How Good Is Joba Chamberlain?

He’s the center of debates, usually stupid ones. Should Joba Chamberlain be in the bullpen, or should he be a starter? I’ve heard both sides of the debate, and even though I’m pro-starter, let’s go bullet style here to lay out both sides:

As a Starter:

  • Will provide more innings as a starter
  • Has good enough stuff to be considered a potential ace, with a top 10 in all of baseball ceiling
  • Through college and most of the minors, he was a starter
  • Only left for the bullpen in 2007 to help out the big league club and to reduce innings
  • Through 26 career MLB starts, his ERA is 3.26.

        As a Reliever:

    • Was phenomenal as a reliever in 2007
    • Has absolutely knock out stuff in general, but his fastball-slider combo is top-notch
  • Isn’t that about it, for the reliever concept? Some people have theorized that being a closer would help his arm, but I’m not sure. It seems like pitching provides stress on the arm anyway, be it every five days (and starters generally throw everyday anyway) or several days a week.


    I just truly believe that his greatest potential lies in starting. Think of it like this. The greatest pitchers in history, guys like Walter Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, whatever, they all have one thing in common (other than me picking three right-handers, of course). They all were starters.

    Let’s compare Maddux, perhaps the best starter ever–purely for argument’s sake, I’m not delving into that pandora’s box right now–to Mariano Rivera, the no-doubt greatest closer ever.

    Rivera’s thrown 1,054 innings in his career, and he is the active and all-time leader in ERA+ at 197. That’s phenomenal. In terms of ERA+, he’s the best ever. To those that don’t know ERA+, 100 is baseline. That means that for 1,054 innings, Rivera has been 97 points above average.

    Maddux, though, has thrown basically five timesas many innings, 5,008, and his ERA+ is a ‘not-too-shabby’ 132, especially given those innings. True, Maddux got an earlier start, but even if Rivera had started at age 20 like Maddux, did, does anyone think he’d be at even 1,500 innings? Tough to say. Maybe Mariano would’ve blown his elbow or something. But still… 5,008 innings versus 1,054. Even if each time Rivera came into the game, the bases were loaded and the game was in the balance (which, given Torre and Girardi’s usage of him, is not the case) it wouldn’t close the gap.

    I’m not saying Chamberlain has Maddux potential in him. He’s a totally different pitcher, but without getting too technical, Maddux was a great pitcher, and Chamberlain has that potential. He can be an ace, a Cy Young winner, the best starter on a title-winning team. When I evaluate a player, I like to ask myself this: If this player is your best hitter or pitcher, can you win a championship? Right now, Chamberlain isn’t that guy, but I think in a year or two, he can be. CC Sabathia is absolutely that kind of guy right now, and so is Zack Grienke, Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, and probably a few others.

    I have two main concerns regarding Chamberlain. The first, and this applies to any pitcher, is health, and Chamberlain’s past is sketchy. He fell in the draft because of weight-related health issues (legs, if I recall, and it should be noted those concerns no longer apply) plus shoulder problems, and it would seem that his only injury-free season was 2007. We all remember him getting hurt in 2008. If Chamberlain can stay healthy–and that if really ought to be bold, capitalized and italicized–then he’s an above average major league starter, because of his K rate.

    If he’s healthy, he’s a good pitcher. But his command, which is usually good, around the 3.3 BB/9 rate, is not good this year. His walk rate is a ‘hide your eyes’ 4.4 per 9. It would appear, and this is more from my inner-scout than the numbers, that Chamberlain wants to strike everyone out, and that means a lot of pitches and a lot of deep counts, and he’s young, only 23, so mistake pitches happen. If someone, perhaps Sabathia, can teach Chamberlain to get easy 4-pitch-or-under outs, it’d make him a drastically superior pitcher. I suspect that such things come with age… for instance, Sabathia’s ERA+ during his Age-23 season was 106. Right now, Chamberlain is at 115.

    So, what am I trying to say? Chamberlain’s highest ceiling is found as a starter, and if he can manage to stay on the field and to mature as a pitcher, given his stuff, he can be an elite starter, among the very best in baseball. Yankee fans, myself included, should be very excited about the potential for a 1-2 punch of Sabathia-Chamberlain in the coming years. It could be the best in the sport. 

    Correspondent: Adamadkins

FanPosts are user-created content and do not necessarily reflect the views of the writing staff of Pinstripe Alley or SB Nation.

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