"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Big Ben, Parliament

Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees’ two best right handed pitching prospects of my lifetime, don’t stand at a crossroads of their careers – they stand at a cloverleaf freeway entrance. Since 2007, Joba has been a starter, a reliever, a starter, a reliever, a starter, a reliever, a competitor for a starting job, and currently, a reliever. Phil has a more reasonable track record. He’s been a starter, a reliever and currently a starter. The buzz is that Joba may never make it as a starter, and if Phil also fails, they Yankees will have to ask if they handled them correctly.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several high profile, pitchers who jumped back and forth between starting and relieving roles and whose destinies were not forever derailed. Adam Wainwright and David Price pop immediately into mind as starters turned relievers turned back to starters with little detriment. And who could think that Mariano Rivera or Jonathan Papelbon were meant to do anything but hasten the extinction of rally caps and monkeys? Did the Yankees do anything that differently with Joba and Phil than has been done in the past?

I think the Yankees have a healthy respect for pitch counts and innings limits and are willing to pre-determine usage quantity for their young guys in the name of injury avoidance. But after that, I think they really don’t see much difference in which roles their pitchers accumulate those innings. What this may mean is that the arms are protected, but the starting pitching skills are severely under-developed.

Joba throws a 96-97 mph fastball out of the pen. He throws a 92-93 mph fastball in the rotation. Hughes throws 95 in the eighth, but only 91 in the first. These guys have to learn how to get out MLB hitters with the lesser stuff if they want to make it as starters. In short relief, they rarely work in a third pitch, and they never have to face any hitter more than once in a game.

Many on the Banter have called for them to be used as long relievers, allowing them the chance to work with diminished stuff, involve third and fourth pitches, and turn the lineup over once. It’s never happened. We can only guess as to why, but my hunch is that the Yankees have made an organizational compromise: we’ll respect the innings, but we won’t respect the role.

You can see why. The Yankees didn’t want to sacrifice a 2009 victory because they used Phil Hughes for three innings on Wednesday and didn’t have him available for a nail-biter on Friday. So they made him a short reliever so he could impact as many close games as possible. That decision solidified the bullpen when it was still a close race and helped them sew up home field advantage for a World Championship run. And though I disagreed at the time and in retrospect, I don’t want them to return the rings and try it again my way.

So Joba Chamberlain is likely done as a starter. There could be shoulder concerns and there could be mental issues contributing to this decision. But if it is based only on performance, then I would argue that the Yankees are much to blame for whatever performance he gave them. Did they learn anything? Will Hughes be given any more leeway to learn on the job? Or are the Yankees well aware of all of this and just don’t care? Maybe they know they screwed these guys up, they know they’ll have a season or two of growing pains, and they refuse to suffer them both simultaneously. Are the Yankees capable of developing a phenom starter that doesn’t produce immediately?

Tags:  Joba Chamberlain  Phil Hughes

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1 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 15, 2010 8:37 am

Yesterday morning, I asked Diane, Cliff, Will and Jon about Hughes and they gave me great stuff to prepare me for this little segment, especially Jon. I'm just cribbing what I learned from him.

2 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Apr 15, 2010 8:54 am

I'm glad to see Jon worked his thoughts into a post here. I think it's an excellent take on the issue. Here's hoping Hughes breaks the pattern starting tonight.

3 Mattpat11   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:24 am

I'm so not in the mood for the same carnival sideshow with Hughes that we got with Chamberlain last year.

They've ruined Chamberlain. If they manage to do the same to Hughes, will this become a cautionary tale or will teams still be pissing themselves in fear of winding up with Mark Prior?

4 ms october   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:32 am

[3] i think the idea of being responsible with incremental increases in workload is correct. i just don't think the yankees have implemented it as well as they could have with both joba and hughes.
i know some argue that the win now pressure prevents them from implementing a more future oriented plan, and perhaps that is so, but i still think they could have handled both pitchers development as starters better (something like a johan santana model would be what i think makes the most sense)

5 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:39 am

I won't be surprised if Hughes puts up better numbers than Vazquez this year. That's not as much a knock against Javy, as it is faith in the kid who has always impressed me. I'm not saying Phil will win more games than Javy. Vazquez has the advantage of pitching against other #4 starters, while Phil will pitch fewer games, and might more often be matched up against aces, as he is tonight.

I think the Yanks believe in him more than they believed in Joba as a starter, and will be more patient with his development. I also think Phil will require less leeway than Joba.

