Joba Chamberlain to the Rotation: New York Yankees Stick to the Plan

Mackenzie KraemerSenior Analyst IJune 4, 2008

Everything is going to plan.

Sure, his first start (2.1 innings, 1 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 K) wasn't what the Yankees were hoping for, but that doesn't matter in the long-term. Joba Chamberlain has been groomed to be a starting pitcher his entire life, and now the time has come for that to begin on the major-league level.

I can admit that there are arguments to be made to keep him in the bullpen. You might wonder who would replace him in the eighth inning, or why the change had to be made now. You could even ask, "Why mess with a good thing?"

All valid arguments.

All missing the point entirely.

Let me pose a question for you. If Josh Beckett, Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb, or any other ace were put in the eighth inning, wouldn't they look similarly dominant if they had to put all their effort and energy into getting three guys out per game? Absolutely.

Obviously, Chamberlain has been unbelievable in the bullpen since late last season, but there's no reason to say he can't be that good over six or seven innings a night. Simple common sense dictates you'd rather have a dominant pitcher throw 200 innings a season rather than 80.

And since he's been a starter his entire life (an excellent one at that), why would there be any questions on him making the transition in that sense?

Another question I've heard a lot lately is, "Why now?" On the surface, it makes sense. After all, with Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte leading the rotation, and Darrell Rasner, Mike Mussina, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy filling out the rotation (granted the latter two are hurt), who would be bumped out in favor of Chamberlain?

The reality is that it's a perfect time to start the transition. With Kennedy and Hughes currently on the DL, there is an open spot in the rotation with Chamberlain's name on it. No, he's not ready to go 90 pitches, but he's getting there. Things like this usually take care of themselves in terms of who he'd replace, and with the way Kennedy and Hughes had pitched this season, either one could go back to the minors. Arguments could be made that either one were rushed a little.

Besides, if you don't start now, when do you? Building up his stamina and his innings limit is a necessity for him to be a healthy starting pitcher in baseball. Johan Santana did it. Chad Billingsley did it. Joba Chamberlain now has done it. It's a natural transition for a young pitcher. Not all teams do it, but ask the Minnesota Twins if they wished they had done it with Francisco Liriano. Ask the Chicago Cubs if they wished they had done it with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

For those who say Chamberlain is being rushed, I respond by pointing out that he only threw 62 pitches. Once again, that is exactly according to Cashman's plan, and that number will continue to rise.

At some point, Chamberlain needs to bridge the gap from about 120 innings to 180-200 innings. 150 innings is a strange total to get to, but it's a necessary step in playing it safe with young pitching.

If he doesn't do it now, how will he throw 190 innings as a starting pitcher next season?

This is the logical step in building a young pitcher's endurance and arm strength. This was Brian Cashman's plan from the beginning.

There was also no way the Yankees were going to waste Chamberlain's innings in the minor leagues. In 50 major league innings, he's allowed 40 baserunners, struck out 67, and allowed only eight runs. You don't waste that in the minor leagues.

Who replaces him? Who cares?

The goal is to make Chamberlain an ace starter. It's a big loss to the bullpen, but a big addition to the rotation. Edwar Ramirez deserves a chance at the eighth-inning role, having allowed just five runs in 25 innings this season between AAA Scranton and the Yankees. Granted, the runs he's allowed have been in his last two outings, but he deserves a chance.

If he fails, you can still piece together a decent bullpen with relievers like Jose Veras, Ross Ohlendorf, and even Kyle Farnsworth. Granted, the eighth inning might turn into a temporary Achilles' heel, but even if the young pitchers already in the Bronx fail, Mark Melancon and J. Brent Cox might be able to help.

Cox replaced Huston Street as closer at the University of Texas. While he's not much of a fireballer, he's produced numbers at every level. He missed last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but in 17 minor league innings between AAA Scranton and AA Trenton, he's allowed just seven hits, four walks, and one earned run while striking out 10.

Melancon, however, is probably the best pitching-prospect in the Yankees' system. In 40 innings between High-A Tampa and AA Trenton, he's allowed 35 hits, eight walks, and 11 earned runs, while striking out 33.

To quote one scout, "The reason people want Joba Chamberlain to stay in the eighth inning is because they never heard the name Mark Melancon."

The Yankees likely want to give him more time in the bullpen, but he can probably help the team out by the end of the season. If not, Cox, minor leaguers David Robertson and Daniel McCutcheon, Chris Britton, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Ross Ohlendorf all may deserve chances this season.

Plus, once Hughes and Kennedy come off the disabled list, assuming everyone else is healthy, that opens up either one of them or Rasner to go help out the bullpen.

Regardless, Yankees fans need to stop fearing what the bullpen will look like without Joba, and think of what it would be like to have a home grown, power-pitching ace. Have no fear, and rather than think about what a bullpen without Chamberlain would look like, think about what a rotation with him would be like.

After all, there's a reason aces usually make several times more money than setup men.