By Jon Lane
Wow! Such fervor on YESNetwork.com these days. The source of it is a 23-year-old kid from Nebraska who set a standard so high as a set-up man that everything he does is measured against it. And each time he fails or simply takes his lumps, his destiny has to be altered permanently.
Yeah, here we go again. Joba Chamberlain belongs in the bullpen. It’s a topic that just won’t go away (at least we’re not discussing PEDs, the height of annoyance, this time) and right now it’s hot. Chamberlain has labored as a starter, Chien-Ming Wang is not in the rotation and everyone in the Yankees ‘pen not named Mariano Rivera can’t be completely trusted. Since we live in a town that demands instant gratification, Joba to the ‘pen will solve all the Yankees’ problems.
I’m not suggesting this is an argument without merit. It is. Chamberlain was fantastic in his eighth-inning role and only midges off Lake Erie dented him in 2007. Pitching out of the ‘pen allows him to go from zero to 100 using his best two pitches (2 > 4, writes Chris Shearn) while thriving off his emotion. Somebody has to eventually replace Rivera and Chamberlain is currently the best candidate to do it. Many made their points and they’re all valid. Kim Jones is practical. Mike Francesa is angry. Jerome Preisler combines passion with historical precedent. You the readers are speaking too. At last check of our homepage poll, it was 171-5 with the belief that Chamberlain will be back in the bullpen before season’s end. I can’t scientifically prove it, but there are probably many who initially believed in Joba the starter have since changed their tune, which is their right.
I’m not budging. Why are we drawing conclusions after 21 career starts? Does Joba have to be Rick Porcello or Justin Verlander, two guys off the top of my head who instantly met (or meeting) success as rookie starters? Do enough people study the cases of Roy Halladay, Tom Glavine or Zack Greinke, the latter who four seasons ago was 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA and now 8-1, 0.84 with five complete games? (Greinke also overcame social anxiety disorder and depression, another layer to his amazing story.)
Another question: Does anyone notice if Chamberlain was pitching in Kansas City?
Look, Joba the starter has been a tease and often frustrating, but 99 out of 100 young starters pegged for greatness experience a learning curve, and some longer than others. If Chamberlain is moved back to the bullpen, you stunt his development and reduce the innings pitched the Yankees are trying to limit anyway. Furthermore, each time Phil Hughes is lights out, he’s the phenom everyone was dreaming about. Every time he bombs – which will happen again – he’s a bust and belongs either in the ‘pen or the Minor Leagues. You can’t have it both ways and the Yankees have made the choice to build not for only this year, but rebuild a program they hope will come close to winning four World Championships in five seasons.
A big part of that is learning from failure and learning how to lose. Chamberlain deserves the same education. Once he’s a finished product he’ll have four dominant out pitches and a fully matured state of mind. I’ll take an elite starter over someone who only gets three outs and isn’t assured of pitching in every close game.
Another perspective: The problem isn’t Joba the starter. It’s the construction and handling of the current bullpen. Alfredo Aceves needs a defined role and why Jose Veras is continually asked to get big outs I’ll never figure out. David Robertson is back in the bigs. Use him and not just for mop-up duty. Thankfully for the Yankees, Brian Bruney will be back, and this time every extra precaution will be taken. That will leave you with Bruney – not Chamberlain – as your eighth-inning guy, and young guns Robertson, Mark Melancon and Phil Coke as the underbelly.
A nicely-laid plan unless the Yankees manage to swing a deal for Huston Street.
About Wang: Use him too. Don’t wait another nine days to dust him off, but don’t just shrug your shoulders and put him back into the rotation. Injury or not, Wang’s ERA was still 34.50 after three starts and that’s your judge and jury. Hughes got hurt and failed last year. He’s earning his way back. Now it’s Wang’s turn.