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.
By Glenn Giangrande
Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been wrapped up in work here at YES mostly, though I did manage to take a day trip down to Philadelphia for a game at Citizens Bank Park. It’s a gorgeous place, and a great one to see a game. Dave Bush of Milwaukee came five outs of a no-hitter; my heart sank in the eighth inning when Matt Stairs launched a moonshot that hooked right into the right field foul pole, breaking up the no-no bid with a pinch hit homer. Fun times though, no doubt. Run a Facebook search on my full name if you want to see the pics. My profile’s public and it’s got the Philly pics in their own album. I don’t have anything to hide!
I thought I’d celebrate my return to blogging with a few quick hits. Where to begin, where to begin…
- Phil Hughes, reliever? If everyone wants to tout the idea of putting Joba Chamberlain back in the bullpen if Chien-Ming Wang returns healthy, why can’t Wang’s return push Hughes to the bullpen? Not that it’s an idea that’s been discussed or anything, but why is everyone so adamant about Joba being a reliever? It must only be because he’s done it regularly. Remember, Joba only solidified the ‘pen because he was necessary when Kyle Farnsworth and the like couldn’t do the job in ’07.
- Anyone else wonder if the Brett Gardner era is over before it began? I’m the same guy who said that Gardner was going to run away with the starting CF job in Spring Training, but it’s May now, not March. Gardner might simply be a 4-A outfielder, albeit one with A++ speed.
- I love Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres. One of the best players many baseball fans still don’t know about. Put him on the all-underrated team right next to Raul Ibanez.
- Mark Melancon deservedly has the attention of those who follow the Minors as a guy who can be a breakout pitcher this season, but I really think David Robertson deserves equal focus.
- How young does Ramiro Pena look? 15? 16?
- Which New York hockey team had the more productive year: the one that blew a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs or the team that secured the No. 1 pick in the draft?
- Not only did David Wells sit with the fans on Opening Day, but I spotted him outside Yankee Stadium signing autographs for about 20 minutes long after the game was over. A stand up move by the lefty, though I cannot in good conscience call him Boomer. I reserve that name for Mr. Esiason much like many Giants fans refuse to call LaDanian Tomlinson “LT,” even though they are indeed his initials.
- I just dropped major dollars on car repairs. My car’s a 1997 Plymouth Breeze. 150,000+ miles. Can I get it to 200,000?
By Jon Lane
It’s one start. One start, or a handful, doesn’t make a person a success or a failure. But Phil Hughes Tuesday night?
Phil the Thrill
Phil Franchise (copyright: Peter Abraham)
“I don’t think you can do any better,” said manager Joe Girardi.
Monday night showed you why Phil Hughes was touted as one day being The Franchise. He showed, for one night, why he wasn’t traded for even the great Johan Santana and that patience can be a virtue even in Yankee-land. That said, watch Hughes get rocked on Sunday and those who today are proclaiming him The Franchise will start demanding his demotion, and the hiring of Bobby Valentine and Steve Phillips to run the club.
Brian Cashman said it best the day he announced he was staying with the Yankees: If the Yankees spend money, they’re criticized for doing so frivolously. If they build a program – gee, what a concept – they take heat for blowing off a chance to win right now. You can’t have it both ways, folks. But what Hughes provided in his best start since that night he tossed 6 1/3 no-hit innings is optimism that Cashman’s vision will actually work. You don’t proclaim Hughes a success off one start, but you neither call Chien-Ming Wang a lost cause nor Joba Chamberlain a failed starter either.
The Joba-back-to-the-bullpen campaign is gaining tremendous steam, one that will blister the sports talk radio airwaves if he flounders tonight against the Tigers (YES HD, 7 p.m.). If Chamberlain throws six-seven splendid innings, that will pave the road for what will be a difficult decision, but an excellent problem to have.
Picture this: Hughes builds off Monday night. Chamberlain gets into a grove. Wang finds himself. Brian Bruney comes back healthy and Mark Melancon proves to be the real deal. How tempting would it be for the Yankees to add Chamberlain to a late-inning mix with Bruney and Melancon?
