Joba Chamberlain's Switch: Yankee Experiment or Old-School Hardball?

Michael PopeAnalyst IMay 26, 2008

How soon we forget. New York Yankees announcer Michael Kay more than once during Saturday’s game said Joba Chamberlain's transition to the rotation was "an experiment," and "something the Yankees haven't tried before." 

It may not be something the current Yankee coaching staff has attempted, but this is certainly not a new concept.

Until a generation ago it was common to break pitchers in as middle relievers. Chuck Finley did it. So did Jimmy Key. Pedro Martinez did too. Many young pitchers were brought up to get their feet wet in the middle innings.

Granted, it wasn’t as common to make the switch during the season, but it certainly happened often.

Curt Schilling made a Joba type switch in 1992. After 16 relief appearances, his last a 42 pitch effort, Schilling went on to make 26 starts, completing ten.

In fact, the man sitting next to Kay in the broadcast booth, former MLB pitcher David Cone, began his career in the pen. 

“When I broke in,” Cone told Kay, “I broke in as a middle reliever. It’s a great way to break in as a starter because you can monitor them better.”

In 1988, Cone started off spending all of April in middle relief, throwing 66 pitches in his last appearance before being shifted to the rotation.

In his first start on May 3rd of '88, Cone threw 114 pitches in a complete-game shutout. He never made another relief appearance that year.

Cone started 27 games, threw three more shutouts, threw under 100 pitches just four times, and went 18-3 as a starter.

During his career, he was the guy World Series-caliber teams wanted starting for them.

Although Joe Girardi never caught Cone as a reliever, he has been around this type of switch before.

In 1992 Girardi was the starting catcher when Jim Bulllinger was called up to the Chicago Cubs at the end of May. He remained there for 30 appearances until being summoned to the rotation in mid-August, and made nine starts the rest of the way.

The next year, Girardi was the catcher when Willie Blair started the year as a reliever, making 20 appearances. In the tune-up for his first start, Blair needed just six pitches to complete one inning. Four days later, he threw 127 pitches over nine innings of one run ball. He started 17 more games.

Many are of the opinion that Joba should stay in the bullpen. They believe success lies in moving from starter to reliever but not the other direction.

History tells a different story.

However you slice it, starting pitchers are more valuable than relievers, even in this age of specialized bullpen roles. Starters can make more of an impact as they can potentially shut down the opposition for an entire game.

Joba wants to start. The Yankees want him to start. He spent all of his baseball career as a starter except last year. Joba is a starter who broke in as a reliever and now is the time for him to get his shot at the Yankee rotation.

Don't forget, as Cone put it, "If it doesn't work out you can always move him back."