Here we go again — the debate about Joba Chamberlain and his value as a reliever or as a starter. Justin Sablich writes in the New York Times’ “Bats” blog that he believes Joba is better off in the bullpen — provided that Pettitte resigns with the team. I’ll quote at length here.
Should Pettitte return, is there any reason to believe (other than injuries) that the Yankees cannot survive with a rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett, Pettitte and Hughes?
Chamberlain in the bullpen would most likely make each starting pitcher better by shortening his starts. Fans concerned about Sabathia burning out in September or Burnett breaking down over the long haul could rest a little easier. A Chamberlain bridge would also make life easier for Rivera, who turned 39 in November and may not be able to crank out a two-inning save with as much ease as in the past.
In addition to keeping others healthy, Chamberlain could be healthier by remaining a reliever. There’s no questioning his effectiveness as a starter. His numbers as a starter last season (2.75 ERA and 10.3 K/9) were almost identical to his stats as a reliever (2.31 ERA and 11.1 K/9). But his shoulder injury came about as a starter, and fewer innings could only help him keep his shoulder strong.
If the Yankees used Chamberlain to shorten games to six innings, is that really a waste of talent? It sounds more like an incredible advantage to me.
The only thing I agree with Sablich is the statistics. Joba as a starter versus reliever is similar. That’s all I will agree on. Everything else, I disagree.
The Yankees’ bullpen was the 4th best in MLB last year. On top of that, Rivera pitched the fewest innings since 2002 and had his best ERA+ ever. We got rid of LaTroy Hawkins and Krazy Kyle Farnsworth and still had a dominant bullpen that had to pitch more innings than usual due to the patchwork rotation.
It will be a waste of talent to let Joba come out of the bullpen. There is not enough “data” to base this decision on — he needs more time to develop and more time to “scout” to see how he performs in a full season before we assess whether Joba is more effective as a reliever or as a starter.