Kernan of The Post: Put Joba Back in The Pen

Kevin Kernan of The New York Post believes that Joba should be back in the bullpen now that they re-signed Pettite.  I disagree.  I’m not saying there isn’t a certain logic and some persuasiveness to returning Joba to the set-up position, with Swedski commenting in a different thread about grooming Joba to succeed Mariano. It makes some sense because Joba was terrific in relief, and success matters and adds a compelling dimension to that argument.  But to me, Joba’s stuff is too good to be used in 75-80 innings.  Especially after the rotation struggles and ensuing struggles from Ponson and Rasner last year, I object primarily more to how Kernan makes his argument than that he has a different viewpoint.  He states that

An eighth-inning dynamo is much more important to the Yankees now than a back-end starter, and besides, the Yankees have candidates for that fifth spot, including Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves.

This presumes a lot.  I don’t agree that an “eighth-inning dynamo” is far more relevant to the Yanks now that a back-end starter.  But more importantly, the so-called “back-end starter” is Joba, a guy with front-end stuff.  He’s not a decent occasional fill-in like Rasner, or a body with an inconsistent body of work like Ponson.  He’s Grade A, and the more innings he can go–probably about 150-170 this year if healthy–the better.  Kernan also ignores that the Yankees were dead last in the AL for much of 2008 in starters’ innings pitched, and finished 12th.  The Yankees not only need pitchers to perform well in starts, they also need steady contributions from several pitchers–not a cavalcade of mediocrity like last year–to provide them, and to minimize the wear on a bullpen that, not surprisingly, logged the second-most innings for bullpens in the AL.

Joba in the 5th spot is perfect.  He can get skipped now and then.  He has good enough stuff to dazzle at the back end, and to be a stopper if necessary right before Sabathia, with whose stuff Joba’s should mix quite well.  That’s something not to overlook–how the pitchers’ respective repertoire interacts with each other and looks to batters.  Seeing Joba and Sabathia back-to-back in the transition from fifth starter with ace stuff to the first starter with ace stuff will certainly be imposing, and is to me far more important to the Yankees than using Joba for only an inning at a time.

Additionally, Kernan states that the Yankees have candidates in Hughes and Aceves, which is true.  But again, Kernan presumes that Hughes is ready for the majors.  He might be, or he might need to hone complementary pitches such as the cutter he worked on in the Fall League.  Hughes certainly needs something to keep batter from sitting on fastball-curve ball, an will probably benefit from regular work in SWB working with the highly touted pitching coach Scott Aldred.  Aceves might be ready, but whether or not he can be effective over a full season with stuff not dissimilar to Rasner’s has me somewhat concerned.

It should concern Kernan, too, who also overlooks the deep list of bullpen candidates the Yankees already have without Joba.  Veras throws hard and should do well–probably not great, but well.  Marte is due to bounce back to his usually sharp form.  Coke was impressive in his short stint and might get moved back to the bullpen to add a second lefty, something I and others have advocated.  Humberto Sanchez is coming off an injury, throws hard, and will get a look.  Same with Albaladejo.  Mark Melancon has been groomed for set-up work in the minors and himself will get a shot, and may impress enough to make it to the Bronx.  In addition to Edwar for 6th-7th inning work, the Yankees don’t lack bullpen options.  They might not be lights out like Joba was.  But the bullpen was the most solid part of the team last year, performing consistently and often admirably as they were taxed by a depleted and ineffective rotation.

Just because the Yankees have shored up the rotation with key acquisitions, re-signings, and Wang’s welcome return doesn’t mean that all is well, that anyone can be a fifth starter.  A rotation is five effective pitchers, and the Yankees cannot afford to have the same question marks mar the rotation as they have for some time–since the end of 2003, actually.  2009 has the chance to reverse that laborious trend of uncertainty and lapses of ineffectiveness, and Joba in the fifth spot gives them the best shot at rotation consistency and depth that the Yankees have not had since they last reached the World Series.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 11:53 am  Comments (12)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i really can’t believe that people are still having a discussion over this issue. the man has 4 different pitches and can sit at 95. 200 ( eventual ) innings are more valuable than 80. relievers are guys that couldn’t start. why is this so hard to swallow?

  2. If I have to read one more piece about why Joba needs to be in the pen, I think I will become more psychotic than usual. These guys just do not get it. Starting pitching is more valuable then relief pitching because starters throw more innings. QUALITY INNINGS is the most important thing a pitcher provides. WHY IS THIS SO FREAKING HARD TO UNDERSTAND? If your starter shuts down an opponent for 7 innings then there is little chance that your opponent can come back in two innings. This depends on the deficit but you get my drift. I am going to go burn things.

