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Posts Tagged ‘FanGraphs’

With the recent acquisition of Rafael Soriano, the seemingly ageless question of whether Joba Chamberlain should be moved back into the starting rotation has resurfaced. It’s a question that has plagued the Yankees ever since Joba exploded on the scene as Mariano’s set-up man in the second half of the 2007 season.

Really, nobody thought the question would be a topic of discussion heading into this season. Joba was given a shot at the #5 spot last spring and lost to Phil Hughes. Going into this offseason, he seemed destined to be given a legitimate chance at earning the 8th inning role, despite his erratic pitching in 2010. After all, the Yankees were the consensus pick to land Cliff LeeAndy Pettitte wasn’t supposed to semi-retire. There wasn’t any room for Joba in the rotation and 8th inning duties looked to be a battle between him and David Robertson.

My, what a difference a few months and one type A free agent signing can bring. Now the 8th inning role is filled and the 7th inning features Joba, Robertson, Boone Logan and Pedro Feliciano, while the rotation features world-beaters Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre. Given the way the pitching staff has suddenly been reshuffled, it’s no wonder the question of Joba’s proper role has resurfaced.

There are plenty of statistical reasons for making Joba a starter again. Mike Axisa of RAB has the usual arguments listed here. There’s also another reason moving Joba to the rotation makes sense: as currently constucted, the ‘pen doesn’t have a long man – the guy you bring in when the starter blows up in the 3rd or 4th inning. Last year, that role was filled by Mitre and Chad Gaudin. The rotation as currently set, with three guys who have a history of falling apart early in starts (not only Nova and Mitre, but the volatile and erratic AJ Burnett), that role looks to be more important than ever this year. After all, the back end of the pen is solid. The middle looks solid – but all six of the guys the team is counting on will wilt in the second half if they’re logging 1/2 of the teams innings.

The argument against Joba starting boils down to two problems: first, how healthy is his shoulder? Second, will he ever display the consistency to be effective over 7+ innings every five days – or is he more of an AJ-lite?

As to the question of health, we’ll never know unless Joba is returned to the rotation, it seems. Last year, his average fastball clocked in around 94-95mph, ending a three year decline in velocity. But, Joba also threw fewer pitches than in any full-season – 30% fewer. Was the increased velocity the result of a lighter workload not taxing that injured shoulder? If returned to the rotation, how will tripling his pitch count affect his velocity and control? (Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs)

The maturity question is another one that’s hard to gauge at this point. If it’s true that being bounced around from one role to another makes a pitcher great, then Joba should be ready to become the next Bob Gibson. But all the evidence thus far points to pitcher who has difficulty controlling his emotions, which is the principle reason he was relegated to the pen in the first place.

Of course, the Yankees could sign a back-of-the-rotation type over the next 4 weeks (Justin Duchsherer, perhaps?), relegating Mitre back to the pen or Nova back to the minors and rendering the whole question moot.

For now.

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So, it looks as though the Texas Rangers are the winners of this year’s perennial Cliff Lee sweepstakes. Does this mean the Yankees can expect to meet them in the playoffs?

Texas is currently 50-35 and in first place in the AL West. Adding Lee will undoubtedly help their starting rotation, which currently consists of Scott Feldman, CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter and Dustin Nippert.  Rich Harden is also in the mix, but the oft-injured righty is, well, injured yet again. Lee is better than any of these guys and will only improve on the group’s combined 4.27 ERA, which is currently the 8th best mark in the AL. By comparison, the Yankees rotation has posted a 3.79 ERA, 3rd in the league.

However, Texas sent their starting 1st baseman, Justin Smoak, to Seattle in the Lee deal. It’s not that Smoak was hitting at the level expected of him – but he was the only 1st baseman on the 25 man roster. The Rangers could return to using Chris Davis at first, or try putting one of their outfielders there. I doubt either move is particularly palatable to them, but the rules say you can’t play without a 1st baseman (or with 5 outfielders).

Texas is in a weak division, where one of their rivals just got a lot weaker. FanGraphs projected the Rangers to win 93 games before the Lee trade, so you have to figure adding Lee’s 4.0 WAR should pencil them in for 96-97 wins. That will be enough to get them into the playoffs, likely as the #2 seed behind the Yankees – which means they won’t face each other in the divisional round. Right now, that figures to be Yankees/Tigers and Rangers/Rays. The question for Texas will be, has adding Lee done enough to get them past the top two teams in the AL and into the Fall Classic?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

As for those of us in the Evil Empire, we can be content to watch the Rangers empty their farm system in an attempt to get a ring. After all, we know where Lee is headed this upcoming offseason. :)

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