Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Joba's a Starter. Get Used to It.

After last night's game I participated in the (usually) harmless activity of updating my Facebook status.

I changed it to: "Still think Joba belongs in the bullpen? Find another sport."

You would think that, being friends with mostly knowledgeable Yankee fans, I would find the majority of commenters agreeing with me. This was not so. Among the comments I received:

(By the way, if I've quoted you here, it's nothing personal. I promise we're still friends).

"the 12 k's further proves he should be in the pen... let him come in for 1 or 2 innings and strike out 6 hitters and give up zero runs."

"he's a bullpen kind of pitcher, he's not a "throw heat for 6-7+" innings kind of guy, he's a "throw fireballs for 1-2 innings" kind of guy, that's what made him the perfect setup guy for Mo, and a potential successor for Mo."

"I didn't watch last night's game, all I'm going by is what I've seen, and from what I've seen. Joba's style is better suited for the bullpen, where he doesn't have to tone down his fastball to maintain his energy level for 6+ innings. Besides, who says a guy with four pitches shouldn't be in the bullpen? We need someone who can get us to Mo without imploding, and if that takes a four-pitch repetoire, let's do it."

As you might imagine, I have quite the headache.

Let me break it down for you, all the multitude of reasons that Joba is--and should remain--a starter.

a) Joba's "stuff" is not #5-starter stuff, it's #1 ace. The only, and I repeat, only reason Joba is in the five spot instead of Pettitte is because of the innings limit.

Joba has made 17 career starts and in NINE of these starts--that is, more than half--he's pitched into the sixth inning allowing one run or fewer. That the offense hasn't always been there shouldn't be a factor here. Joba has no control over what the offense does or doesn't do.

If you caught it last night, over his first 16 starts Joba's ERA was 2.85. Only SIX starters were better in that time span, and they have names like Johan Santana.

b)If you're wondering about the innings limit, it's not a reflection on Joba's ability so much as it is a way to ease him into the starters' workload without, you know, destroying his arm.

I point you in the direction of the Verducci effect.

Think of it as though relieving is a sprint and starting is a marathon. A sprinter can't just go and run a marathon without proper conditioning. He'll hurt himself tremendously. It's the same thing: a starting pitcher cannot handle a sudden, drastic increase in innings pitched without injury risk; for a reliever-turned-starter the risk is higher.

Likewise, while we're on this topic, constantly moving Joba back and forth will destroy his arm. Not "may", but "will".

Starting and relieving are two very different types of pitching that result in different mentalities and different strain on the arm. We saw Joba get hurt last season going from reliever to starter even when the change was being made as gradually as possible.

It's like that old saying--abuse it and lose it.

c) I understand the bridge-to-Mo arguments, but, who then takes Joba's spot in the rotation? Hughes or Wang?

Both Hughes and Wang, when pitching well, are good pitchers, and show flashes of greatness. Joba's better.

Among the three, Joba's the only one whose ceiling, after a season in the majors, still remains "ace".

Let's not forget here, Joba is still 23 years old. He is going to struggle, at times, and what matters is not that he struggles but how he responds to it. Last night he had an awful first inning, but then responded by striking out 12 in five innings, and the last eight in a row, while not allowing another batter to reach second base until the sixth inning.

If he languishes in the bullpen, you set back his development and how quickly Joba can really help the team.

Would you rather have Joba pitch into the eighth, or come in to pitch the eighth?

d) It's easier to find other relievers than starters.

Relievers abound. It's much, much easier to find a relief pitcher that can get the job done than another starter that can give you Ace-quality stuff.

Surely, in the realm of relievers, there's one that can pitch the 8th inning. Brian Bruney was doing great till he got hurt; right now Phil Coke looks like the man, which is slightly ironic given that his career is a bit reverse-Joba.

If the bullpen continues to falter (which, alas, it looks like it will do), Cashman has a lot of moves at his disposal which are much easier than trying to recondition Joba for the bullpen and wreck his arm.

e) Seriously, has there ever been a relief pitcher with four plus pitches? Would you put Zach Greinke in the bullpen? What about Johan Santana, since the Mets could have really used a bullpen guy last year.

Joba helps the Yankees most as a starter. You'd best get used to it.