The Problem with the New York Yankees' Bullpen

Harris DeckerSenior Analyst IJune 4, 2008

The Yankees are in a boatload of trouble. I'm talking about raise the alarm, lower the lifeboats, and light the flares kind of trouble. Of course, we all know that last night (6/3/08), Joba Chamberlain made his long awaited first start of the season, in front of a sold out crowd in the Bronx.

The debut lasted just over two innings, in which he gave up a few runs and struck out three batters. The problem is not with that debut start. We all know how first starts, and even first seasons, can be for starting pitchers. Look at recent and not-so recent examples of pitchers with great potential getting off to rocky starts. Tim Lincecum and Tom Glavine amongst others have come to the majors with a lot of talent and (at least in their first season) could not execute.

So, if the problem is not with Joba Chamberlain's first major league start, then where is the problem you might ask.

If you take into account the fact that almost zero major league pitchers even shoot for complete games anymore (with the exception of Jake Peavy and Roy Halladay), then you will quickly see that the bullpen is becoming more and more the key to winning in Major League Baseball.

With the inclusion of Joba Chamberlain in their starting rotation, they are leaving a hole larger than the Grand Canyon in their bullpen. Joba was lights out in most of his relief appearances, bridging the gap to Mariano Rivera, and now you will have a large whole about the size of two innings in which you will have to rely on Kyle Farnsworthth, LaTroy Hawkins, and other lower-tier relief pitchers.

Now, with any sacrifice there must be a gain right? Wrong, Joba will start every five games, he will most likely struggle as most rookie pitchers do, and he will leave the game in the fifth or sixth inning because he will be on a strict pitch count. Luckily, when Joba leaves the game, he will be able to count on his weak bullpen to blow the game. 

Again in clarifying, I am a Joba fan. I believe that he will be an above-average starting pitcher once given the time to develop correctly, but in the current situation, he is simply going to make things worse. 

Now to the fun part. We get to place blame for this debacle.

Clearly the first person you look to blame is the player himself. Let's cut Joba a huge break here. He is being pushed into a situation that he is not ready to be in during his rookie season.

Well, if its not Joba's fault, then blame must go to the man with his hand on the bullpen phone, Joe Girardi. Nope, nope, nope. I simply refuse to put this on him. He's a baseball guy, and a former catcher. He knows the Joba would be better suited right now in the bullpen.

So, if not the manager, then it must be the man making the big decisions as far as personnel goes. That, of course, would be the General Manager, who in the Yankees' case is Brian Cashman. The reason I will give Cashman a free pass in this instance is because he, like Girardi, knows that at this point, Joba is better in the bullpen for the Yankees, and because he had said this from the start.

Since the beginning of the season, he has denied rumors that the front office wanted Joba in the rotation, and even publicly contradicted the problem in New York. Of course, that problem and the person to blame for this terrible tragedy, is Hank Steinbrenner. He is the heir to the Yankees, left by the ailing George. He decided before this season started that the Yankees would be better off using Joba as a starter, and who is going to tell the boss that he's wrong more than once? 

So struggling Yankees fans, here's a bit of advice; when the Yankees miss the playoffs because their pitching is second rate, and when the dogs get unleashed on Joe Girardi, sit back and remember that there's always someone above the managers head. And in this case, it's someone who does not, and should not, get an ounce of respect.