Start Joba?

Hank Steinbrenner has pulled a George Steinbrenner and complained that New York Yankees relief phenomenon Joba Chamberlain is being improperly used. According to Hank, Chamberlain belongs in the starting rotation. Hank’s opinion should be taken seriously because he knows more about baseball than manager Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman…

Steinbrenner is not a baseball mind, but he may have accidentally made a decent point. The Yankees starting rotation has Chien-Ming Wang (4-0, 3.94 ERA) and Andy Pettitte (3-1, 2.45 ERA) pitching great so far, but the remainder of the rotation leaves a lot to be desired. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have been simply terrible, and Mike Mussina is obviously on the decline.

  • Phil Hughes (0-3, 8.82 ERA, 16.1 IP)
  • Ian Kennedy (0-2, 9.64 ERA, 14.0 IP)
  • Mike Mussina (2-3, 4.94 ERA, 27.1 IP)

You can win a division with two pitchers having exceptional seasons, but to have three pitchers playing at this poor level, and two of them with ERAs over 8.50, a change must be made. Enter Joba Chamberlain. Joba was a starter at Nebraska, but the most he ever pitched in a season is 118.2 innings. There are obviously some concerns about arm durability and losing one of the best talents in a long time to injury. Joba has a blazing fastball with some tail, a slider that batters struggle to touch, along with a curve and a change. He has excelled in the setup role, with a 0.38 ERA with 34 strikeouts over 24.0 IP in 2007. This year, he is at a 1.18 ERA in limited innings pitched (8.0 IP) with 9 strikeouts.

The Yankees poor pitching rotation definitely needs help, but can they allow Joba to vacate the setup role? The answer is unclear. Brian Bruney is a big guy who throws smoke and reminds me of a baseball John Daly (grip it and rip it), though he has lost some weight. If Joba moves to the starting rotation, I would predict Bruney to be the setup man for Mariano Rivera. He has a 1.59 ERA so far and averages just over a strikeout per inning. Bruney has struggled with control at points in his career, but he appears to be putting those issues behind him. He is definitely a better option than Kyle Farnsworth and a struggling LaTroy Hawkins.

Manager Joe Girardi needs to decide what is more important: a sure stopgap to preserve save opportunities for Rivera, or to fix a struggling starting rotation whose 3-5 pitchers are simply not getting it done. Joba appears destined to become a starter within the next year, especially with Hank Steinbrenner pushing for the change. The key for the Yankees is slowly increasing his innings pitched to avoid burning out the most potent young arm in baseball. Look for the Yankees to make a move, either putting Joba in the rotation, or, in Yankee fashion, bringing in a high-priced veteran to bolster the staff.

After Steinbrenner lashes out about Joba’s future, Cashman fires back (ESPN.com)

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