Let the Joba Chamberlain Debate Begin Again

Starter or reliever, reliever or starter?

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    There will come a day when everyone wonders what all the fuss over Joba Chamberlain was about. Whether he becomes an All-Star starter, an elite closer or any of the many points in between, there are untold millions who will wonder why people got so heated about an argument that didn't stand in the way of the Yankees winning a 27th World Championship. 

    It's February 2010, though, and that means we are still going around the carousel. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports Wednesday that if the season started today, Chamberlain would be in the bullpen with Phil Hughes taking a regular turn in the starting rotation. The rationale behind the move, per Sherman, is because Chamberlain was "a strutting fire-breather again. In the postseason. As a reliever."

    Getting in the way of a strutting fire-breather seems like dangerous business, but it seems worth noting that Chamberlain was hardly the second coming of Mariano Rivera in the playoffs. He was better than Hughes, to be sure, but he had his moments of struggles. How much fire is he breathing if Brad Lidge doesn't blow Game 4 of the World Series after Chamberlain got rocked by Pedro Feliz? Same results but in a much different package. 

    That miniscule sample size certainly doesn't equal the work he turned in as a starting pitcher in 2008. Yes, his velocity was down in 2009 and his results were less impressive, but it's hard to understand how six October innings created a sea change in the way the Yankees view Chamberlain. 

    Here's another log for the fire: Hughes hasn't performed nearly as well as Chamberlain as a starting pitcher and, unlike Chamberlain, doesn't have the variety of pitches that make him a better fit for a role in the rotation. You could use both pitchers as relievers, with the idea being that they could limit the amount of wear and tear on A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte and cover for Chad Gaudin as the fifth starter, but choosing Hughes over Chamberlain for 170 innings is hardly the slam dunk that Sherman makes it sound like. 

    Maybe the Yankees will be better with Chamberlain in the rotation or maybe they'll be better served deploying him as a reliever. We won't and can't know that in February. The only certainty is that it is time to pick a side and use Chamberlain like any other pitcher in that role until he proves that he isn't up to the task.


     

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.