If all goes well in spring training for the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain is likely to start next season in the Yankees’ bullpen, as part of the team’s effort to limit his innings. Chamberlain will go to spring training and, at the outset, prepare to pitch out of the rotation, along with five other rotation candidates: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina and Ian Kennedy. Assuming that none of the other five has a physical or performance breakdown, Chamberlain would then open 2008 in the bullpen, as a set-up man, for at least the start of the season — under the Joba Rules.
The Yankees want to restrict the number of innings Chamberlain throws, and working him out of the bullpen for at least a couple of months will allow them to do that. Chamberlain may return to the rotation sometime in the middle of the season, depending on the Yankees’ needs.
Remember Tom “Flash” Gordon? He came up as a starter in the minors. In 1986, in the Rookie League, he made 7 starts after he was drafted and signed. Then, in 1987, he made 16 starts in A-ball. Gordon’s 1988 season was somewhat like Joba’s season this year. Then, Gordon started out in A-ball, then went to Double-A, and then the big leagues…making 28 starts overall…at the young age of twenty.
However, in 1989, the Royals started Gordon out that season in their bullpen.
Pitching from the pen, as a 21-year old, Gordon was a monster. He started the 1989 season going 10-2 in his first 33 games and the league was only batting .175 against him. Then, on July 17, 1989, the Royals moved him back into the starting rotation – and he remained a starter through the 1990 season.
After 1990, Gordon’s role went back and forth. He pitched out of the pen and started for the Royals in 1991, 1992, and 1993. Finally, in 1994, the Royals put him back, full-time, in the rotation. And, Flash remained a starter until Boston converted him back to the pen near the end of the 1997 season.
In retrospect, to date, Gordon has been a better pitcher out of the pen than as a starter in his career. Tom has faced 5,543 batters as a starter and allowed an OPS of .725 – whereas, out of the pen, he’s faced 3,366 batters and allowed an OPS of .609.
What does this all have to do with Chamberlain? Other than showing Joba would not be the first hot pitching prospect to come up as a starter and then get jerked around a bit, between the rotation and the pen, not much, really. I just hope the Yankees don’t bounce Joba around as much as the Royals did Gordon. And, to be honest, if Chamberlain does start out well in the pen, I expect the Yankees to leave him there – as long as the rotation is not in flames.
It would not shock me to see Chamberlain set-up Rivera in 2008 and then start to work into closing some games in 2009 – and then becoming the main closer in 2010.