One last go round with Joba the starter

Back to 08?

I’m sure that headline elicited the standard three Joba responses. Some thinking “Yes! Finally!” while others saying “Been there, done that” and the vast majority of readers thinking “Not THIS topic AGAIN”. I can assure you that what follows isn’t a rehashing of the debate we all grew weary of from a few years back. What I’m arguing for here is something different. I think it makes sense for the Yanks to send Joba down to AAA sometime in April or May and let him pitch his rehab as a starter, whether they plan on using him as one at the MLB level or not.

When a pitcher is coming back from Tommy John surgery, its often been said that velocity comes back first, while command is the last thing to return. In most cases they need a certain number of innings under their belt to get that command back. Letting Joba take a turn every 5 days as a starter will allow him to amass those innings more quickly, which should allow him to return to peak form faster. By having him stretched out, it will also provide the team a measure of insurance in case of injury or ineffectiveness by a member of the starting staff. If he performs well and the velocity is there, he could up his trade value in a midseason deal, where a team may view him as a starter and be willing to give up more for him as a result. These are rehab starts we’re talking about. There’s really no downside to this whatsoever, other than starting a bit of media controversy. I trust that the Yanks aren’t avoiding decisions that are beneficial to the franchise based on what Joel Sherman and Wally Matthews will say about it.

The main reason why Joba was lifted from the rotation had to do with the way his stuff declined after the shoulder injury on that hot August night in Texas. Brian Cashman said so himself, citing how his stuff wasn’t as sharp post injury and what he had left played up in the bullpen. I have long argued that we need to see that 96-100 MPH heat again before considering a shift back to the rotation. In his salad days of 07-08 Joba was always more about challenging hitters with raw stuff than he was about having precise command, which was a weakness in his game going back to his early scouting reports. But now it makes sense to do it even if the stuff isn’t back to where it was. Rather than have him log some of those innings he’ll need to get all the way back from TJS at the MLB level, let him do so in the minors. It won’t affect anyone on the AAA staff other than perhaps DJ Mitchell, who most prospect watchers view as a bullpen arm anyway should he pitch for the Yankees at the MLB level.  Allowing him to rehab as a starter keeps all of your options open, he can always go right back into the bullpen once he’s ready to be called up. Or maybe….

11 thoughts on “One last go round with Joba the starter

  1. DPR

    OH YEAH ANOTHER SUPPORTER! I actually said the same thing over in a MLBTR comment a week or so ago in a thread about Aardsma. Since they signed Aardsma foor bullpen and they’ve got all their starters, might as well try Joba Chamberlain, SP one more time. What’s the worst thing? Bump off a back-end starter-type guy at AAA?

    • There’s really no downside, and I suspect even if he’s out of options Joba would accept the move knowing it could help his career. Right now he’s a middle reliever. If he regains his form he could be in the closer mix, if not he could be showing off his starter skills for another franchise. You also get him back fully recovered from TJS faster by doing it this way. There’s really no reason not to do this.

  2. T.O. Chris

    I’m for anything that gets Joba back in a rotation, even a AAA rotation, but it isn’t happening. The Yankees have no intention of doing so however, even on a rehab stint I don’t see it. They’ve said time and time again they see him as a reliever, what you’re saying makes sense, but nothing the Yankees have done with Joba since day 1 has made any sense.

    I’ve finally reached the point where I just want to see Joba go to another team. At least at that point he’d have a chance to start somewhere.

    • I think the way they’ve handled him post 08 has made sense. He never had great command, so when his stuff was down after the injury the move to the pen was the way to maximize what he had. Doing this would be about keeping your options fully open, which is just being a smart GM.

  3. Steve

    However sensible this idea may be, there is practically a zero percent chance that this happens. After the waves of controversy both within the organization and in the media about “ruining” Joba by switching him back and forth from the rotation and the bullpen, no one is going to take a chance at moving him again. Cashman seems to firmly believe that Joba’s value is primarily as a reliever at this point in his career, and unless something changes that belief (like Joba coming off TJS and throwing in the upper 90s again)there is virtually no chance we will ever get to see Joba the starter on the Yankees. Sad, but true.

  4. T.O. Chris

    It made absolutely no sense to take a player with no AAA experience and not send him to the minors to start 2008. You can’t just ignore this and act like the team handled him perfectly, they didn’t.

