From John Harper, the discussion that just won't die:
- For now, at least, they seem firmly committed to keeping Joba Chamberlain in the rotation. But part of the equation here is that he shows no signs of being a dominating starter.
Indeed, during the weekend at Fenway Park full of ugly pitching numbers, the most alarming number of all came from Joba's pitching line on Friday night:
Of the 91 pitches he threw, only two produced a swing-and-miss. He used to get two per at-bat, it seemed, as a blow-away reliever.
Chamberlain did show plenty of grit in his start against the Red Sox, inducing four double-play balls that allowed him to escape big trouble and surrender one run over 5-1/3 innings. But where is the dominance?
Soon after his conversion from the bullpen at midseason last year, he blew away the Sox over seven innings, allowing three hits while striking out nine hitters as he outdueled Josh Beckett.
On Friday night, meanwhile, Chamberlain allowed 14 baserunners in 5-1/3 innings, and struck out two. In his three starts this season he has allowed 32 baserunners in 16 innings, while getting 11 strikeouts. Although he has managed to limit the damage to a 3.94 ERA, it's clear this is not the Joba who was automatic out of the bullpen.
As you probably remember, we've been having this argument for quite some time now, and I've always come down squarely on the side of Chamberlain starting, for the simple reason that a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a great relief pitcher. Or rather, that a great starting pitcher is more valuable than a great reliever, and there were (and still are, presumably) some observers who believe that Chamberlain can become a great starter.
Indeed, in Chamberlain's dozen starts last year, he posted a 2.76 ERA and struck out 74 batters in 65 innings. Relegating a guy like that to the bullpen would be off-the-charts crazy unless he could, year in and year out, give you 100 innings of sub-2.00 ERA relief.
That was the context of the offseason discussion (though it often was not). Today, though? In 16 innings as a starter this year, he has struck out 11 batters and walked 10. So, yes, if he continues on this path -- say, another eight or 10 starts like this -- the Yankees will be forced to consider making a move, at least if Chien-Ming Wang is back in action.
Here's the thing, though -- why would we assume that moving to the bullpen will magically cure whatever is ailing Chamberlain? Isn't it likely that the same qualities that made him a dominant starter contributed to him being a blow-'em-away reliever?
Maybe Joba's not healthy, and maybe it's because he's starting. But the Yankees need to be real sure about what's going on before doing anything rash. Because it's rapidly becoming apparent that they won't have a great margin for error this season.