It’s risky business. I echo Ron Guidry telling Mike Francesa during the winter that you cannot continue to yank Chamberlain up and down like a yo-yo. And it takes time for power pitchers, especially young ones in their early 20s with an injury history like Chamberlain, to ratchet up velocity and nail down location at the same time. But if Hughes shows he’s here to stay, you can’t move him to the bullpen (ditto a two-time 19-game winner).
I’ve said for months that Chamberlain should be a starter and won’t waver now. But in the interest of fairness, the other side of it is while potential 20-game winners don’t come around often, neither does a close-to-a-replacement-as-humanly-possible for Mariano Rivera. And Joba-to-the-bullpen means less, if not the elimination, of Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez and Damaso Marte, that’s something to seriously consider for the greater good.
The Wang project will take at least a few weeks, enough time for a full evaluation. Wang is the wild card here. If he’s completely shot or a major physical problem reveals itself, Hughes and Chamberlain join Andy Pettitte as the back-end starters. The only thing for Hughes to do is pitch to win, not to avoid going back down to Scranton.
“We want him to pitch great and stay in the rotation,” Girardi said. “What you want as a manager is to have more starters throwing well than spots you have.”
What you have here is a storyline that is tasty and compelling, and one that will build towards a climax if everything goes to plan. It’s better than last season, when injuries and ineffectiveness forced Girardi to hand starting roles to Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner, Dan Giese and everyone’s favorite, Carl Pavano.
How do you see this playing out?
By Jon Lane
This is a photograph taken the night of May 1, 2007 in Arlington, Texas. The man below the scoreboard is Phil Hughes and the numbers above him do not tell the whole story. Here was Hughes, 24 days shy of the legal drinking age, on a Major League mound for the second time in his life and he was working the Rangers for a no-hitter along with 10 strikeouts entering the seventh inning. He was eight outs away when he threw an 0-2 curveball to – get this – Mark Teixeira. His 80th pitch would be his last. Hughes grabbed his left hamstring, and was forced from the game and immediately to the disabled list.
The performance was a tease. The injury was a distant early warning. Since 5/1/07, Hughes has won five games – none since September 27, 2007 – thanks to repeated ailments that has his career in stop-and-go traffic. Tonight, a 22-year-old right-hander, “The Sure Thing,” is being asked to halt a four-game losing streak and the latest round of panic attacks amongst the Yankees fan base.
One night after I wrote an open letter to CC Sabathia telling him it was time to play stopper, Hughes is starting the latest “Biggest Game of the Season.” There will be a lot more “big games” and “must wins” if the Yankees continue to stare down the barrel of a losing streak, along with calls for the heads of Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman. Yes, it’s April 28, 2009 and the Yankees have been through worse. This time, they are without Alex Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Xavier Nady and Brian Bruney, while Johnny Damon is fighting an aching left shoulder and Hideki Matsui brittle knees.
But a team that spent $423.5 million on people is a game under .500 and have watched the Red Sox run off 11 straight wins employing a brand of baseball they’re incapable of doing at the moment: killing with speed, locking down the seventh and eighth innings of tight games, and delivering in the clutch. The Yankees’ problems with runners in scoring position are like stubborn acne. Monday night they were 1-for-9. They have one hit in their last 25 at-bats in the pinch and are batting .223 in such situations.
Memo to Hughes: You’re 5-7, 5.15 in your career. You’re better than that. Tonight begins your chance to show that you can be an answer to Jon Lester. To Justin Masterson. To Manny Delcarmen. Homegrown prospects thriving in the big leagues. The Yankees have shown patience with you, refusing to make you the centerpiece in a deal for Johan Santana. Your legacy will not be written until years later, yet tonight is a big step. For your team. For your confidence.
