Lord Steinbrenner II: What It Means for Joba, Girardi, and the Yankees
And so it begins.
Sports news pages everywhere are quoting Hank Steinbrenner for calling out the Yankees' coaching staff and their handling of Joba Chamberlain.
Additionally, Steinbrenner has specifically called out Mike Mussina, essentially telling him to stop trying to blow people away with an 86 mph fastball, and be more of a crafty old veteran.
While Mussina's problem seems to be more about hitting the strike zone than dialing up the heat, there is a much greater debate about the future of young phenom, Chamberlain.
Chamberlain, by all indications from the Yankees, will someday be a full-fledged starter. He was to begin the first half of the year in the bullpen, begin a short AAA stint as a starter around the all-star break, and then work his way into the big league starting rotation by the second half of the season.
With some of the Yankees pitchers struggling in the young 2008 season, including Mussina and prospects Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, the calls for Joba to start games are growing in number.
The question remains: should he?
First, a few things to consider. In AAA baseball and lower, Chamberlain was a starter and he was extremely successful. Yankees scouts and coaches have always planned for him to be a starter. But is it the right time now?
Joba features a live fastball in the 96-99 mph range, which Hank Steinbrenner refers to as "A 100 mile-per-hour fastball." His slider is absolutely filthy, he can drop a hammer curve ball to right-handed batters, or go backdoor on lefties. All of these pitches make his change-up even more devastating.
However, keep in mind that Joba has used these pitches with the greatest of ease and effectiveness coming out of the bullpen.
He almost always is coming into the game after less-talented pitchers with "stuff" that is not has good as his own. He, at most, has a short inning of fatigue on his arm. Essentially, he can just rear back and fire away at full strength.
We've never seen Joba pitch after 7 or 8 straight innings. We've never seen him have to pitch tired. He doesn't face the same batters twice (or three or four or five times) in the same game. All of these things will make him less effective.
Don't get me wrong, Chamberlain is an incredible talent. At a young stage in life and in his career, there is tremendous upswing for the hurler. But, he won't have an ERA and WHIP under 1.00 as a starter, no matter what happens.
Which leads to the newly appointed Lord of the Yankees,™ Steinbrenner II, and his recent comments.
At least one author for Bleacher Report has said that Hank overstepped his limits in his critiques of the Yankees coaching staff. As well-informed and written as the article was, it misses the point of how the structure of such a mega-company like the New York Yankees operates.
Even taking Steinbrenner's words as indirectly calling manager Joe Girardi an "idiot," nay-sayers will have to thicken their skin. The Steinbrenners pay the bills. Hank (Steinbrenner II) is Co-Owner and Senior Vice President, and the man highly responsible for hiring Girardi in the first place. As such, he's allowed to voice his opinions on how he wants his business run.
Is he getting down into the dugout, filling out lineup cards, and throwing GM Brian Cashman out of his office? No. That's not his job. Steinbrenner II realizes this. But Steinbrenner II is certainly within his right to make comments.
Why is this okay? Well consider this: Girardi was relatively successful when he was a manager for the Florida Marlins—as a first year manager, no less—and actually won the Coach of the Year Award. At the end of the season, he was fired.
Did people light torches, gather their pitchforks, and storm Dolphin Stadium? No... nobody ever goes to Dolphin Stadium. But aside from that, there was no extra-serious issue with Girardi's firing because everyone knew he did not get along with the upper management in Florida.
If the guys who sign your paycheck don't like you, you can do an incredible job—and as long as you continue to disagree with their vision for the organization, your job is in trouble.
Girardi, and the rest of Yankee fans across the country, should not see Steinbrenner II's words as insulting, or as exacting complete control and domination of the decisions of the team. The words voice frustration over the slow start to the season, unproven rookies or sophomores, and the incredible promise of young Joba.
Telling Mussina to change his pitching style or vaguely referencing coaches as "idiot[s]" may be a little harsh, but then again, it's the Steinbrenner way.
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