I decided to take a look at, recently, who adds more value to a winning team – a lights-out, stellar, set-up man in the bullpen or a starting pitcher having a solid, albeit not off-the-charts great, season.
Why go with a stand-out set-up man and not a starting pitcher who’s also great? Call it the “Joba Factor” – as this is about Joba Chamberlain and we pretty much know that he can be a great 8th inning pitcher but we cannot assume, yet, that he’ll be a “Cy Young” type starter. (But, since I’m hoping that he’ll be, at the least, a well above average starter, I’m going with that.)
I looked back at the American League, from 2004 through 2007, and picked – from winning teams – four great set-up seasons and four above-average starting seasons. And, then, I looked at how many Win Shares (WS) each season was worth. Here’s the results:
Starting P YEAR RSAA GS WS Kelvim Escobar 2004 15 33 15 Freddy Garcia 2005 15 33 18 Barry Zito 2006 14 34 18 Chien-Ming Wang 2007 21 30 16 Set-Up Man YEAR RSAA G WS Tom Gordon 2004 22 80 15 Cliff Politte 2005 19 68 12 Joel Zumaya 2006 24 62 12 Rafael Betancourt 2007 29 68 15
As you can see, in the A.L., recently, a stellar set-up man on a winning team is usually good for 12-15 Win Shares. And, at the same time, in the A.L., an above-average (but not awesome) starting pitcher on a winning team is usually good for 15-18 Win Shares.
Based on this, I would offer that the claim of “A stud in the pen setting up your closer is more valuable than a solid starting pitcher” doesn’t hold much water. Actually, it’s a push.
Of course, if you’re talking about an “ace starting pitcher” then it really swings the other way. For example: In 2004 Curt Schilling had 22 Win Shares for Boston. In 2005, Mark Buehrle had 23 Win Shares for Chicago. In 2006, Johan Santana had 25 Wins Shares for Minnesota. And, in 2007, Josh Beckett had 19 Win Shares for Boston.
So, it’s safe to project that an “ace” in the rotation, on a winning team, is worth around 19 to 25 Win Shares in a season. And, that’s better than the 12 to 15 that you get from a stellar set-up man (also on a winning team).
Based on all this, it does suggest that the best place for the Yankees to use a talent like Joba Chamberlain is in the starting rotation. At the worst, it’s six of one, haf-dozen of the other. At the best, it’s a better position for Joba to add more value.