  3. at last the wiz and I are in perfect agreement.

  4. I thought this post and the article on which it was based might generate some, shall we say, passionate viewpoints. Tim, there might be more such articles, so save some combustibles. Mike, you and Tim’s perfect agreement has a certain Jupiter-and-Mars alignment quality to it.

  5. ushering in ( with Obama ) a new Age of…

  6. Joba’s starting. If it doesn’t work out, he’ll go back to the pen. I can make a case for either argument, but at this point I, too, am ready to burn something!

  7. The argument will probably continue until Joba wins 20 and the CYA (and we can only hope that happens one day).

    No offense to Edwar, but our other hope is that a reliever won’t need to be used in the 6th or 7th inning too often this year. With this rotation, hopefully going deep into ballgames won’t be a rarity this year but the norm.

  8. I just touched up on this too after reading you and every other bloggers opinion on it. And I agree with you, but have held that viewpoint for a while now. Joba has always started, why not let him have the chance to do it?

  9. Jane, it seems that the Yankees have planned for just that with Joba, at least according to Pete Abraham’s blog post.

    Agreed, Mike S. I think that had something subconsciously to do with my discussing Edwar last in that list. He’s not bad, but not a guy I trust in an eighth inning set-up role at all. That would be ideal and is not a stretch with this rotation–6-7 innings as the norm and not the exception. As long as it’s healthy, this staff is built for just that.

    I clearly think so too, Joe. One can make a case for Joba succeeding Mariano someday, though I’d still rather see Joba start and he’s well suited for it. He’s also different with his stuff from Mariano in his early days. But to me, Kernan is way too presumptuous in his argument. He also downplays the importance of the quantity and quality of the innings Joba can and likely will provide as a starter.

  10. Thanks for the mention. Tim I loved you on YFCR but again I gotta disagree. People know my opinion but I will just emphasize it by saying a year 1996. Mariano was close to a CYA as a set-up man and the Yanks shut people downafter 7 equaled a World Series win. It was a great formula. I will be quiet on the subject forevermore. Don’t want any fires.

  11. Actually – yes – there are plenty of good reasons for Joba in the pen. The fact that many baseball people feel the same way should be some indication to you all that this is not some no-brainer.
    1) Aceves and/or Hughes can hold down the 5 slot.
    2) Joba was a dominant set-up man, the best in the game. He is not the best starter in the game.
    3) Every inning Joba pitches out of the pen will be in tight games. As a starter he may use up 7 or more good innings in a rout. He can influence MORE games from the pen even if he pitches somewhat fewer innings.
    4) He was injured as a starter, not as a reliever. This is a fact. If we lose him to injury again it doesn’t make much difference if he returns next year as far as THIS year’s team needs are.
    5) He throws HARD. His delivery and make-up may just plain be better suited to shorter appearances.
    6) It’s possible we find another super set-up man. It’s possible Joba will stay healthy and do well as a starter. But what we KNOW from experience says to keep him in the pen.

    More reasons than this too but in any case those who adamantly don’t see the other side of the debate apparently don’t want to.

  12. Swedski, no need to withhold your opinions in the future. People can disagree here, even heatedly at times, but still carry on just fine. Plus, my understanding from fire marshals nearby is that Tim’s burnings are “controlled burns” with ample water, foam, and sand on hand in the event that extras make their way into the blaze.

    Brad Pitt’s better-looking brother, I am iffy about your first point about Hughes/Aceves. They’re no given yet. I’d love to see either or both thrive, but Hughes especially needs to hone a third pitch. Batters sat on his fastball and curve last year. if nothing else he’ll stay sharp in SWB and will surely see time in The Bronx from someone’s inevitable injury. If he doesn’t, it’s a sign the Yankees are rolling–not bad either way.

    Also, Joba just may well develop into an ace with his stuff and excellent performances thus far. Maybe not, but his stuff is excellent. He might be able to influence more games as a reliever, but can influence far more innings as a starter, over the course of which some games might become blowouts. If so, he won’t need to go far and can conserve innings. On his injury as a starter, true, but that isn’t to say it couldn’t have happened as a reliever at some point. True that we know what we’ve seen with Joba relieving, but we also know now what we’ve seem of his starting, and it’s excellent–3-1, 2.76 ERA, 74 K/65 IP. People may disagree with each other here at The Heartland, but we’re a pretty good group. There’s not much rancor, and readers usually get a fair shake.

    In essence, I just want to make clear that, regardless of disagreements, you, Swedski, and others are more than welcome here.

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