One good start from Hughes will get the wheels turning towards better days, beginning with a rotation that will meet expectations once CC Sabathia (Monday’s hard-luck loser) and A.J. Burnett find their footing, and Chien-Ming Wang finds his way back. Hughes’ presence, combined with Joba Chamberlain’s underwhelming performances as a starter, has refueled the Joba-to-the-bullpen debate. I don’t remember exactly, but it was either Mike Francesa or one of his callers who theorized that the Yankees “neutered” Chamberlain by making him a starter, taking away the balls-to-the-wall mentality of letting it all go at 97 MPH that made him unhittable.
I will not go there. This topic is burnt to a crisp from where I sit and I’m amazed that it has such shelf life. Whether the Yankees actually cave in and put Chamberlain back in an eighth-inning role depends on a lot of variables, namely Bruney’s health and Mark Melancon’s effectiveness. The first and most important step commences with how No. 65 does tonight in Detroit.
By Jon Lane
I know it’s April 27. I’ve said and written many times that last I checked, seasons do not end in late April. The Yankees are .500, but plenty of would-be contenders are in worse predicaments. Alas, because we’re in New York and it’s the Yankees, hell is breaking loose. Cries of “this team is aging, old, tired, and has no heart …” have caused sleepless nights, yet all it takes is one big game to re-write perception. That’s the baseball season. That’s how it works over 162 games and eight-nine months. How many times in recent history were the Yankees declared dead, only to find it within them to win 90-100 games?
That said, right here and right now, the Yankees have big problems. Being swept by the Red Sox is never good. Blowing two wholly winnable games and allowing a steal of home in the third is inexcusable. Look, Mariano Rivera is going to blow saves, so if that’s feeding your ulcers, get over it and get off his back. But neither Rivera’s gopher ball nor Damaso Marte and his 15.19 ERA had anything to do with a problem that simply will not go away: The Yankees were 4-for-19 with runners in scoring position and left 15 men on base Friday night. On Saturday, they scored 11 runs and still lost. Enough said there.
When was the last time the Yankees had a feared, unequivocal, no-fuss, no-worries stopper? Mike Mussina won 20 games last season and he was great, but I’m talking about a bona fide big guy in the prime of his career who has carried his team on broad shoulders before. That’s you, CC Sabathia. Tonight in Detroit, you have to stop this. You have to get the Yankees re-aligned with their universe, a place in which their contending against their history and the justification of a palatial new home. You were handed $161 million to win a hell of a lot more than you lose.
Tonight, CC, play stopper. Go long, go hard and if not all the way, get the ball to Rivera with a lead. You cannot hand over the responsibility of halting a four-game losing streak to Phil Hughes.
This Tigers team, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, etc., can rake, even if all the pistons aren’t firing at once. Still, you’ve been decent against them throughout your career (13-9, 4.70), especially at Comerica Park (7-2, 3.80). It’s the ideal time to improve those April numbers of 11-10 with a 4.47 ERA over your first eight seasons.
Everyone is expecting it: your fans, your manager. You’ve shown you can handle the media. You haven’t snapped, snarled or played hide-and-seek. You’re a guy who in crisis situations says, “It’s okay guys. It’s all good. We’ll be alright, just follow my lead.”
Do it, CC. It’s April 27, but fair or not, tonight is already a must-win.
The suggestion box
- The AP this morning called Alex Rodriguez a “conquering rescuer.”How many of you right now are wishing A-Rod would go away? It’s either A-Rod and his shenanigans or the awesome Angel Berroa/Ramiro Pena duet at third base. Berroa has played all of three games at third. It showed Sunday night and he’s has done nothing since winning ROY in 2003. Suggestion: start Pena and tighten your defense until Rodriguez returns, which may be well before the target date of May 15.
- Nice first impression by Mark Melancon, eh? Yes, two innings do not make a career, but he worked out of his own bases-loaded, no-out jam without allowing a run. Once Brian Bruney returns, wouldn’t a Rivera-Bruney-Melancon back end work nicely? David Robertson (yes, he allowed Mike Lowell’s crushing double on Saturday) also deserves a longer look and Phil Coke more rope. The alternative is more of Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Marte and Jonathan Albaladejo.
