That's Debatable: Chat with Jayson Stark
Monday's topic, courtesy of Brian from New Jersey:
"In light of Steinbrenner's latest tirade, what's your take: Joba in the 'pen or the rotation?"
That rumbling you heard in the south this morning was Mount Steinbrenner erupting. Surprise, surprise.
If you haven't seen these quotes from Hank Steinbrenner on Joba Chamberlain in Monday morning's New York Times, fasten your seat belt. Here they come:
"I want him as a starter and so does everyone else, including him, and that is what we are working toward and we need him there now. There is no question about it, you don't have a guy with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and keep him as a setup guy. You just don't do that. You have to be an idiot to do that."
So DO you have to be an idiot to do that? And, as Brian from New Jersey observed in the post that inspired this chat, who exactly is Hank calling an idiot in the first place? Let's discuss:
And there's another question just as important to the current state of the Yankees: If Chamberlain did go into the rotation, who would replace him? Mariano Rivera isn't going back to being his own setup man anymore. Can't happen.
And to be honest, not everybody is even convinced that Chamberlain's best role long-term (let alone short-term) is as a starting pitcher. That's my view. Now it's your turn.
Every week, we'll give you the topic and then we'll have one of our writers stopping by to debate the issue with you. To suggest a topic for "That's Debatable," go here. Or check out the full archive.
Jayson Stark (1:01 PM)
OK, idiots of the world unite. I'm here to argue that the Yankees should leave Joba in the rotation. Feel free to try to talk me out of it. Let's get started.
Jason, do you think that part of this is due to the fact that the Yankees simply can't admit that they are in the midst of a youht movement (a good thing) and that this year may not be their year?
Jayson Stark (1:03 PM)
There's no such thing as "next year" in the Yankees' universe, and especially in the Steinbrenner family's universe. That's why Brian Cashman has found himself in a tight spot over this issue. He's trying to set up that organization to succeed long-term, and Hank is fine with that -- as long as they win about 100 games (and the World Series) this year, too. If not, it's trouble.
Otto ( New York)
I think Hank is jumping the gun too soon. The Yanks are 10-10 and its not even May yet. Joba is a sure thing in the bullpen but we havent seen him pitch 6-7 innings yet so why are they putting all there eggs in one basket? Joba is not the savior of the starting rotation, Santana could have been that.
Jayson Stark (1:05 PM)
Otto, you couldn't have analyzed this issue any better. Everything you say here is exactly right. 1) It's early. 2) There's no way to know if Joba would be the same pitcher as a starter as he is in this role. And 3) this is really about Santana. Hank wanted to make that deal. The GM voted the other way. So if Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy made the mistake of not going undefeated, Hank was always going to erupt. It was just a matter of when the volcano started flowing.
Think about this... if Joba is as succesful over the next 20 years as he has been so far... he could be one of the best pitchers ever.
Jayson Stark (1:07 PM)
You mean if he gave up one run a season? Yeah, I think that's safe to say. He gave up one run last season. He just gave up his first run of this season yesterday (although the bullpen actually gave it up after the rain). He's been absolutely unhittable. So why take him out of a role he's this great in?
He has the stuff to be a number 1 starter - plus fastball, plus plus slider, plus curve and a working change. His ultimate long term value is in the rotation. If he fails in the rotation, he can go back to being a setup man and the future closer. The Yankees are in the midst of a youth movement so doing it now rather than later makes sense. Mike Mussina is struggling and will only get worse as the season goes on (Look at his post all star break numbers from last year). Therefore, how can you say he shouldn't be in the rotation? It's a no-brainer. The Yankees have had the top closer ever for the past 7 years and NOT won the world series. Having the top closer for the next decade won't matter either if they don't have the #1 that they have needed for the past 7 years.
Jayson Stark (1:09 PM)
I agree with the basics of your argument. I just beg to differ on some of the specifics. As a reliever, Joba doesn't just have a plus fastball and a plus slider. He has two practically unhittable pitches. Scouts I've talked to don't think he'd developed his other stuff to anywhere near that level and the point the Yankees moved him to the bullpen. So he'd be trotting that stuff out there in the big leagues in a you'd-better-win environment. So it's not a no-brainer. It's tougher than it seems.
Has Joba built up the endurance the be a starter? There has to be some concern that he could hurt his arm or become another casualty to the "tommy john" list of pitchers. What are the repercussions to the Yankees if he has a season ending injury, or perhaps a career altering injury?
Jayson Stark (1:12 PM)
Big issue. Even if the Yankees wanted to move him now, and I don't believe the baseball people do, they would face some difficult decisions. How do you build him up? Joel Sherman wrote a great piece in the New York Post about this a couple of weeks ago. I urge you all to look it up for more on this topic. But Brian Cashman keeps pointing to Johan Santana as a guy who was eased into the rotation during the course of a season and hasn't broken down. So that's the best-case scenario -- that Chamberlain turns into Santana Jr. But that's also, basically, what Hank is demanding because he's still upset that his team doesn't have Santana. Hey, that's not Joba's fault.
