The Yankees had said before spring training even began that Joba Chamberlain doesn’t have an innings limit anymore, which meant no more Joba Rules, and, we’d assumed, no more of the interminable starter-or-reliever debate. Dave Eiland, though, isn’t so sure about that last part. From what he tells John Harper, either he doesn’t believe the company line about Joba being a starter in the long run, or the company line has changed.
Says Eiland: “I think we’ve all seen the difference in him when he starts and relieves.” The stats back this up: He’s got a 4.18 ERA and a 1.480 WHIP as a starter, versus a 1.50 ERA and 0.983 WHIP as a reliever. He also strikes out 3.5 more batters per nine innings out of the bullpen. He goes on to explain that Joba must show the same aggressiveness as a starter that he showed as a reliever, something even Chamberlain doesn’t think is possible.
We’d point out that his numbers as a starter are hurt by how much he’s been jerked around — after the All-Star break last year, in particular — but we’re not here to argue one way or the other. (Well, we are a little. For the record, we think Joba should start, though the only convincing argument for him going to the bullpen isn’t that he’s more valuable there — he’s not — but the one Eiland makes that he might prove to only be effective in relief.)
Instead, we have to wonder: Hasn’t this year’s roster already been constructed so as to include Chamberlain in the bullpen? The Yankees have never been too keen on Chad Gaudin taking the ball every five days, and while Sergio Mitre or Alfredo Aceves could theoretically transition into starters, it’s appeared obvious to us that Joba would occupy one of the slots at the back end of the rotation. Also, wasn’t the whole purpose of last season to stretch out his arm to the point where he could throw as many innings as necessary?
For what it’s worth, the depth chart on the Yankees’ website lists only four starters, and has Joba in the bullpen below Phil Hughes. And though Hughes might be a starter in the long term as well, he’s got an innings limit now, meaning he’s basically in the same position Joba was a year ago. It’s also possible that we’re reading too much into a couple of quotes uttered by the Yankees pitching coach three days into spring training. We hope it’s that.