Thursday, March 25, 2010

Joba Is Heading Back To The Bullpen

Joe Girardi wouldn't state it unequivocally when he talked to reporters this morning, but if you listen to the audio that Chad Jennings provided when it became official that Phil Hughes would be the 5th starter, it's pretty obvious what the plan for Mr. Chamberlain is.

At the 5:15 mark in the audio Girardi says, "Obviously, he's moving back to the bullpen, possibly, this year". Listen to it for yourself, but my read is that Girardi has already made up his mind. He awkwardly tags on that "possibly" because nothing has been officially announced yet, but the first part says it all.

As I laid out last Wednesday, I believe the best move for the future of the organization would be to send Joba to AAA to start the year if he wasn't given the 5th spot in the rotation. That way, he'd be able to work on skills specific to being a starting pitcher (controlling his pitch count, 3rd & 4th pitches, etc) and would be available on short notice in case of an injury to someone in the rotation. But that doesn't appear to be the plan.

Here are some relevant exchanges that I'm basing my conclusion on and my reactions to them.
Q (0:43): Joe, is Joba definitely going to be your 8th inning guy?

Girardi: You gotta earn it. And that's what I told 'em, you guys gotta earn your time and what you're gonna do. You don't just hand things over.
The reporter pretty much skips over whether or not Joba will be in the bullpen and asks what Joba's role will be in it. If his role was still up for debate, then would have been a good time to bring it up, but Girardi doesn't.
Q (5:24): Is there a chance [Joba] could go to the minors to start and keep him on the starting path?
Girardi: Umm... We gotta see how he does here, in the bullpen. And I said, there's no guarantees that if you were in that 5 man race that you are automatically going to the bullpen; in a sense you've gotta prove yourself.
So ironically, the better Joba pitches, the more likely it is that he will stay in the bullpen. I'm sorry, but that is ass-backwards.
Q (5:44): Joe, do you still see Joba, long-term, as a starter?

Girardi: You know, I think Joba could do either one. I really do. But now we think Phil's a little bit ahead of him as a starter.
Right now, Hughes is probably the better starting pitcher between them. However, I don't think Hughes being a better option than Joba all of a sudden means that Joba shouldn't be a starter. Girardi didn't address the "long term" aspect of the question and that's not a trivial consideration. I can understand the manager of a team only being concerned with this year, but I'm surprised Brian Cashman would be so short sighted.
Q (7:14): What's going to determine how you are going to fill out the rest of your bullpen?

Girardi: Well, we wanna take the 12 best guys. I think it's important to be best equipped. We're in a very difficult division, we're in a very difficult league.
And that's pretty much what it comes down to. Joba is clearly one of the 12 best arms in the system and the Yanks aren't willing to stash someone in Scranton who could be helpful to the Big League club now. That's a valid viewpoint. With both the Red Sox and Rays in legitimate contention for the division title, the Yanks don't think they can afford to leave one in the chamber. But how much is Joba worth to the Yanks in the bullpen?

In theory, removing Joba from the bullpen should cost the Yanks about one win this year. Is anyone willing to argue those 8 runs above replacement are worth sidetracking his development as a starter for?

The Yanks are certainly putting a lot of faith in the notion that a pitcher's career high in innings pitched is more important than how many they threw in the previous season. Hughes' career high in IP is 146, but that came in 2006. His cap for this year has been estimated at around 170, despite the fact that he threw just 105 last year.

Joba on the other hand, threw 167 last year and would have been free to throw upwards of 200 in 2010, if he could stay healthy and go deep into games. Now, if he stays in the bullpen for the whole season, it's unlikely that he'll end up with more than 70 or 80 IP. It's also unlikely that he'll be utilizing his curveball or changeup very often. He certainly won't be working on the very tough task of being efficient with his pitches over the course of a start, one of the things that held him back during his time in the rotation.

So where does that leave Joba for 2011? What if Javy Vazquez and Andy Pettitte are both gone and there is another opening in the rotation? Joba will be in a worse position to fill that spot than he was this spring.

Why not put Joba in the rotation in Scraton? He'd be a call-up away if the team needed a spot start or someone got hurt. Even if it goes well in AAA and there isn't an opening for him in the Bronx, they could call him up after the All-Star break and put him in the bullpen then. At least he would have a good amount of innings and some valuable starting experience under his belt.

Or perhaps, if/when he's called up, they could insert him into the rotation and shift Hughes to the bullpen. That way, Phil wouldn't run into his innings cap during the season like Joba did last year. Sure, they could stretch Joba out during the season if they needed to, but that didn't go too well for them last time, did it? (nods to the right)

We are still a week and a half away from the beginning of the season and a lot of things can and will change as the pages of the calendar turn. But I can't help but think that the Yankees are making the wrong decision.