    I understand bringing Joba up in 2007, even though it wasn’t best for his development, because you were trying to make the playoffs and needed the arm in the pen. But he should have started 2008 in AAA as a starter, he shouldn’t have even been called up until the middle of the year at best. What you get instead is a starter who is in the pen, gets moved to the rotation in the middle of the year, injures himself, gets moved back to the bullpen to finish the year, starts 2009 in the rotation, and finishes the year with pitch count caps that limit him to 2-4 innings per game. His development as a pitcher was absolutely missed handled and anyone who tries to argue otherwise is a Yankee front office apologist in my mind.

    The funny thing is even with decreased velocity, a weird managing of innings down the stretch, and shaky control Joba still had a 2009 season that showed some promise as a starter. A 4.75 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 4.50 xFIP, and 1.9 WAR is nothing to write home about, but it also isn’t enough to warrant a demotion to middle reliever for a 24 year old pitcher starting his first season in the rotation. At worst it calls for what he should’ve had in the first place, a season in AAA to refine his skills.

    • “It made absolutely no sense to take a player with no AAA experience and not send him to the minors to start 2008. You can’t just ignore this and act like the team handled him perfectly, they didn’t.”

      Completely agree and I’ll even take it one step further. After the bumps and bruises he took as a starter in the last part of the ’09 season, the Yanks should’ve sent Chamberlain down to AAA to start the 2010 season to continue working as a starter. It was clear after ’09 that he was a two-pitch pitcher with fairly predictable patterns and a handful of starts at AAA in 2010 would’ve been beneficial to his overall development.

      The Red Sox did the same thing with Buchholz, essentially telling him he had no shot to make the team out of spring training (I believe it was 2009) and he rewarded the team later that season and the following year with some visible improvements.

      • T.O. Chris

        I agree on sending him down after 2009 if they hadn’t done so after 2007, he needed that time to develop at some point. It’s unfair to ask a young starter to win, preform at a high level, and develop pitches all at one time. I actually would’ve been fine with a full season in AAA in 2010, since he never truly even started a game in AAA at all. He threw one or two 1-3 inning games that he “started” preparing to move to the pen in 07, but he never got to spend time in AAA as a starter. They rushed him and never let him develop past the season they drafted him.

        The biggest shame of it is I actually like his curve and change up. He doesn’t use either one very often but both looked to have been pitches he could have made at least average, possibly above average on the curve. If he had been given time in the minors to work on those two pitches and come back with an above average curve and average, to slightly below average show me change, he could have been deadly as a starter.

    • I said “post 08″, meaning that I had no issue with how he was handled from 09 forward. The stuff where he began the season as a reliever and finished as a starter was just weird, and I think we’d all agree on that. I understood what they were trying to do, its just tough to do things like that in NY on a team with WS aspirations.

      You may have been in the camp that thought he needed more seasoning in AAA all along, but after one and a half years of MLB experience and no obvious candidate to replace him in the rotation (in 09) that would have been difficult to defend at the time. Don’t forget he was coming off a good year in 2008 both starting and relieving.

      He just wasn’t the same after the shoulder injury, for whatever reason. It didn’t seem too serious at the time, but the stuff just wasn’t as sharp in 09, so the move to the pen in 10 was warranted. I’m not sure how ‘more time in AAA’ would have fixed that.

      • “…but after one and a half years of MLB experience and no obvious candidate to replace him in the rotation (in 09) that would have been difficult to defend at the time.”

        I don’t know about that. It’s never hard to fill the back end of a rotation and certainly not for the first few months of a season. That’s what the Sergio Mitres/Chad Gaudins of the world are for (using two familiar names as examples). I find it hard to believe that the Yankees didn’t have other options for the rotation to start the ’09 season if they had otherwise chosen to return Chamberlain to AAA to continue his development.

        I also find it hard to accept that returning Chamberlain to AAA to start the ’09 season would’ve been indefensible or that a pitcher with 12 MLB starts through his first 124 big league innings was somehow seasoned enough to justify starting in the rotation in 2009.

  5. Scout

    Realistic scenario or not, the argument is perfectly sound. There seems no downside to giving Joba a chance to build his arm strength.

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