By Joe Auriemma
Don’t give up on the young arms just yet Yankees fans. I know that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy did little to convince everyone that they had the stuff to be good Major League pitchers last season, but I still think they need more time. Jim Kaat has always said that pitchers need at least 50 to 75 starts of game experience in the Minors before they are fully developed for the Major League level. This is definitely something I agree with.
Now I know some pitchers have made the leap to the Majors and done quite well with a lack of Minor League experience, but for most pitchers it takes that extra time to develop that devastating out pitch, the confidence to get Major League hitters out and build up enough arm strength to be able to go a full season.
In one year, the opinion of the Yankees Minor League system has gone from a top-tier system with many quality arms to one that most critics are calling an overrated group. I have been covering the Yankees Minor League system with our Down on the Farm features for the last three seasons and the one thing that I can safely say is that these pitchers are still the quality arms everyone thought they were just one year ago.
Was Kennedy ready for the Major League spotlight last season? No, definitely not. Does he still have good stuff? Absolutely. Will Hughes bounce back? Given the chance I think he will mature and be a very solid, if not very good pitcher for the Yankees for years to come. Am I the crazy person that not only asks himself questions, but also answers them? Apparently.
It’s not just Kennedy and Hughes. The Yankees are also very impressed with Mark Melancon, who they could actually be lining up as the closer of the future. Melancon has a good four-seam fastball that has hit 96 on occasion and a wicked curveball. He also has a changeup and is starting to open some eyes down in Tampa.
Phil Coke and David Robertson were pretty effective out of the bullpen last season. Coke has the versatility to be both a starter and reliever and the good thing about him is he’s a lefty. He also has terrific composure and could become a very nice option out of the bullpen this season. As for Robertson, he came on strong in the Majors last season going 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in his first 11 games and then faded in his last 14 games with a 2-0 record and an 8.00 ERA, but all-in-all he was pretty effective.
Andrew Brackman is another name that you are going to hear about in the near future. This 6-foot-10 giant certainly has the stuff to be effective with the big club, but control is something that needs to be worked on down on the farm.
Dellin Betances is another big time prospect and I mean that in every sense of the word. He is another tall pitcher at 6-8 and has the stuff to be a quality pitcher with the Yankees for many years to come. Again, control is an issue, but that is what the Minors are all about.
Humberto Sanchez, Zach McAllister and Christian Garcia are also pitchers that are definitely on the Yankees’ radar, so please don’t give up on the pitchers down in the Yankees Minor League system just yet. Let them develop and give them a chance.
By Jon Lane
How good the Yankees bullpen turns out is obviously to be determined, but on paper it’s deep and offers a strong support system for Mariano Rivera. Behind Rivera are two locks, Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney. Figure on either Alfredo Aceves or Dan Giese making the team as a long reliever and the underbelly being determined among a group of candidates.
The sure things
Marte wasn’t the reliable set-up man he was in Pittsburgh. His ability to strike out a batter per inning is neutralized by his 4.04 BB per 9 IP walk rate. I’d prefer him as a LOOGY and to see Phil Coke emerge as the second left-hander who can pitch multiple innings and get key outs late in games.
Bruney has meant business since reporting to camp last season 25 pounds lighter, but his 2008 campaign was interrupted when he injured his right foot trying to cover first base on April 22 in Chicago. Although it was the same injury that put Chien-Ming Wang out of commission, Bruney not only defied the odds and returned on August 1, he was brilliant, pitching to a 1.83 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 18 hits allowed in 34 1/3 innings. Any concerns over Joba Chamberlain starting should be assuaged by Bruney’s presence.
The underbelly candidates
Edwar Ramirez has tendinitis in his right shoulder and will be examined today by Dr. Allen Miller. I’m not sold on him anyway. Yesterday I mentioned there’s no middle ground with him; once opposing hitters figured out how to read his change-up, Ramirez was unable to adjust. He’s either real good or real bad, as indicated my these monthly splits once he became one of Joe Girardi’s key relievers:
May: 1-0, 0.77 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 10 K, 11 2/3 IP
June: 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 10 H, 6 BB, 13 K, 11 IP
July: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0 H, 3 BB, 16 K, 11.1 IP
August: 2-1, 6.94 ERA, 15 H, 4 BB, 13 K, 11 2/3 IP
September: 0-1, 8.44 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 6 K, 5 1/3 IP
Coke was a pleasant surprise last year, holding opponents to a .160 batting average while allowing one earned run in 14 2/3 innings. He whetted the Yankees’ appetites to where he was considered a candidate to start before the team re-signed Andy Pettitte. I’m excited to see a lot more of Coke, 26, who showed me in a small sampling of work and through brief discussions he’s emotionally equipped to handle pressure situations.
