Mood Music - When The Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin
Overall, I am pleased with the job that Brian Cashman and his minions (those who unlock the Steinbrenner's war chest) do to put the best possible team on the field year after year. In the past few years, we have seen the Yankees morph from a reckless spending giant to a reckless spending giant that also occasionally does smart things like develop a farm system. However, this baby step transition is not without failures.
The handling of Joba Chamberlain has been a colossal failure. "Joba to teh pen" has never made sense. It's always been reactionary, shortsighted, and stupid. And now, it appears that if Joba's career is to continue with the Yankees, it will be in middle relief for the foreseeable future.
Much has been made of the Yankees lack of starting pitching depth and Cashman is already foaming at the mouth to overpay for Cliff Lee. Given that, it seems rather foolish that the Yankees would take a prized starting pitching prospect, and for whatever nonsensical reason (demeanor, MPH on his fastball, 24 innings in 2007), decide that he needs to be in the bullpen.
Wouldn't it have been nice if Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes could both be ready to join the rotation without any innings limitations in 2011? If Andy Pettitte retires or Cliff Lee decides that he wants to be paid the GDP of Turkey, the Yankees are dealing from a position of strength, not a position of desperation.
Instead, Joba gets labeled a "failed experiment" and his spot gets taken over by the aforementioned Hughes, the organization's prized poster boy, now that they have given up on Joba. It is inevitable that Joba will always be compared to Phil Hughes (and to a lesser extent, Ian Kennedy), so I'm going to go ahead and do that. But before I do, let's think about the reaction to Joba Chamberlain's 2009 and Phil Hughes' 2010:
Hughes came into the 2010 season as a highly regarded prospect pitching under an innings cap in his first full year of starting. His season was widely considered successful, and he is touted as a future ace of the staff. Jscape called his season the biggest success of the 2010 Yankees.
Joba came into the 2009 season as a highly regarded prospect pitching under an innings cap in his first full year of starting. His season was widely considered a failure and he was relegated to the bullpen after another starter was acquired (Javier Vazquez) and he lost his spot in a Spring Training competition. He will most likely spend the remainder of his career in the bullpen or be traded.
Phil Hughes' 2010 must have been a LOT better than Joba Chamberlain's 2009 to justify the huge amount of rope that Hughes received and the tiny amount of rope that Joba received. Nope. It wasn't. The problem is just that the Yankees organization has no logical consistency when it comes to these two.
I prove it after the jump.
Before I even get to comparing statistics, Phil Hughes was put into a much better situation than Joba Chamberlain before a single pitch was even thrown.
-Phil Hughes had a considerably higher innings limit going into the season (~175 vs ~150).
-Phil Hughes pitched in front of a superior defense (2010 Yankees +1.8 UZR/150, 11th in MLB. 2009 Yankees -3.3 UZR/150, 21st in MLB) thanks to the addition of Curtis Granderson, more playing time for Brett Gardner, and the subtraction of Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera.
-Phil Hughes didn't start during The Great New Yankee Stadium Home Run Barrage in 2009.
-The well documented run support that Phil Hughes feasted on for a pretty win total.
-Phil Hughes was given considerably more rope in his starts. Phil was allowed to go over 100 pitches 19 times, and went over 110 pitches 3 times. Joba was allowed to go over 100 pitches 8 times and never went over 110.
But Hughes was way better, right? Both Hughes and Joba tired and became less effective as they approached their innings limitation. Either from fatigue or the hindrance of the training wheels, neither Hughes nor Joba were particularly effective at the end of the year.
But, before the wheels somewhat came off at the end of the year, how were they doing? Through August 31st (149.1 innings) for Hughes and through August 16th (126.2 innings) for Joba, here is how they matched up statistically:
But wait, those numbers look pretty darn similar, don't they? Joba allowed more walks, but was much better at keeping the ball in the infield. Overall, they posted similar ratios (4.32 xFIP vs. 4.43). Does anyone think Phil Hughes is better suited for the pen? Does anyone think that his season was a "failed experiment?"
The problem is that when it comes to these two, the organization has absolutely no logical consistency. Phil Hughes is the favorite nephew who does no wrong and Joba is the weird cousin that could never quite live up to his SAT score.
To be brutally honest, if the Yankees do not intend to start Joba Chamberlain this year, I hope that he is traded before the season begins. There are plenty of not moronic teams out there that would give Joba the opportunity to start, which means that he has trade value. Value that far outstrips pitching the 7th inning.
We're going to be patient with Joba. We're going to be patient with Joba. We're going to be patient with Joba. Wait a minute, does "patience" imply that we don't panic at the first sign of trouble? Oh, just kidding then.