Dear Brian Cashman: From a concerned Joba Chamberlain fan

This past Friday I decided to send an e-mail to Brian Cashman. I’m not 100% certain that I have the correct e-mail address, but I think I’m close — if nothing else, I didn’t receive a bounceback.

If he does in fact receive it, whether he actually reads and/or responds to it is an entirely different story — needless to say if he does respond, there will be multiple spontaneous parades breaking out.

While we wait for Cash to write back, I thought I’d share my e-mail with you.

“Mr. Cashman,

By way of introduction, my name is Larry Koestler, and in addition to being a lifelong Yankee fan I also run a sabermetrically-obsessed Yankee blog called Yankeeist, which has grown into a fairly well-known entity among Internet-savvy Yankee fans since its launch in September of 2009.

I’ve always been a staunch advocate of yours, and have defended all of your moves throughout this offseason in spite of growing fan unrest — I admit, even I was ready to criticize when the Rafael Soriano news came through, but then it turned out that it wasn’t your move, which was satisfying (albeit somewhat troubling that ownership went ahead with it anyway despite your protests). However, the one decision that I (along with much of the online Yankee fan base) simply cannot understand is the refusal to allow Joba Chamberlain back into the rotation.

I can only imagine you’re beyond tired of answering questions relating to this topic, although undoubtedly you also understand why a growing contingent of the Yankee fanbase feels strongly about this idea, given the relative question marks currently occupying the fourth and fifth spots in the team’s rotation. I know no one that is excited about the prospect of Sergio Mitre taking the hill every fifth day.

If Andy ends up coming back I imagine that will allay a great deal of concern, but even that move means that there’s still room for an unproven starter to snag a rotation slot. In light of the Soriano signing, it would seem there’s even less of a point of having Joba in the bullpen, considering David Robertson, Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan are more than capable of handling the 6th/7th innings. Does the team truly believe that Ivan Nova has more upside as a starter than Joba Chamberlain, or that Sergio Mitre could actually be a more effective option?

It seems crazy that Joba could have fallen this far, this fast. To go from (1) lights-out minor league starting pitcher; to (2) set-up man (and only because the team had a glaring need in the ‘pen); to (3) MLB starter that put up a mighty impressive 2.76 ERA in 65.1 innings before the apparent death knell that wound up being the shoulder injury in Texas; to (4) league-average starter in 2009 who might have been even more effective had he not experienced such erratic scheduling; to (5) supposedly in the mix for a rotation spot prior to 2010 despite the slot apparently being Phil Hughes‘ to lose; to (6) reasonably effective reliever with excellent peripherals somewhat done in by an abnormally high BABIP; and now (7) reliever with no defined role, just seems crazy to me, not to mention a colossal waste of talent.

If you guys have been viewing Joba solely as a reliever, why even bother with the idea of a spring training “contest” last winter? Why not pull the trigger on a Dan Haren deal this past July? You say Joba’s stuff “plays better in the bullpen.” Of course it plays better in the bullpen; every pitcher in baseball’s stuff plays better in relief when you get to air out everything you have for three or so outs of work. That kind of reasoning rings hollow to those of us who pore over reams of data and obsess over the most esoteric statistical minutiae we can find in our free time because we love the Yankees, baseball and numbers more than anything else in the world.

Ultimately, I guess what I (and every other Yankee fan) is dying to know is, why the stubborn insistence on keeping Joba chained to the bullpen, when there is a clear-cut need for him in the rotation?

In 2009, Joba put up the following stat line as a starter: 156.1 innings, 4.78 ERA, 7.60 K/9, 4.38 BB/9 (OK, so there’s no sugarcoating that), 1.21 HR/9, .275 BAA, 1.55 WHIP, .321 BABIP, 71.4% LOB and a 4.84 FIP. Admittedly this is not quite the performance you and the team were hoping to get out of Joba; however, it was still good enough to be just below-average at 97 ERA+ — no small feat in the gauntlet that is the AL East. In 2010 Phil Hughes threw 176.1 innings, had a 4.19 ERA, 7.45 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 1.28 HR/9, .246 BAA, 1.25 WHIP, .281 BABIP and a 4.25 FIP. While most of Hughes’ rate stats were superior to Joba’s (with the exception of K/9 and HR/9), Hughes’ performance was just barely above average, at a 102 ERA+.