My immediate concern with Hughes, based on what little I saw of him in spring training, is his scary fly ball tendency. I haven't checked his spring stats (which are mostly useless anyway) but it appeared to me that he was giving up a lot of long outs, and home runs. I also don't know if those were mistakes, or pitches he was working on.

Joba? I still think he could be an excellent starter, and if he truly has the skills and determination to be in the rotation, and really goes for the job he'll get another chance. He's not ruined. He's not damaged goods. Far from it. He's a talented kid who has a long career ahead of him. He just has to keep working, and go for it.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:40 am

I think the difference is Santana came with with the Twins in the middle of the country, not in New York with the Yanks. Right or wrong.

7 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:41 am

sorry for the long post, but I love thinking about, and talking about these guys.

8 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:44 am

[6] Using future starters out the bullpen isn't unique to Santana. In fact, it was somewhat common in previous eras. What is causing the problem now is the emergence of the 8th inning as a defined role, leading people to clamor for teams’ essentially having two closers.

Also, it should be noted that several other teams are doing the starter/bullpen shuffle with potentially talented arms. The Red Sox are employing Bard as a late inning reliever, while the Rangers have made Feliz their temporary closer. There are probably other examples out there as well.

Furthermore, I don’t think it is fair to define what velocity Hughes will have has a starter. The jury is still out on that.

9 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:48 am

[7] Good stuff...I especially agree with your point about Joba not being "ruined". At the hands of Dusty Baker, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were ruined. Dallas Green almost ruined Al Leiter.

The Yankees have certainly not ruined Joba. It might feel like he has been around forever, but he is still only 24. It remains to be seen how things play out in his career. For some reason, however, many feel the need to come to a definitive conclusion, which I don't think is either necessary or justified.

10 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 15, 2010 9:57 am

[5] Maybe Joba is not ruined, but his current dubious role in the bullpen and the organizational divide on his long term outlooks can hardly be what we hoped for in 2007 looking forward to 2010. Barring a serious injury, isn't his current developmental status is close to worst case scenario?

[8] If you look his fangraphs velocity charts, you can see the difference in Phil's avg fastball velocity as a starter and as a reliever.

11 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:02 am

There is no question the development paths for Phil and (especially) Joba have left much to be desired. But I don't believe the Yankees 'ruined' either. First.... let's review the Yankees' goals:

2) Everything else (as best as possible to while still achieving Goal #1)

Phil will get his chance starting today. Somehow he managed to work on his Change Up and make it a valid pitch. Being in the BP did NOT get in his way.

The reason why guys in the BP only throw 1 or 2 pitches is because they ONLY HAVE 1 or 2 pitches worth throwing. If you put Dice-K in the BP, he will throw 5 pitches, because his slop is as good for getting outs as his FB. If Joba's #3 and #4 pitch are effective, there is no reason he can't use them out of the BP.

If you throw only 2 pitches, I guess it's a little easier on the batter to 'guess' what's coming.

Did Joba's mega-fame in 2008 go to his head? (DUI?)
Is he working hard?
Is he in PRIME shape?
Does he have the best attitude... regardless of his role?

Joba has NOT failed, but he has not suceeded the way we had hoped. I'm not sure you can blame this solely on the Yankees. Ultimately, it's Joba's arm and Joba's head. HE must put it together.

If he was on KC and allowed to start/pitch every 5th day in the traditional manner, would he be further ahead? Probably. But with his kind of talent, IMHO, it is up to him (with the help of the coaches and other resources the Yankees provide) to get it together.

I believe Joba will Start next year. Cashman is all to aware of the value of an above average starter. If Joba has his arm and his head together, he will be successful.

This is part of being on the Yankees. They won't punt a season to develop Phil, or Joba, or Carlos Pena. That's just the way it is, and guys who want to wear Pinstripes, have a adapt.

After all, Phil and Joba both got rings.... right?

12 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:03 am

Joba, Phil, yada yada yada..I'm just besides myself with joy to see a Clark Griswald "Vacation" reference in the title of this post. Kudos!! What a series of films, and oh that Beverly D'Angelo..yowza!! G'night Banterites, hope to wake up tomorrow to follow a winning game thread!

13 Diane Firstman   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:09 am

The all-time leader in pitching appearances, Jesse Orosco, came up as a jerked around reliever/starter.

14 Just Fair   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:11 am

[12] They've treated Joba like Clark in the Octoberfest Dancing scene. : ) I do think he will be in the rotatioin next year as well. And I sure as hell wish Sir Phil good health. Go get 'em, Kid.

