How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Role, Ramiro Mendoza Style

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Role, Ramiro Mendoza Style
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Let me say this right now: I do not like how the Yankees are using Joba Chamberlain.

I understand the larger issue the Yankees are trying to deal with, but New York seems to have no real defined plan with regard to Chamberlain. Instead, they seem to change the "rules" every week.

And I have no illusions that Chamberlain has an easy time pitching with such instability

And yet...part of me wishes he would just pitch better. Frankly, I'm sick of it being everyone else's fault but his own that he lets half a dozen Rangers reach base with two outs in an inning.

Look, Chamberlain's not the first pitcher to have an undefined role on a baseball team.

Anyone remember Ramiro Mendoza? He pitched for the Yankees from 1996-2002.

Mendoza's role wasn't defined. It changed weekly. Take 1998 for example, probably Mendoza's finest season, when the 26-year old went 10-2 with a 3.25 ERA.

And how did he compile that record?

Well, it began as a starter, as Mendoza pitched poorly on April 5 and 12, racking up a 6.57 ERA over the two starts.

So six days later, Mendoza came along in relief of David Cone in the sixth inning and got two outs.

Three days after that, on April 21, he was back starting, pitching seven innings of two-run ball in a 5-3 win. So after that turnaround, the Yankees must have made him a regular starter right?

Well no: Mendoza got six days off before his next start on April 28th. Then it was back to four days off before another start on May 3, this one spanning seven innings and yielding one run.

Three days later, it was off to the bullpen, where Mendoza faced three hitters in the sixth inning.

Four days after that, Ramiro started and threw a shutout, blanking the Twins 7-0 on May 10. That started a string of six straight starts where Mendoza went 3-0, 3.15. Clearly, at this point, the Yankees saw that Mendoza was better suited to start, right?

Wrong. Six days after his final start in that string, on June 15, he came out of the bullpen in the seventh inning to face six hitters, followed by a five-hitter appearance in the 7th inning on June 21.

But Mendoza wasn't just a short reliever. Nope, on June 23 he came in in the fourth inning and worked 3 1/3 innings in a loss to the Braves.

After two late inning relief appearances against the Mets, Mendoza picked up a save on July 10th, pitching the final 2 2/3 innings in an 8-4 win over the Rays.

Of course, this earned him a trip back to the starting rotation, where he pitched 5 2/3 innings on July 17 against the Blue Jays. That exertion didn't stop him from pitching on the July 20, 21 and 24 out of the bullpen though.

After a start and a win on August 4 at Oakland (6 1/3 IP), Mendoza went back to the bullpen for about seven weeks, coming in as late as the 8th inning and as early as the 3rd. Facing anywhere from one hitter to 17. Throwing as few as three pitches and as many as 79.

Of course, the Yankees couldn't resist giving him one more start on September 22, in which he went five innings and picked up a win.

All in all, Ramiro Mendoza appeared in 41 games, starting 14. He pitched on zero days rest three times, one days rest seven times, two days rest six times, three days rest four times, four days rest nine times, five days rest six times, six days rest three times and 11 days rest once. He had a 3.87 ERA as a starter and a 1.87 ERA as a reliever.

Well, obviously, all this shuttling around screwed him up right? Sure. He went 32-21 with a 3.94 ERA for the rest of his Yankee career. He started, closed and did everything in between.

And let's not forget, Mendoza wasn't treated this way in the minors. Nope, before his promotion in 1996, Ramiro was almost exclusively a starter, starting 66 of 75 games.

Now, I'm not saying Joba Chamberlain should be able to replicate this feat. Mendoza was a very unique pitcher. But he also did one thing: His job. However much it changed, however ill-defined it was, he simply went out there and pitched. And pitched well. I could be wrong, but I don't remember any public outcry over his treatment.

Sure, I get that Joba's got the ceiling of an staff ace, whereas Mendoza was the kind of guy you just gave spot starts too. So I can understand the frustration. And yes, maybe it's easier to move around a guy who you know will never become a full-time starter.

But, Mendoza also proves that it's possible to be moved around every which way as a pitcher and still be effective.

If you're still reading this, I'd like to again reiterate that I wish the Yankees would settle on a plan for Joba Chamberlain. To me, he's been dealt a crappy hand.

But I also wish that he'd start getting blamed for his ineffectiveness. Rather than every poor start being greeted with a round of "Why are the Yankees doing this to Chamberlain?" banter, I wish there would be more accountability for him.

Joba Chamberlain is an important part of the Yankees future. But he's also an important part of their present. And, fair or not, he's got to start pitching better, or the present will start looking bleak for the Yankees.

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