Ryan (Baton Rouge)
I would argue that the win-now attitude that permeates throughout the Yankees organization is at least partly responsible for their lack of championships since 2000. How hard is it to be patient and build for the future? As long as they have the win-now-or-else attitude their going to keep racking up first and second round exits. Putting Joba in the the starting rotation would be a classic example of this kind of behavior.
Jayson Stark (1:15 PM)
Can I give you a round of applause for that observation? The Yankees are one of the best organizations in sports because of their ability to combine brains and dollars. But their single biggest failing, in my view, is creating a climate where WE HAVE TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES EVERY STINKING YEAR OR THE SEASON IS A DISASTER!!!! That's not just unrealistic. It's impossible. And it makes it stifling on everybody who is charged with that mission. It's just amazing that you have George Steinbrenner backing off, and the guy replacing him actually heightening that pressure. Who'd have thought that was possible?
I think everyone forgets that the 1996 Yankees won partially because they had the best 1-2 in the bullpen in the league, and that is precisely what they have now. Every team in the majors would love to play 7 inning games like the Yankees do; if they are leading after 7, it's pretty much over. Why do you take Joba out of a role where he is THE best in the majors to put him in one where he might not succeed?
Jayson Stark (1:17 PM)
Great analogy, because it's so true. This could be a perfectly analogous situation to Rivera-Wetteland, because Joba could be to Rivera what Rivera was to Wetteland. While they're grooming a successor to Mariano, they're shrinking every game along the way. I guess you and I are both idiots, Andy, because I agree with you all the way.
Wouldn't it be silly to make Papelbon a starter now, when he is a top flight closer? I feel the same with Joba, he's interning as Mariano's set up man, as Mariano did with Wettland. Joba should slide into the closers role when Mariano is done and provide the same level of fear and intimidation to opponents trailing late in the game. That is an invaluable weapon.
Jayson Stark (1:20 PM)
I like this analogy, too. I remember doing a piece on the Papelbon situation in the spring of 2007, when the Red Sox were saying he was going to become a closer, and it was obvious everybody thought it was a bad idea. Eventually, it was Papelbon himself who said he didn't want to do it and didn't think it was necessary, and that got everyone else off the hook. Chamberlain could get the rest of the Yankees' people off the hook by saying the same thing -- except I don't see that happening.
It isn't only about winning now, but in the future as well. A great starter or a great reliever? I'm taking the starter. Papelbon was originally turned into a closer because of health concerns and ineffectiveness during his career as a starter at the major league level. If this happens with Joba, then I understand turning him into the future closer for the Yankees, but you have to at least consider him for the starting staff because he can be a number 1 starter. Assuming he would be great at both, would you rather have Santana as your closer as your starter? ...I think the answer is clear. You have to, at some point in the near future, try Joba as a starter. If it doesn't work out, you can always place him back into the bullpen.
Jayson Stark (1:21 PM)
Rich, this is the heart of the argument. You're absolutely right. But we don't know that Joba the starter is going to be their Santana. Do we? People just assume he'll continue to be this great in that role. But everything is different when you're pitching six or seven innings a night. It's not the same job. So to assume he could just snap his fingers and do this is a dangerous assumption.
Chris (Gambier, Ohio)
To bring up another issue, is Hank calling Girardi the idiot? I mean if Joe is feeling the heat after twenty games, could there be a midseason change?
Jayson Stark (1:23 PM)
As I said at the top, that's one of the intriguing questions here: Exactly whom was Hank calling an idiot? My personal read on this is that he didn't mean anybody in particular was an idiot. He was talking rhetorically. But it's possible the manager might not take it rhetorically. I don't think he's in any danger whatsoever of getting fired. But he has just been officially second-guessed. That's for sure.
Jayson, didnt farnsworth at one time throw in the high 90's (I think he still does). If this is steinbrenners logic then wouldnt it make sense to make him a starter as well?
Jayson Stark (1:26 PM)
Guess so. OK, consider this list: Joel Zumaya, Justin Verlander, Joba, Matt Lindstrom, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jonathan Broxton and A.J. Burnett. That's the list of all pitchers who threw at least three pitches last year that were clocked at 100-plus. Obviously, there are more relievers on that list than starters. So idiots populate our entire sport, apparently!
Alex (Washington, DC)
I think Hank was talking about either Cashman, or perhaps Torre (if his comments were rhetorical). He did state that the mode of use for Joba last year was a mistake. But his comments regarding Joba throwing 100 mph and the implication that it would translate to a starter makes me question his baseball acumen. At least George showed flashes of understanding the game with his outbursts.
