• Where Joba Provides The Most Value

    Posted by on May 23rd, 2008 · Comments (10)

    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.

    Comments on Where Joba Provides The Most Value

    1. hopbitters
      May 23rd, 2008 | 11:39 am

      Set-up man is not a position. It doesn’t need to exist in the sport and only has value at times because the current “wisdom” is to baby pitchers and take up roster spots with more mediocre pitchers. So yeah, the best guys add some RS, WS, ERA+ or whatever metric is in style, but it’s really value that’s lost by not having a quality starter pitch those innings.

    2. sonnymooks
      May 23rd, 2008 | 12:13 pm

      I look at it this way.


      You want to know how important someone is, look at how much their market value would be.

      Mo Riveria is the greatest closer of all time, and he isn’t even the highest paid pitcher on his own team, and he just got a new contract.

      Starters make more money because they are worth more, then closers, then middle relievers.

      I wonder how many closers are in the top 10 highest paid pitchers in baseball, now granted, Joba isn’t hitting free agency anytime soon, but even when you get to his arbitration years, he would still get paid less for being a reliever then he would get as a starter.

      That alone tells you something. Also, back in spring training, when Joba did the “Rome is burning” show (the clip might still be on ESPN), he was pretty damn clear that he wanted to be a starter.

    3. May 23rd, 2008 | 12:28 pm

      Isn’t John Smoltz the poster boy for this kind of debate? It’s clear that even after he excelled in the pen that the Braves valued him more as a starter.

      A guy like Bob Gibson would have been lights out as a closer. Does anyone think he would have been anywhere near as valuable to the Cardinals in the bullpen?

      Who knows, maybe the Yankees screwed up by not starting Mariano all these years! (I think not, though, because he doesn’t have a variety of pitches, and his mental make-up is perfect for late-inning, high-pressure situations.)

    4. OnceIWasAYankeeFan
      May 23rd, 2008 | 12:58 pm

      I’m a little surprised at the choice of Betancourt as 2007 set-up man example. Did you forget about Okajima because of a Yankee blind-spot or did Betancourt actually have a better season by the chosen metric?

    5. hopbitters
      May 23rd, 2008 | 7:04 pm

      Betancourt had a higher RSAA (29 to 21) and ERA+ (312 to 214).

    6. May 23rd, 2008 | 10:17 pm

      Yes, that’s why I used him.

    7. May 31st, 2008 | 11:29 pm

      […] around a 4.00 ERA, while Steve Lombardi over at Was Watching ran an analysis that concludes that Joba probably better serves the Yankees in the starting rotation as opposed to being a set-up man.  I would like to see what that analysis shows when comparing […]

    8. January 1st, 2009 | 10:56 am

      […] not handle the burden of starting. While starting is his preference, the team’s biggest need, and where he would offer great value, seeing Joba used out of the bullpen in 2009 – setting up Mariano Rivera – would not shock […]

    9. January 3rd, 2009 | 10:36 am

      […] on May 23, 2008 I took a look at this question and offered the following: As you can see, in the A.L., recently, a stellar set-up man on a winning team is usually good for […]

    10. May 28th, 2009 | 11:14 pm

      […] time, last year, regarding the best way to use Chamberlain, I wrote: So, it’s safe to project that an “ace” in the rotation, on a winning team, is worth around […]

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