like Mariano setting up for John Wetteland. Plus, it’s not like it’s easy to find a reliever this good in free agency. Don’t mess with the unknown, some say, it could ruin Joba’s arm and lose that time of him being able to help the team as a reliever. In spring training he struggled with control and talked about holding back, as well. As a reliever, also, he can pitch in multiple games over five days, as opposed to one game as a starter.

Arguments for converting Joba to a starter

It is much harder to find an average starting pitcher than an average reliever. Heck, the struggles of Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes (though the latter may have been from his broken rib not being discovered) can attest to that. Teams are more likely to hold onto those starters. And with Joba’s stuff (his fastball, curveball, slider and developing changeup), he projects as being a well above average starter. He was a starter in college and all the way through Double A and dominated the whole way. While a starter can only pitch once in five days, he is more likely to pitch more innings over that period than over the same period as a reliever. And, hey, isn’t the game shorter if you only need to figure out what to do between the 6th/7th and 9th?

The verdict

Well, Joba will definitely have to be stretched out over the next 2 years to be able to throw a full season, if starting is where he is to end up. Yes, the plan could end up not working out. But it’s highly unlikely the organization would allow Joba to get hurt, given how they value him. If he fails at starting, moving him back to relieving will not be hard, given his move to reliever was made easily the first time (last year). Given the Yankees payroll, it’s unlikely the team will ever carry a weak offense, and as such, there won’t be a lot of innings for Joba to play set up man. Certainly not enough to make those innings more valuable than his innings as a starter. It’s much easier to find a guy who can come close to what Joba offers as a reliever than it is to find one who can approximate what he offers as a starter. Spring Training was much too small of a sample to use as a judgment, plus that’s when most pitchers build up their arm strength. I think it would be a criminal mistake to not try Joba in a role where he can be most valuable to the team.

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