Jayson Stark (1:28 PM)
You're right. George had that football mentality. But George did pick his spots, at least in his later years, He usually had a method to his madness. This struck me as a guy basically spewing off the top of his head. This stuff has been brewing since Santana went to the Mets. Then pick a weekend where Santana strikes out 10 and totally dominates a great lineup, while Hughes and Kennedy give up 11 runs, and bingo -- everybody's an idiot. But I still think he meant nobody in particular.
Does anyone remember Mariano when he was making starts at the beginning of his career? He was nowhere near as effective but yet he succeeds as a closer. Same thing with Joba. Who knows how effective he will be the 2nd and 3rd time around the lineup. Eventually major league hitters catch up.
Jayson Stark (1:31 PM)
Great point, Joe. Talked to a scout about this very subject this morning. First point is, as a starter, Chamberlain would lose 3-5 mph off his fastball, so that's not the same pitch. He wouldn't be zipping through all those 1-2-3 innings either if you double or triple his innings. He'd have to worry about holding runners and pitching way more out of the stretch. So right there, you're talking about a different set of ground rules, and even about different stuff. Now you add in those second and third trips through the order, developing the curve on the job, developing the change on the job, and there are no guarantees you have the same guy.
Adam (syracuse, ny)
If Santana didn't go to a team in the same city, would Hank be behaving differently?(a little?)
Jayson Stark (1:32 PM)
Well, he was always going to go to either the Mets or Red Sox if he didn't go to the Yankees. So same difference there. But I was at Santana's game the other night, looking at the Yankees score on the out-of-town scoreboard and imagining the smoke pouring out of Hank's ears. So the fact that he's a Met means it's always in the Yankees' face when he dominates. There's no question that's a factor here.
Does no one notice that George's best years as owner was the late nineties, when (surprise, surprise) they built up the middle and young (Posada, Jeter, Bernie) and a DOMINANT bullpen. Wetteland and Rivera were unhittable in 96 and 97, and Rivera was, well, Rivera from 98-2000. Joba needs to stay in the bullpen because right now, we have a bunch of young starters (Hughes, Kennedy, Ohlendorf, Sanchez and more) and Joba has PROVEN that he can dominate in the late innings. Hank needs to realize that he is the owner and that's it. I think George needs to rein in his son.
Jayson Stark (1:35 PM)
You guys are good. I agree with that, too. When George learned to get out of the way and let the baseball people do their job, that's when they ran off those four titles in five years. His failing was that when they didn't win it all in 2001, he reverted to form because he considered that season to be a total failure. Heck, it was a fluke is what it was. The best closer of all time blew a save in Game 7 of the World Series. But it's those sorts of overreactions -- to the little picture, not the big picture -- that have undone the Yankees during the Steinbrenner years. And now Hank is making the same mistake. Great point, Ben.
Joba was a starter until last year, when the Yankees moved him to the pen in a win now moment. It's not like he is not familiar with starting.
Jayson Stark (1:37 PM)
That's true. But it wasn't as if he was starting in the big leagues. All his starts have been in high school, college, A ball and double-A. He made one start in triple-A before they moved him to the 'pen. He was still a work in progress as a starter when they moved him to the bullpen and hit the accelerator. So don't assume he was THIS guy as a starter in Trenton. He was in double-A for a reason.
Hank is not the only person in the Yankees front office that wants Joba to be a starter. This decision was made before he took over for his father. Any front office executive or scout with half a brain would not even second guess the decision to put Joba in the rotation. So acting like Hank is forcing an unpopular decision onto his front office is pointless.
Jayson Stark (1:39 PM)
Very good point, Joe. The GM wants Joba to be a starter, too. They're in agreement on that point. That's correct. But they weren't in agreement on Santana, so obviously, Hank has marked that one down on Brian Cashman's scorecard. And the GM wants to protect Joba and limit his innings, while Hank clearly isn't real concerned with that, either. So it's not as if they're in total harmony on this.
James (Middletown, NJ)
Huge difference between Mariano as a starter and Joba as a starter is the fact Mariano has one pitch Joba has four. pretty easy to see why Mariano is so much better in the pen. I read reports where Joba kept his velocity up late into games as a starter in the minors, so his fastball will still clock in at 95
Jayson Stark (1:42 PM)
That's another astute observation, but nobody said we're talking about identical pitchers, just analogous situations. Did Joba maintain his velocity as a starter? That's correct. But there's a big difference between pitching at 93-95 and pitching at 98-100. I'm not saying he can't do it. Don't get me wrong. I just think he deserves the chance to prepare for it, work on it and ease into it, as opposed to being shoved into such a pressurized situation when he has had so little preparation time. That's not fair to him.
John, Albany New York
Although it is almost certain that the Yankees will win if they are ahead after the seventh inning, with Joba and Mo in the eight and ninth, they still have to get the lead in the first eseven innings and their starting pitchers aren't getting it done right now.
