"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky: Paging Howard Beale

The 1970s featured some of the greatest films of all-time. On my list is Network, which starred Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty, among others. I believe it’s one of the greatest of all-time in large part because it’s still relevant. The theme of ratings ruling success, damn the people responsible for creating the programming, hasn’t changed. Corporations who own the networks need a positive return on their investment. Money rules. Always has, always will.

Howard Beale, portrayed by Finch, who won an Oscar for the role, is a network anchor who is fired due to low ratings. Then, he is allowed to stay on the air and responds by announcing he’s going to kill himself on television during his final broadcast. The stunt, plus his famous rant, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” leads to huge ratings over the next two weeks, in which time the network exploits Beale’s insanity rather than take him off the air.

How does Howard Beale pertain the New York Yankees? Consider the case of Joba Chamberlain. The once-upon-a-time can’t-miss phenom has come full circle. He’s back in the bullpen for the 2010, where he’ll have to “earn” his spot as Mariano Rivera’s 8th-inning bridge. Or maybe he’ll pitch the seventh inning or be a swingman. Joe Girardi still doesn’t know.

Pitching coach Dave Eiland has told anyone who will listen that even in the event of an injury to starters ace through four, or mediocrity from Phil Hughes in the fifth spot, Joba will remain the bullpen. GM Brian Cashman called him a “starter who can relieve.” Joba is taking this like Cush from Jerry Maguire: “I just want to play baseball.”

Early reports and interviews from team personnel — primarily Cashman — have the Yankees leaving Joba in bullpen role only for this season. They were not looking beyond 2K10. But that’s not good enough. Our thirst for a resolution to the story that won’t go away is too great. We need to know the long-term plan for No. 62. The concern is legitimate, especially with Rivera in the last year of his contract, Javier Vazquez in the final year of his deal, and Andy Pettitte in the midst of another one-year deal. Who knows? There’s a chance he could be a starter again.

If you believe director of player personnel Billy Eppler, per Saturday’s WFAN interview with Evan Roberts and Pat Borzi’s entry to the Bats blog, which was re-posted here yesterday, Joba is in the pen, and will be there for the foreseeable future. Newsday’s Erik Boland also blogged on the Eppler leak, but had more quotes from Cashman in his post saying the contrary.

Those of us who have been shouting into the bullhorn this very message for the past 2 1/2 years, including myself, should be rejoicing. As happy as I am that the Yankees made a decision with Joba and are going to stick to it, again — well, for this season anyway — they can’t seem to get it right from a PR standpoint. Why be coy? Who cares? Is it that big of a deal to definitively say, “He’s a reliever. Yes, he has four pitches and could be a starter, but his best two are his slider and fastball, and he has been more consistent as a reliever since coming up in 2007. This is the best situation both for him and the ball club. If the question is, ‘Where do we put Joba Chamberlain to maximize his talent in order to help the New York Yankees win another championship?’ The answer is in the bullpen.”

See? Not that difficult. Eiland had no problem. He even went so far Even Derek Jeter said as much, dropping these nuggets of wisdom on Mark Feinsand of the Daily News:

“He gets by on emotion, and it’s easier — or at least more fitting — to get by on emotion when you’re in the bullpen. There are guys that can do it as a starter, but for him, I think being in the bullpen is a good thing. … To have a guy that can come into a game in any situation and has the potential to strike guys out pretty quickly, that’s an asset not too many teams have.”

What the Yankees have is an even split of pitchers who can get through a batting order more than once, and who cannot. And Sergio Meat-Tray. Joba, based on his recent history both at the tail end of last season and his March, falls into the category those who cannot go through a batting order effectively more than once. That’s the negative. The positive is that Joba gives the Yankees unprecedented depth in the bullpen, along with Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson, Damaso Marte, Boone Logan, and Rivera. Three power right-handed arms, two lefties who are above LOOGY status, and Aceves, who is this team’s version of Ramiro Mendoza, only slightly more verbal.

What does this all mean? The more the Yankees dangle this story because they know the media will salivate after hearing the bell like Pavlov’s dog, the more we in Fandom will continue to react.

