Joba Chamberlain will never, ever, be as dominant, per inning, as a starter, than he was as a reliever. If that is what you are searching for, a reliever that can throw 98-100 MPH for an inning or two at a time, while striking out 12.75 batters per nine innings, then fine. If you are searching for those same numbers as a starter, then, Good Luck! But there is a reason that Joba appears more dominant in the pen, it’s because he can max out and increase his velocity to its fullest, because its easier to do that over a shorter period of time. It doesn’t mean that he is “better,” or more “valuable” in the bullpen.
This is a debate that the media salivates over. Bloggers all over, experts everywhere, analysts around, they all debate this. Joba Chamberlain HAS ALWAYS BEEN A STARTER. Why not give him a shot at the Major League level? It isn’t as though Joba started 12 games, and had an ERA over 5.00. Or that Joba struggled some in the minors in the beginning games. Joba has had success starting at every level, that he has ever played at, ever, ever, ever. His Minor League numbers indicate pure dominance: 88 innings, 135 K’s, 27 walks, 2.45 ERA. Ok, that is the minors. So what about the Majors? 65 Innings, 74 K’s, 25 walks, 2.76 ERA. Pretty good, right? It is a small sample, Joba did give up sixty hits, so it wasn’t as though he was “unhittable.” But do you remember this past season when Joba dominated the Red Sox and threw a shutout against Josh Beckett? Well, that is an indicator of what he is capable of. Learning to throw in the Big Leagues is a process, there is time that it takes to make the transisition, especially since the Yankees placed him in the bullpen first.
Believe me, I understand when people consider him to be a better option as a dominant reliever, because they have seen him do it at the Major League level. But what I saw last season, and what I see in the numbers, Majors and Minors, is that Joba can be a good starter, maybe even great, although I don’t want to label anyone great, those expectations are ,well, great. He just needs the chance to prove it. If he gets the chance, pitches well, everyone will forget about Joba the reliever. And as far as I am concerned, Joba the starter is > Joba the reliever.
The Boston Red Sox have made three signings recently that I very much like. Individually, aside from money and years, they don’t look that great. John Smoltz is coming off a serious arm injury and may not be ready to pitch the first few months. Brad Penny had injury problems last season, and one cannot realistically project how many innings, or of what quality he will give the team. And instead of having a little house out back of Rocco Baldelli’s house, one that he owns, with a kitchen, bathroom etc, that he rents out to his brother or cousin. He instead has an ER, with doctors sitting around twiddling their thumbs, much like they do in the bullpen, while watching Baldelli hit (When HE does, in fact, hit).
But then one takes a deeper look at the way the Red Sox roster is constructed, and they come to the realization that each one of these moves is a plus for the team. The Red Sox have four spots in the rotation locked up, secured, gated.
Tim Wakefield: aging veteran who will be appoximately league average while giving a decent amount of innings.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Good stuff, above average results. Plays like he is jumping off a bridge, only to catch his balance most times.
Josh Beckett: Likes to play with the fans emotions, bouncing back and forth between good and great. And has always seemed to miss a few starts throughout the season.
Jon Lester: Very good left hander, with very good stuff. Including a wicked cutter, that appears to be a 4-seamer, until…wait…it moves in on the hands at the last second, and the hitter cannot do anything with it.
But as I spoke of recently, the fifth starter is still up for grabs. Clay Buchholz could be that guy. Michael Bowden could potentially be that guy later in the year. But now Brad Penny or John Smoltz could be that guy, too.
As far as I know, Penny should be ready for the start of the season. How long he can stay in the rotation is less of a known. If nothing else, Penny can provide a few innings early on to let Buchholz appease the front office gods down in the minor leagues, and make his way up. Or Penny could start the year, and if he is not pitching all that well, Smoltz could take his job in May or June. Best case scenario, assuming that the Red Sox keep Buchholz (the Smoltz and Penny signings could lead to moving either Buchholz or Bowden for a catcher), is that Clay gets his stuff together and gives the Red Sox what they have been waiting for. Worst case scenario is probably the four pitchers combining in some way to give the Red Sox enough innings from the fifth spot to allow them to compete in the division. Individually, each pitcher has their “red flags,” but collectively they should give the team some decent innings throught out the year.
And this isn’t just about the fifth spot in the rotation when talking about Penny and Smoltz. Someone will miss a start or two, or more, due to injury. And having depth allows them to have someone fill in that isn’t terrible. Whether Dice-K fatigues, Beckett blisters up, or Wake’s back aches, they have someone to take that void for the time being. And that is important. And don’t forget the possibility that Smoltz and Penny succeed, letting Smoltz move to the bullpen, if he is capable, to give the Red Sox more depth out there.
And there was that other guy, Rocco Baldelli. If Baldelli was penciled in as a starter, on any team, then they better have a backup that is roughly as productive. Because expecting Baldelli to play 135+ games is unlikely, and unrealistic. But since the Red Sox have above average corner OF’s, and what should be a roughly average CF, then Baldelli is only going to be needed when Drew misses his 40 games, and when Bay might need a day off, or whatever else comes up. Baldelli should not be relied upon as a starter, but he could be relied on as a backup, and that is what he is for the time being. And Baldelli still has potential, still has talent. There is always a chance that since his condition is now thought, or known, to be treatable, that Rocco puts it all together and stays relatively healthy. If healthy, he should hit somewhat. Baldelli has never put up great numbers, but has been about average. The positive is that he is only 26, and his prime is just beginning.
None of the starters, as their own, should be entered into the equation. But all of them should serve a part, and a purpose, in helping the Red Sox compete a little more within the toughest division in baseball. All are coming in on one year deals, so there isn’t much risk at all. And all are coming in on affordable contracts, for a large market team even more so. No draft picks lost, but talent galore arriving (maybe). These are good moves, that may not seem like much, but may turn out to be significant.
An absolute GEM of a pitchers duel last night. Two arms that light up the radar guns with great fastballs, while mixing in pretty darn good secondary stuff as well. Joba is going to be a legitimate front end starter, if he is not there already. And rather than leaving it somewhat broad at “front end starter” I would declare him to be a future ace. However, “Ace” isn’t exactly an easy status to earn, and it is difficult to come by for any pitcher, no matter the talent, at such a young age. But we already knew this, right? I listen to the scouts for this sort of thing, Keith Law in particular, and they have been saying all along that he will become a number one starter, or at least close to it. But Chamberlain is coming along quite nicely. And all those naysayers who believe that a set up man/reliever has as much value as a dominant starter, where are you now? Joba dominated for seven innings last night. Don’t expect seven innings of shutout ball each night, but it is just an indication of his worth, and what could take place on any given night.
As for Beckett, he was great too. There was trouble on the basepaths throughout the game, but other than a few hard hit singles up the middle, he controlled the Yankees bats nearly as well as a pitcher can. There was not a single extra base hit, and he let only one scamper to first base without nudging the ball into play. There were weakly hit balls that fell in. And as Remy noted, the cutter was the “cause” of three hits. But none of those three singles were hit well at all, one being Giambi’s slowly hit grounder opposite the shift. Beckett threw a GEM as well, Joba was just a little better.