The WSJ's New & Unconventional Take On Beat Writers

Via Baseball Think Factory, the Wall Street Journal is adding a fleet of so-called beat reporters to cover the major New York sports teams.
The Journal’s New York sports section will assign beat reporters to the major local sports teams, including the Mets, Yankees, Jets, Giants and the Knicks, sources said. They’ll be credentialed for home games, and they’ll travel to road games.
However, they won't be functioning like regular beat writers:
Sources familiar with the plans said that The Journal will not be covering games in the way that, say, the tabloids do. Instead of rehashing what happened the night before, the Journal sportswriters will be looking for news features and interesting stories from within the locker room.

That would, of course, fit it nicely in competition with — who else? — The Times.

Whereas the News and the Post continue to cover games as if it were 1998—and God bless them for it!—The Times has changed its focus over the past year. Tom Jolly, The Times’ sports editor, has put more of an emphasis on features and trend stories rather than demanding that beat reporters stay with a team every waking moment.
To their credit, the WSJ is providing their staff with the same level of access to the team as other papers, but not the same burdens of reporting every bit of the day-to-day minutiae.

There are a lot of guys on the Yankee beat right now. Fewer than there were, but probably more than there need to be. Not to say that any individual paper should discontinue its daily coverage, but if you read multiple beat writer's blogs, there is a tremendous amount of overlap between them*.

*For instance, the news Chad Gaudin being unconditionally released this morning first came from this tweet from Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger. Soon after, Brian Hoch reported the same thing on Twitter, as did Mark Feinsand. Within a half hour, MLB Trade Rumors was linking back to Carig, Hoch put up on an article on, River Ave. Blues had the news, and Chad Jennings was reporting Gaudin's departure. About an hour and a half later, an AP story showed up on Carig's blog, Jennings had audio from Gaudin, and within two hours, Craig Calcaterra noted it at NBC Sports.

Essentially, the marginal gains a fan gets from following each additional beat writer are hardly worth the effort of reading them. For even a die-hard fan to read (or just skim) the same things in several different places over and over again seems grossly inefficient, especially when you consider that each individual beat writer is going to pick up the most important bits of information for you soon enough.

While it makes sense for papers that already have beat writers to keep them, it would be foolish for an outlet looking to stick its foot in the door to do so via a traditional beat writer.

Not many media companies could afford to pay someone to travel with a team without the expectation that they will provide thorough day-to-day coverage of it. In the days of fuzzy online revenue streams, it might be difficult to tell whether or not the expenditure is justified. The WSJ, however, is willing to take that chance.

Like Bloomberg Sports, this is another example of a financially-focused company allocating a relatively small amount of resources for a sports-related venture. Each appears to have somewhat limited upside when compared to the company's primary focuses, but both BBG and WSJ seem to be applying the practices that made them successful in other arenas to what they are doing in sports. Bloomberg is providing intuitive software for baseball analysis and the WSJ is offering companion-style reading for New York area teams.

By allowing its writers to stay close to the team but focus on producing news features and more substantial analytical pieces, The Journal has created a position with the daily access of a beat writer but the writing requirements of a columnist. By going for exclusive, high quality stories they are aiming for the kind of content that might be of interest to those who aren't fans of the specific team they cover. It seems like a best-of-both-worlds type of arrangement, but it will be up to each writer to deliver top notch content and validate those theories.

The Journal has been producing quality sports content for a while, but they have it stashed away two clicks removed from the homepage under the Life & Style tab. Now, it would appear, they are making a more serious foray into the New York sports media landscape. And by eschewing the traditional expectations of a beat writer, it seems they are on the right track.

Small Decision Made, Big Decision Looming

Good morning Fackers. So today is the big day. We will finally find out the winner of The Most Important Fifth Starter Competition in History, and then everyone will collectively complain about the results. And frankly, at this point, I don't know what the right decision is. I'm just thankful that we're nearing a decision, which means were close to moving on from this for the time being. I just hope that whatever choice is made leaves both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in a position to reach their full potential in 2010 and beyond.

There were some roster decisions made last night, as another round of cuts took place. Pitchers Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo, infielders Juan Miranda and Kevin Russo, and outfielder Greg Golson were all optioned out. All should start the year at AAA. Russo's departure ensures what we speculated Tuesday: Ramiro Pena will be the utility infielder to start the season. Miranda and Golson had no real chance of making the team.

Melancon and Albaladejo had an outside shot of winning a job in the bullpen. We've seen both before and I'm sure we'll see both at various points in 2010. I'm still very bullish on Melancon's future. Their departures leave left-handed pitchers Boone Logan and Royce Ring as the only legitimate threats to Sergio Mitre nailing down the final spot on the pitching staff, though naming Hughes the fifth starter and placing Chamberlain in the Scranton rotation would leave room for both Mitre and a second lefty in the pen.

We'll be back later with a little more unconventional roster speculation.