You are of course well-versed in this information, but it seemed worth noting. I think most Yankee fans would take a second Phil Hughes in the rotation, wouldn’t you?

I also wanted to bring your attention to a comprehensive statistical analysis I performed on my blog last month — What happened to Joba Chamberlain, starting pitcher? — trying to figure out what happened to Joba’s performance from 2008 to 2009. While there were some troubling signs regarding the deterioration in his control and performance against righthanders, one down year does not a career make, and I just don’t see how you are convinced that Joba can never handle starting duty again. Even if Joba struggled here and there, one has to figure he’d at least be able to outperform what Javy Vazquez gave the team in 2010.

So what is it about Joba? The only conclusion I (and several other prominent Yankee bloggers) have been able to come to is that Joba’s shoulder is a ticking time bomb, and you are convinced that healthwise he cannot hold up to the rigors of throwing 180-plus innings.

If that is indeed the case, it’d be wonderful if you could at least say that — I understand why strategically it might not be in the team’s best interest to announce to the world that Joba is damaged goods, but if he continues to (a) not get a chance to start for the Yankees, and (b) throw semi-effective low leverage bullpen innings, everyone’s going to figure it out anyway if they haven’t already done so.

In any event, I greatly appreciate your time, and please keep up the tremendous work.

All the best,
Larry Koestler

16 thoughts on “Dear Brian Cashman: From a concerned Joba Chamberlain fan

  1. Awesome, I hope he read it.

    One thing, though. People often make the argument, as you noted in your closing, that if Joba's health is the issue* then perhaps the Yanks don't want to make that information public because it would affect his trade value, but I don't think that's a reasonable position. For one thing, if Joba were to be traded, he'd have to pass a physical and any significant physical red-flags would, in all likelihood, become known to any potential trading partner. In addition, if we, as fans, are already proposing that perhaps the Yankees aren't even considering Joba for a rotation spot, then you can safely bet that every team in baseball is asking the same questions, so it's not like the decision to keep the information private is having the intended effect of preserving Joba's trade value. Also, and this is really the biggest point, in my opinion… This is not only a pretty big secret to have kept quiet for so long (especially considering that there appear to be operators in the Yanks' front office who leak information to the press and we know from one MSM member that he gets info from a specific person in the front office), but there are people who would know this information who have left the Yanks' organization and would have NO reason to keep this information private any more. In order to believe that the Yanks are keeping this information, we have to believe not only that everyone within the organization is disciplined enough to keep this secret, but also that people who have left the organization have continued to keep this information secret, when they have absolutely no incentive to do so (and in fact probably have incentive to make the information public).

    Yes – there's always the prospect that the organization has more information than we do concerning a player's health. But in this situation, with the information we have available to us, I don't think the most reasonable conclusion is that the Yanks have such information about Joba and are keeping it secret.

    *I'm not sure this health concern is the most reasonable explanation. Joba's last injury came in 2008, and then the Yanks put him in the rotation for the entirety of the 2009 season, and gave him a shot to start again in 2010 (and even when he lost the competition Cashman called him a 'starter in the bullpen'). The first time we really started to hear rumblings from the Yanks that Joba would be a reliever long-term was late in the 2010 season. If he's in the 'pen due to injury concerns, it appears something would have had to have changed during 2010, and while that's certainly possible (or it's possible some earlier conditioned worsened), it just doesn't seem like the most reasonable explanation, considering that he was in the rotation for all of 2009 and that nobody changed their mind about his role until late in 2010.

  2. Besides the statistical analysis for the "Joba should get another shot", let's not forget that the Yankees brass probably know a lot more than we all do about why Joba is not starting. From the data we have, it appears he should be given another shot but let's not forget we don't know what we don't know.

  3. Hear, hear! Doubt they will listen but thanks for speaking on our behalf.

    There seems to be a history of the Yanks being impatience with young, high-ceiling pitchers while at the same time being inexplicably patient with lower-ceiling pitchers.