Jose Veras is lights out when he’s on his game, but like Ramirez was vulnerable to the gopher ball (7 HRs in 57 2/3 innings) and issued 4.53 walks per nine innings pitched.
David Robertson will get a longer look for as long as Ramirez is on the shelf, but ultimately may fall victim to a numbers game. He turns 24 in April and may not be ready for significant innings, so more seasoning in Triple-A can only help.
The super sleeper
Mark Melancon earned a ton of press in today’s papers and for good reason. Despite the bevy of righty relievers vying for roster spots, Melancon showed off his electric stuff throwing 30 pitches during Sunday’s session, even getting Derek Jeter to whiff on a couple and breaking Robinson Cano’s bat. He is already being projected as the next Chamberlain in an eighth-inning role and perhaps Rivera’s successor in two years.
Melancon, the Yankees’ ninth-round pick (284th overall) in 2006, went 6-0 with a 1.81 ERA in 19 outings at Scranton – this after missing all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s probably ticketed for Scranton in April, but Girardi said he’s “in the mix” and you could see him with the big club sooner rather than later, especially if the Yankees are looking for another Joba-like spark to their bullpen.
By Jon Lane
One story that received attention in the middle of the A-Rod melodrama was Chien-Ming Wang, a two-time 19-game winner recovering from a torn Lisfranc ligament now flying under the radar. Wang broke into the Majors at age 25 and made such an impact, erstwhile manager Joe Torre had to remind us – and himself – that he was still a youngster and a rookie not expected to carry a rotation. Yet he was the horse of the staff whose lone weakness remains his 1-3, 7.58 ERA record in four postseason starts. With CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett here, Wang is a No. 2 or 3 starter teams would kill for to be their ace.
Barring an injury or a near-perfect Grapefruit season, Phil Hughes and
Ian Kennedy will begin the season in Triple-A. The worst-case scenario
is the duo pitches full and healthy seasons for Scranton and move into
the Major League rotation in 2010 a year older and wiser. Not too
The Yankees’ projected starting rotation:
If this holds form, Sabathia would start the Yankees’ home opener on April 16 and the rotation for the first series April 24-26 at Fenway Park would be Wang, Pettitte and Sabathia. Remember that the Yankees want to retain an innings limit on Chamberlain, whose health will be guarded more closely than Fort Knox. As the projected fifth starter, Chamberlain will be skipped whenever the Yankees encounter an off day.
New York Daily News columnist John Harper is cautiously optimistic, but provides plenty of reasons to get excited about A.J. Burnett.
Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote this in January and I agree wholeheartedly:
To me — and to the Yankees, from what I can tell — there’s really no debate anymore about Joba Chamberlain’s role. Look, the Yankees already have a lights-out setup man: Brian Bruney. In 31 games from the bullpen last season, Bruney’s earned run average was 1.95, and opponents hit .153. In 30 games from the bullpen last season, Chamberlain’s E.R.A. was 2.31, and opponents hit .211. So, Bruney was actually better. Besides, if the Yankees make the playoffs, Chamberlain will probably have thrown so many innings as a starter that he’ll have to be a reliever in October, anyway. Chamberlain has the stuff to be an elite starter, and Bruney has the stuff to be an elite setup man — with the top prospect Mark Melancon poised to contribute as well. To me, it’s really pretty simple.
Joba is a future ace and you don’t put that big of a talent in an eighth-inning role. Many people don’t want to accept it, but Chamberlain is a starter today and tomorrow. Case closed.