15 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:19 am

[10] yeah, his current developmental status appears to be paused. I agree with william that a big part of the problem is the de facto 8th inning guy mandate.
I'm just saying it's too early to say what Joba's career line is going to look like, and what role he'll play in the long run -- and I think that will be determined more by Joba, than by the organization's master plans.

16 rbj   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:26 am

Question for everyone: how do you think Earl Weaver would have handled Joba & Phil? I think he'd have used them as relievers for a season or two, then put them in the rotation and let the chips fall where they may.

This is a situation where the Yankees recent success has gotten in their way. The fans aren't willing to sit a season or two out of the playoffs (or even winning seasons) while young talent develops. it would be easy to just slot Joba & Phil at the back end of the rotation and let them suffer failure while they learn to pitch at the MLB -- AL East even, level. But that might mean missing the playoffs for a year or two. Heck, weren't we all disappointed in 2008, partly because the Yankees didn't get Santana, when Cashman decided to wait a year to get CC? (It was the right decision, IMO). I just think there's such pressure to win now that the Yankees are afraid of having two rookies in the rotation, because that might mean a bad season.

17 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:28 am

[15] Would it be best for Joba's development as a starter, today, if he were a one inning reliver in the show, a long man in the show, or a starter in the minors? Which one would be best for the Yankees chances in 2010?

18 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:43 am

[17] If you're determined to make Joba a starter, the best place to be now would be the minors.
Best for Yanks now? Hate to say it's probably the role he's in now, which to be fair to the Yanks is still being determined. I don't even know what a long man is anymore. Just a mop up guy? If I were the Yanks, I'd plan to use him 2-3 innings at a time. At least 4-5 outs per appearance. But again, what does Joba really want, and is he expressing it to Eiland, and Girardi?

19 seamus   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:52 am

I think Joba has ruined Joba. The Yankees didn't "jerk him around" before he started struggling as a starter. He started to struggle as a starter before he approached his innings limit last year and they decided to shake things up. In fact, his first extended layover appeared to result in some rejuvenated Joba. But that was it. I think in part his arm was tired. While his innings were reasonable, his pitches per inning were going through the roof. And that was his fault. He was nibbling, wasn't going after hitters. Maybe because he couldn't with the slower fastball. I'm a bit of a head case so I don't mind saying that I think Joba is too. There's nothing wrong with that but he's clearly (in my mind, obviously not a fact) still trying to figure things out in that sense.

As for Hughes, I backed the decisions (my opinion was unpopular here) to make him the 8th inning guy. I also have no problem with the idea of an 8th inning guy. The Yankees had a lot of come back wins last year - for good reason in my mind. Anyhow, I don't really want to debate it, but I'm certainly happy with last years results.

20 Jon DeRosa   ~  Apr 15, 2010 10:52 am

[18] I agree on all counts. But I think the future "career line" you speak of in [15] starts to diverge from a path determined by joba himself each time they take him off the logical track.

still time for anything to happen, but i was really hoping that both guys would be stars in the rotation together by now, and currently i'm just hoping one of them becomes a star in the rotation ever.

21 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 15, 2010 11:27 am

[10] Sample size. Let's wait and see how Hughes throws as he settles into the role before coming to a definitive conclusion.

[16] Weaver would have had serve as long men throwing 100+ out of the bullpen, assuming they pitched well enough to warrant that kind of work. Also, if Weaver didn't have a place for either in the rotation, they'd remain in the bullpen until they were proven to be a better option. Weaver's Orioles, like the Yankees, were a win now team.

I don't think the Yankees are making a mistake by shuffling Joba and Phil between the rotation and the bullpen. I think they are making a mistake by having each perform short reliever roles when they do wind up in the bullpen.

[18] I don't agree with that....unless mechanics are an issue. Otherwise, I think there is more to be learned throwing 100 relief innings in the majors than 150 minor league innings as a starter.

22 Sliced Bread   ~  Apr 15, 2010 11:39 am

[21] yeah, good point. I was just thinking of the best way to build up his endurance and confidence, but you're right that he'd learn a lot more facing major leaguers. I think we agree he's where he should be for now.

23 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 15, 2010 12:48 pm

[21] I agree. If Joba pitched 3 innings every 3 games, he would have.... GUESS WHAT!.... 162 IP. Now that's too much, but it would be EASY to get him 100+ IP and still use him effectively. AND..... if he was not good pitching the 6th, 7th and 8th, they he may not have the stuff to be a Starter, and could be relagated to the BP for good.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver