Joba Chamberlain: Midway Through the Great Transition

Mackenzie KraemerSenior Analyst IMay 28, 2008

Sorry about the lack of updates, I've been busy moving in and starting school again (yes, it's May 28, I'm currently in my Business Dynamics class), but it's time to discuss Joba Chamberlain yet again.

Last week, after another fantastic start by Darrell Rasner, manager Joe Girardi killed the Rasner buzz by announcing that Chamberlain's transition to becoming a starting pitcher was underway. The bullpen had been a little shaky outside of the final two innings, where Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera had essentially made games seven-innings long. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they were often losing those seven-inning long games, with an average starting rotation and a slumping offense without Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez.

Besides taking away the two best Yankees bats from the previous season from the lineup, it also took away the team's two best non-lefty bats, making the lineup both less potent and less balanced. The lefty-heavy lineup struggled, but Rodriguez is back in the lineup and some hitters who had struggled have returned to form, like Jason Giambi.

The struggling team decided to begin the transition for Chamberlain, a very risky move at the time, since in the short-term, the Yankees were below .500 and removing Chamberlain from high-pressure eighth-inning situations would not immediately help the team.

Chamberlain's schedule is relatively set in terms of which days he will pitch and how long he will pitch. He might be able to make his first start next week, but he would only likely be able to go about four innings or so. In the quest to extend him to about 100-110 pitches, we are about to enter the awkward middle part, where he throws about 60-70 pitches, too long for a scheduled relief pitching appearance, but too short for a reasonable start. That leads to the question of whether it hurts the team to put his development so high on the list of priorities.

Clearly, one can make that argument from watching the game last night, and watching Ross Ohlendorf and LaTroy Hawkins blow the game, but that's a story for another paragraph.

Should the Yankees either extend their bullpen by making Chamberlain start a game, or should they plan on or limit a starter (Mussina?) to pitching only five innings in a start?

Neither scenario is particularly appealing, especially since the Yankees lack a long reliever. Many have suggested that Chamberlain make a start or two in the minors, but Chamberlain has been such an amazing pitcher in his short career, that it wouldn't make any sense for the Yankees to waste some of his innings this season in the minors. Even if it messes with the rotation to a certain extent, Chamberlain is the second-most trustworthy pitcher on the team, and it would be better for the team for Chamberlain to pitch those 10 innings rather than a Ross Ohlendorf/LaTroy Hawkins/Jose Veras/Chris Britton.

With Ian Kennedy likely headed to the disabled list, there is an open spot in the rotation to be had. There's no reason Chamberlain can't make that start, with Jeff Karstens or Dan Giese essentially completing the start.

Like it or not, the Yankees are sticking to their plan. Their plan was to start Joba, but only pitch him the amount of innings they want. Starting the transition when they did allows him to make starts in mid-June, about when it was expected he would. I admire the Yankees for sticking to this plan because Chamberlain is meant to be a starting pitcher.

This isn't a "don't kill the golden goose" situation. Chamberlain has been a starter his entire life, except for the short time he's been in the majors. He has more than enough stuff, and enough good pitches where he should be a starter, and despite what Mike and the Mad Dog believe, a No. 1 pitcher is much more important than an eighth-inning guy.

The Yankees lack a true shutdown pitcher, though Chien-Ming Wang is very good. Chamberlain has the stuff and makeup that only a handful of guys have. Leaving that in the bullpen is not using that talent correctly.

In the meantime, what to do about the eighth inning? Kyle Farnsworth will keep getting his chances at having that job, but he's been very inconsistent in that role, allowing far too many home runs. Girardi thinks he can turn him around, but until proven otherwise, Farnsworth is not going to get the job done consistently.

The Yankees hope Ross Ohlendorf or Jose Veras can claim that role, but both have been knocked around lately. LaTroy Hawkins has struggled to get his ERA under five.

There is one option, however, and until he starts to get hit, he should get that role. Edwar Ramirez has thrown 21.2 innings this season (14 with the Yankees) and has yet to allow a run. He's thin as a pole, and it looks like he's missing a letter in his first name, but as long as his changeup remains dominant, he can keep getting hitters out.

He sought advice from Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera in the offseason, and both told him he needed to establish his fastball and then go to the changeup. So far, the results have been perfect, and Ramirez deserves a chance to be the main bridge to Rivera.

Farnsworth may be the best option other than Ramirez, but he has done nothing in three years that would make the job his. He's got the stuff, but it takes more than a 100 MPH fastball and a high salary to hold onto the eighth-inning job.