Start Me Up

Bottle or draft?

Fries or onion rings?

Starting or Relieving?

You really can’t go wrong with any of the first four choices.   They all taste good and your selection probably depends on what mood you are in.   Because, really, how can you go wrong choosing anything associated with beer (except for a certain hotel inManhattan) or anything fried?

It is that last choice which can be particularly hard and if chosen incorrectly can lead to severe consequences for both player and franchise.    Exhibit A would be Joba Chamberlain.

First, let me start off by saying if the choice were mine, I would always take the side of making a pitcher start.   The guy pitching 200 innings is more valuable than the guy pitching 75 or 80 innings.  Some of you are probably screaming about how Mariano Rivera has probably been the most valuable Yankee over the last 15 years.  That is probably true and I would not argue against that point.  However, people, he is the exception and not the rule.   Rivera’s value and greatness is usually measured more by the playoffs than the regular season.  To get to the playoffs, you need quality starting pitching.  The Rays succeeded in 2011 because James Shields threw 11 complete games and the starting staff’s ERA was 3.53, easily leading the American League.  For all the hype of “Moneyball” and on-base percentage, the reason why the A’s were successful was because Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder were making  a combined 90 starts per season.  Don’t get me wrong, you need good bullpens particularly if you want to go deep in the playoffs.   This year’s Rangers were a perfect example of that.  However, many relievers run hot and cold, great one year, mediocre the next, average the following season.  Starting pitchers tend to be more consistent.  In 2012 CC Sabathia will probably win at least 18 games again.  Can you picture  David Robertson posting another 1.08 ERA in 2012?

Back to Joba.  He was brought up in 2007 and immediately there was something called “the Joba rules” where he couldn’t pitch more than an inning at a time, couldn’t pitch back to back days, couldn’t watch “Family Guy” on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you name it.  The idea was the Yankees were grooming him to be a starter which eventually he became at the end of the 2008 season and into most of 2009.  However, there was always this cloud hanging over him about starting or relieving and about the number of pitches thrown and skipped starts that eventually led to a couple of seasons where he wasn’t the Joba Chamberlain of 2007.  He was hurt most of 2011 but when he came back as a reliever he was starting to be dominant once again.  Will 2012 see an overpowering Joba Chamberlain or will we see the mess that was 2010?

I was glad to see Chamberlain get the chance to start and would have rather have kept him there and work through his issues.  Anyone that throws that hard and has three or four good pitches needs to be a starter.   I think he became ineffective and then hurt not because of starting but because the Yankee organization bounced both his body and his mind around like a basketball debating his future as a pitcher.   

Recently, the Rangers signed Joe Nathan to be their closer and move Neftali Feliz to the rotation.  Feliz almost became a member of the rotation last Spring but it was decided he was needed more in the bullpen because there were no other closer options.  Feliz can hit almost 100 MPH and has a command of four pitches.   A guy like that needs to be pitching 225 innings per year.   You might say Feliz is better off impacting 65-70 games instead of 35.  However, as we have seen time and again, closers can fall off without warning.  All you need to do is look at Eric Gagne and Jonathon Broxton.  They were indeed outstanding but their greatness was very short.  As a starter, the odds are Feliz will have a better chance of helping his team for 15 consistent seasons than 5 dominant ones.


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