Which brings us back to the Network parallel. Joba is not Howard Beale. He’s not in a position to bite the hands that have fed him. But the Yankees area a corporate monolith and a strong case can be made that the organization has exploited the 24-year-old. He’s been jerked around, switched to the bullpen in 2007 and rushed through the minors for the August emergency callup where he became a household name and a savior in the 8th-inning relief role; he was returned to the rotation in mid-summer the next year and suffered a shoulder injury as a result; and as a member of the starting rotation in 2009, with sporadic success and an insane innings restriction imposed after the All-Star break, he was returned to the bullpen for the postseason. After all that, one could hardly fault Joba if he pulled a Howard Beale and called his career “bullshit.”

From my standpoint, like many of you here in the Banter community, I’m ready to say enough is enough with the Joba story. Yes, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. I want to write about the media’s coverage of Joba’s success in the bullpen and keep it simple. The Yankees can help make this happen; they need to figure out which story they want to go with, keep spouting that as the company line to eliminate confusion and be done with it. And the media are not without responsibility here, either. Don’t egg the story because you can’t think of anything else to move circulation, ratings or incoming phone calls to the drive-time programs.

But none of that is likely to happen is because it makes too much sense, and it feels like the parties responsible for shaping the story are having too much fun with it.


1 Raf   ~  Mar 29, 2010 11:06 am

I don't see why they don't keep him in the rotation full time in 2010 then if Rivera decides that he has had enough, move Chamberlain to the closer's role in 2011 or whenever they deem fit. Righetti moved to the pen after the 1983 season, and spent the rest of his career trying to go back to starting. John Smoltz and Derek Lowe are guys who've gone back and forth between starting and closing.

2 Jon DeRosa   ~  Mar 29, 2010 11:07 am

When the facts don't add up, I usually assume we're not privvy to all of them. Perhaps Joba is not working hard, perhaps he has off-field problems which have not been disclosed, or perhaps he has injury related concerns which are being hushed up.

My first reaction is "the yanks screwed this guy up!" But it could easily be, "the yanks are trying their best with this screwed up guy/shoulder."

As a result, I've come full circle on Javy Vazquez and left field. I assumed Vazquez bumped Joba/Hughes, but it seems now that Joba bumped himself by the end of 2009 and Vazquez was sought to fill the vacancy at the expense of spending $ for left field.

if Joba had been counted on as a cheap starter, I don't think Brett Gardner would be a starter.

3 ms october   ~  Mar 29, 2010 11:13 am

[2] at this point i am wondering those things myself jon. on the surface this makes no sense.
it *seems* the yankees decided the 5th starter battle was hughes' to lose rather than joba's. hughes' starts were talked up, the development of his secondary pitches, etc.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 29, 2010 11:16 am

Yeah, and you'd have to think that Yankees know something about Joba they aren't telling the public.

5 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 29, 2010 11:22 am

Lest we forget, noneother than Papelbon was supposed to be a starter for the BoSox, but due to necessity (and concerns for his young arm), took over the closer's role ... that's turned out pretty well for both he and his team.

6 Mr. Max   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:00 pm


Not exactly true. Pap was always a reliever that was made a starter for the Sox, probably the same way most teams do so to build innings for young players. His starting was a REAL experiment. Every time someone calls Joba starting an "experiment" I throw up in my mouth a little, cuz the confirmation bias is so strong. He's always been a starter, and a great one, with true CC Sabathia potential. On other teams this is a no brainer, and if he was traded he would immediately join as a starter. I think Alex is right, there's stuff we just aren't privy to.

7 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:09 pm

Will, while we're on opposite sides of the Joba debate, I have to commend you for this take. Still, there's one thing I take exception to. Joba hurt his shoulder in 2008 due to a fall he took when Ivan Rodriguez almost took off his head with a throw to second base. It had nothing to do with starting or even with pitching, and it didn't reoccur at all during his 31 starts last year.

As for the rest of it, I agree, I'm sick of it. Let's focus on Hughes getting established and worry about Joba if/when a rotation spot opens up and/or next spring.

8 The Hawk   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:19 pm

[6] "He’s always been a starter, and a great one, with true CC Sabathia potential."

Hey now! Whoa nelly! Easy, pardner!

Anyway, as I keep saying I'd be totally onboard with this decision if they hadn't gone to such lengths last year to prepare Joba to be a "real" starter. If he failed miserably maybe then they'd make him a reliever and there'd be no controversy - or significantly less - because the reasons would be apparent.