Jayson Stark (1:45 PM)
Look, I understand that they're not going to win if their rotation doesn't pitch better. But this outburst came on April 20. Barely 10 percent of the season has been played. The Yankees have dealt with lousy weather, injuries and an offense that hasn't hit yet. This isn't the team they're going to be, in just about any way. So it's too early to make impulsive judgments about anything or anybody -- including Mussina, Hughes and Kennedy. They've actually hung in there pretty well considering, it seems to me.
Mark (East Brunswick NJ)
The Yanks need to give their young starters in the rotation a chance. What kind of message do you think it sends them when you basically give up on them so early in the season by bringing in another arm?
Jayson Stark (1:48 PM)
That's an important issue, Mark. The Yankees are trying to balance winning and going young at the same time. That has to require some degree of patience. So snap judgments have long-term and short-term ramifications. All of that has to be weighed here. Not just what's Joba Chamberlain's best role.
Lets say Joba will turn out to be a Beckett type starter or Mariano type reliever. Knowing this before hand what would you do with Joba?
Jayson Stark (1:49 PM)
If he were going to turn into a Beckett-type starter, how could you not vote for that? But it took Josh Beckett years to develop into a "Beckett-type starter." So why should Hank Steinbrenner assume Joba would instantly turn into one of those?
Tim (Sacramento, Ca)
You say that Joba would have to replace Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy but what about Mike Mussina. He obviously is loosing alot of his stuff and he has had few tough outtings lately. I understand that he is a veteran and he has the experience but Joba is in the Yankees long term plans, as is Kennedy and Hughes. Mussina, not so much, why not move Joba in via Mussina?
Jayson Stark (1:52 PM)
OK, and then do what with Mussina? You'd have to release him, or invent some kind of injury and put him on the disabled list. And now you've thinned your inventory even more. I agree Mussina is fading, but it isn't fair to him to pull the plug in April, either. The magic word is "patience." Is that word even in the dictionaries in the Steinbrenner libraries?
Did I miss something? Where did Hank ever say that Joba is going to come in and be the savior of the rotation? I guess if you are already of a certain mindset, you can read between the lines and find anything.
Jayson Stark (1:54 PM)
OK, settle down there, Rich. He didn't use that word "savior." But remember, this is the Yankees. Nothing short of greatness is tolerable. So let's raise that question. What would Hank say if Joba struggled? What would he say if the Yankees' setup crew started coughing it up without Joba in that role? Would he second-guess himself? He's riding down a more slippery slope than he thinks.
JP, Forest Hills NY
Patience (as defined by the Steinbrenners): the act of having your cake and eating it too; building for the future while expecting too much in the present. Do you think the core of the problem is the lack of one more arm on the Yanks? Be it a front end starter or a great back-end reliever?
Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
Good line, man. Can you send me a copy of your dictionary, JP? The core of the Yankees' problem, I think, was having to count on Hughes and Kennedy, because of lack of veteran alternatives. That meant that, from the beginning, they knew they were going to be able to get a limited number of innings from two of their starters. And they had a guy in Mussina who couldn't be counted on for reliable innings, either. The good teams get 950-1,000 innings out of their starters every year. That seemed like a lot to ask from this group, with or without Joba.
Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
Wow. This has flown by. But let's wrap it up with one last question.
Will (Indianapolis, IN)
I think that it would definitely be a mistake to move Jaba into the role of starter NOW. It simply isn't the time to develop him as a starter. The mistake, or idiot decision, could only be argued that is was made in the offseason. Whether that decision was correct or not does not affect the current situation- you can't move him NOW. Let him continue as a set up man, and if during the next offseason they decided to get him ready to start okay. You need to let the young pitchers develop- while still being competitive with Jaba and Riviera in the late innings. Moving him now I believe would turn into a disaster. I agree with you Jason that it is the WIN NOW attitude that causes the Yankees downfall. Wasn't it only a few weeks ago when reports were talking about moving Rodriguez to short?- the panic button seems to be getting hit an awful lot lately- and it will be interesting to see how Girardi handles it compared to Torre.
Jayson Stark (2:02 PM)
Might as well finish this up with somebody who agrees with me. Look, the decisions of this winter and last summer are gone. Done. Over. It's time for Hank to get over the fact that Joba got moved to the 'pen last year. And it's time to get over the reality that Santana went to that team on the other side of town. It's time to deal with the realities of this team right now. And the wrong way to deal with them is to move Joba Chamberlain into the rotation in the third week of April. That's my feeling, anyway. Then again, what do I know? I'm just another idiot.
Jayson Stark (2:03 PM)
This is one debate that could have gone on for another hour. Or another week. In fact, it will -- in the Yankees' executive offices. But our work here is done. Thanks for all the great comments. See you again next week in the debate room.
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