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.


  1. Did anyone at any point ask how Hughes demonstrated he is the better starter at this stage? His performance over the course of a month and a half last year as a starter didnt demonstrate that. So they based this decision on Spring Training? Really? They determined that Hughes, with an innings limit is a better starter than Joba who wasnt awful last year, he was inconsistent.

  2. Steve - Girardi talked a lot about Hughes' improved changeup as one of the reasons he was impressive this spring. I don't think Joe mentioned it specifically, but I would assume that Phil's performance out of the bullpen last year had a lot to do with the decision as well. That, to me at least, is more important that what he did as a starter because it was over more innings and was more recent.

    I don't think what happened this spring should be the deciding factor, but in choosing between two candidates who are pretty close, I don't have a huge problem with them taking it into consideration.

    I'm okay with picking Hughes, I just don't think that means they should give up on Joba as a starter that easily.

  3. Jay you're 100% correct on all aspects of this. I'm a BIG Joba fan, but failing to send him to AAA is a massive error. Hughes' winning the 5th spot should have ZERO correlation to how Joba opens the year. NYY management continues to mess with Joba's head & that's no good for nobody.

  4. I feel the same way Jay. I'm very happy that Hughes gets the chance to develop into the starting pitcher we always wanted him to be, but having a detrimental effect on Joba's future as a starter is tough to swallow. Let's just hope he gets sent to AAA and can be called upon if needed, because I just get the feeling he's going to be needed to start at some point this season.

  5. Jay- The reality is that Joba was not really given a fair shake and I haven't seen a valid explanation. Merely saying that he has been inconsistent is not enough when discussing 24 year old starting pitchers. And if consistency has been an issue what has Hughes done to show it. I agree that Hughes should be developed as a starter but looking at the track records I dont see anything aside from a slightly better spring that would say Hughes deserves this more than Joba. What is more frustrating is that this front office has demonstrated that they have no solid plan for development of young starters. Essentially this move says that you have very little time to develop which is not realistic with 90% of the young starters in this league. This was supposed to be the year that Joba got his chance to pitch without limitations. Honestly he should have had the entire year to make a fair determination and at a minimum he should have had through the All Star break. What is the next step if Hughes struggles? Do they bump him back to the bullpen and simply use Mitre or even worse trade for an aging middle of rotation starter? And the reality is that Joba is going back to the bullpen. At this point I would be stunned if they did send him to AAA just because they dont seem to have valued the short term interests of the organization over the long term. Thats fine but they deserve what comes from that. And essentially that is going to be a bunch of mid thirties declining starting pitchers with exorbitant salaries. I thought the no-Johan move and the Joba development was the step in a new direction but clearly Cashman has demonstrated he didn't have the fortitude to stick with it and endure the ups and downs of developing starting pitching.

  6. Steve - I hear where you are coming from and agree your general sentiment, but there is only one spot in the rotation. Yes, he was in the bullpen for most of last year, but Hughes was fantastic there. I'm sure that has a lot to do with why he won the spot over Joba. It's hard to argue with that choice without having worked with them and watched them throw this spring. Maybe there is a big difference. We don't really know.

    At this point, the Yanks are saying that they think Joba can still be a starter down the road and they believe that he'll be relatively free of an innings cap if he's in the rotation next year. I don't necessarily agree with or trust that line of reasoning but we pretty much have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Unfortunately, a team like the Yankees in a division as tough as the AL East can't have one "plan" to develop their pitchers. They need guys to contribute to the Big League club and don't feel they can stash talent in the minors until they've conquered every level like shitter teams feel they can.

    Apparently, the Yanks can afford to pay four of their starters $10M+/yr. It's not ideal, but at least it's an option. Not many other teams can say that.

  7. Joba was fantastic in the bullpen too and he showed glimpses of being a great starter in both 2008 and 2009, something Hughes has never done. And if Hughes' performance in the bullpen last year sold them that might be the dumbest reasoning I have ever heard of. Essentially Hughes concentrated on throwing two pitches and heavily relying on his fastball when he moved to the bullpen. How does that translate to being a good starter? Not to mention the fact that he struggled terribly as a starter. To the point where the Yankees bumped him out for Cheng Ming Wang and I heard no one suggest that he should replace Joba when they made that decision.

    Its not about having "one" plan. Its about having a plan and sticking with it in order to properly develop young starting pitchers. Its great when you can sign CC but look that the free agent landscape, when is a guy like that going to be available again (a 28 year old ace with overpowering stuff). This beyond the division they play, they have the luxury right now to allow these kids to develop. But instead they are acting like cattle and sacrificing the best two pitching prospects they have had in a long time.

    And its not about affording to pay $10M per starter. The problem is when they sign those long term checks for guys like Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. OR the $18M they paid Randy Johnson or even now the money they are paying AJ Burnett. These are BAD baseball decisions and they cost them wins. Maybe not this year but it has a snowball effect. You are going to have a $50 left side of the infield for the next five to six years, and both guys will be over 35. At a minimum you should be looking to develop a premium commodity- starting pitching and you spent the last three years trying to do it. But now you are going to turn your back on it.

  8. Steve, I wouldn't say that Hughes has *never* shown glimpses of being a great starter. He had a no-hitter going against Texas before his hamstring injury. He pitched pretty well in his rookie year while dealing with that injury. If you look at and their career splits as starters, Joba has pitched better to an extent, but they're not THAT far apart to say that Phil has never shown he can be a good starter.

  9. Greg, I have to disagree and I don't want to make this a criticism of Phil Hughes because I have no issue with him being developed as a starter, its the only good news in this whole mess. However, Joba has now thrown ~ 220 innings as a starter in the major leagues. In 2008 Joba was spectacular in those 12 or so starts (give or take on the ridiculous pitch counts). Last year, he threw around 160 innings and was a slightly below average starter (90 ERA+) and that takes into account those starts at the end of the year where he was only permitted to go three innings.

    As for Hughes, if the guy from that start three years ago shows up then that is great. But now we are relying on one start, from three years ago where he seemed to have command of all of his pitches (one of which--the change-up-- that disappeared the past two years). If you lineup the two of them, there is no doubt that Joba's body of work overshadows everything that Hughes has done. And that isn't even accounting for that Hughes has an innings limit this year which Joba doesn't have.