The idea that there's something we don't know is appealing but if that's the case why did they even bother putting him through the fifth starter "competition"? No matter how you slice it, like most things Joba-related, there's something weird about it.

9 williamnyy23   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:24 pm

I think it's a major stretch to suggest that the Yankees are miling the Joba story. What would the benefit be? Instead, I just think they are making their decisions based on what is best for the team in the current year, and that has been different in each season. I have no problem with Joba in either role this year because the team does not need a starter (and may need a reliever). However, that could change next year, so I hope the Yankees don't foolish label him a reliever for the sake of simplicity.

[6] In the minors, Papelbon pitched in 58, including 48 as a starter, so I am not sure on what you are basing your argument. Meanwhile, Joba had only 15 starts in the minors. Coming off a relatively abbreviated college career, I don't think it's unfair to suggest that Joba as a starter is an experiment. In fact, Joba as anything is an experiment because he really has had little pro or amateur experience in both roles.

[7] The Joba debate really doesn't bother me. It is, after all, a pretty important topic with merit on both sides. Besides, it's nice that the Joba's role is one of the Yankees biggest "problems". I'd rather debate that topic than I am blue in the face than have to deal with some of the issues facing other teams. Heck, the Joba debate is refreshing compared to the now defunct can the Yankees win the Arod.

10 51cq24   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:36 pm

if the yankees are trying to keep from us the fact that joba isn't the same pitcher as he was before the shoulder injury, they're doing a bad job. will, you say that joba has been more consistent as a reliever than as a starter. or, rather, you say that the yankees should say that. is it true? in my estimation he was consistent as a reliever and as a starter until the shoulder injury. has he been consistent as a reliever since then? i wouldn't say so. for all the talk about how dominant he looked in the bullpen during the postseason, the results weren't particularly impressive. yes, he added a couple miles on his fastball, but he wasn't locating it the same way he did before the injury, and his slider isn't nearly as good as it used to be. when he came up he had one of the nastiest sliders i'd ever seen. it just disappeared as it came to the catcher. now it's smooth and unspectacular. diminished velocity + worse control + much less bite on the slider = injury (or caution so as to avoid injury).

11 The Hawk   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:43 pm

Most importantly, Network is a fantastically overrated movie.

12 The Hawk   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:45 pm

[10] I do miss that slider.

13 cult of basebaal   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:47 pm

It had nothing to do with starting or even with pitching, and it didn’t reoccur at all during his 31 starts last year.

The injury may not have "reoccur"ed, but it's clear that Joba is NOT the same pitcher that came off the mound in Arlington. He threw harder as a starter in 2008 than he has as a reliever since.

Now, I think Joba still has the stuff to be a quality starter (if his stuff hasn't degraded from where it was in the 1st half of 2009) but the #1 beast that he promised to be in 2007/2008 seems destined to be one of the greatest, most disappointing "what ifs" in my Yankees' fandom ...

14 cult of basebaal   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:49 pm

[14] or, what {10} said.

15 cult of basebaal   ~  Mar 29, 2010 12:51 pm

Most importantly, Network is an absolutely fantastic movie ...

16 The Hawk   ~  Mar 29, 2010 1:03 pm

[15] You're providing me with more data to back up my point ; )

17 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 29, 2010 4:38 pm

[7] Thanks for the respect, Cliff. It doesn't seem to you that the Yankees were too careful with him, though? Like they were playing scared?

[10] The sample size of his work in the bullpen last year is not big enough, granted. I was going off his career to date as a reliever vs. career to date as a starter. I also used the eyeball test. ... What some "experts" were saying was that it came down to one mechanical issue: Hughes can repeat his delivery and Joba cannot.

The bottom line is that we don't know the full story, we likely won't, and it's a shame because this should be a dead issue already. I wouldn't be surprised if he was traded at some point.

18 cult of basebaal   ~  Mar 29, 2010 8:26 pm

[16] ah yes, but just think of the data point you're providing for me


19 cult of basebaal   ~  Mar 29, 2010 9:33 pm

Here are the Yankees pitchers I'd rather have pitching "teh 8th" in 2010 besides Joba, given what I've seen this spring (and I'm watching the game tonite):

Damaso Marte
Chan Ho Park
David Robertson
Mark Melancon

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