  4. let face it people the yankees have for years not given young starters much of a chance to work into good starters,they have always traded there prospects away and they get a chance to prove themself for another team. they need to develop there young guns and let them grow and it will help control the payroll problem. all we are saying is give pitchers a chance.

  5. I kinda feel bad for Joba now after that statement by Cash today.

    The kid has been jerked around by management and the coaching staff his entire Yankee career and now he gets to show up the day pitchers and catchers report and get inundated with questions about what he thinks of what Cash said, does he think he should get a shot to start, and whether or not his shoulder is OK.

    And this is coming from somebody who isn't exactly a huge Joba fan.

  6. Enjoyed the piece, Larry, except for the last five inexplicable words.

    Sorry, Larry, but I'm still waiting for our brilliant GM (now that’s an oxymoron to be sure) to either address the glaring whole in our rotation or give Joba a shot in the rotation over Mitre.

    I didn't hear the FAN broadcast, but the link provided by Larry indicated that Cashman said Joba Chamberlain has not been the same since his injury in Texas. No, shit! The same could be said for Hughes after his injury in Texas.

    Phil was pitching lights out that night, but he hasn't had a similar night since. He was good last year, no doubt, but he hasn't had another night like that one. So, what the hell was Cashman's point about Joba? Hughes was given a second chance to prove himself and came through for us, so give Joba the same opportunity. Mitre over Joba is a totally indefensible position.

    It seems to me Cashman is being needlessly coy about Joba. If Joba is injured, why hasn't he undergone surgery or some kind of rehab? Put up or shut up, Cashman. Quit being cute about this subject. If Joba is injured, say what the injury is and how it's going to be treated.

    And if it turns out that Joba isn't injured and Cashman said what he did just to circumvent talk about putting Joba in the rotation, then Cashman should be fired immediately for lying or, at the very least, being totally disingenuous about a player's condition in order to sway public opinion to his side. That's disgraceful, if true.

    I can't wait to hear what Joba has to say about his physical health.

  7. Wayne- in an effort to defend Phil hughes, let's not forget how good he was in the first half last year (clearly he needs to get stronger for a full season but he is still very young)…also, how soon u forget that he came about 3+ outs away from throwing a no no (perfecto maybe?) in Oakland in the early part of the season. I recall that being a pretty dominant outing.

  8. Wayne,

    As you'll see in the post I wrote today about Joba, I remain baffled as well about what exactly led Cash to completely change his opinion on Joba-the-starter during the course of a regular season in which Joba started zero games.

    I too would be interested to see if Joba himself has any thoughts on whether he believes he can still start and/or how he thinks he should be used, although it's not like his opinion would carry on weight.

  9. Craig K,

    You can't possibly compare pitching lights out against the Texas Rangers‘ formidable hitters to pitching a near no-no against a basically AAA Oakland A's lineup. The A's didn't have one .300 hitter laster year, didn't have one batter hit more then 16 HRs, and didn't have one hitter with more than 71 RBIs. Yes, you can rightly say he dominated the A’s lineup that start, but it was still basically a AAA quality lineup, which is why I didn’t get overly excited about that outing . . . unlike his pre-injury performance against Texas, which was really impressive.

    As I noted, Phil pitched very well last year, but he hasn't repeated sort of dominancy he exhibited when he got injured. His ERA+ last year, after all, was good, but nothing exceptional, and Phil benefited from some of the best run support in baseball.

    You seem to be missing my main point, however. Phil got a second chance at being a starter after his injury, and he performed very well. So, why not give Joba the same chance? Maybe he'll pitch very well or at least better than Mitre if he's given another shot in the rotation.

    Moreover, on the injury issue, I don't find Cashman's comment very credible. If Joba's arm or shoulder is hurt, why hasn't he had surgery or some kind of treatment.

    It's just conjecture, of course, but I think Cashman is holding out the specter of a Joba injury as an excuse for why he isn't being given a second chance in the rotation. That's why I said Cashman should "Quit being cute about this subject. If Joba is injured, say what the injury is and how it's going to be treated."

    Again, my comments weren't a knock against Huges, who pitched well last year and will hopefully continue to improve. My comments were simply part of a case for giving Joba another shot in the rotation.