EditorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s note: The following is a guest submission from Tom, a friend of SportsAngle, Yankees aficionado and general baseball expert. (He knew Justin Verlander was good before the Tigers Ã¢â‚¬â€œ or anyone else — did) We hope for more from Tom when the spirit moves him, or a more regular role since nobody knows baseball better.
Anyone within 50 miles of New York who keeps even a casual eye on baseball news has surely been pushed to boredom by the exhausting debate over whether Joba Chamberlain should be used as a starting pitcher or a reliever by the Yankees. One more opinion on the subject isn’t needed — this explores the debate only in passing. What’s overlooked is the lack of patience shown by both sides of the argument — fans in particular.
Chamberlain’s first two months as a Major Leaguer enabled a tidal wave of hype that even the most talented pitchers wouldn’t be able to satisfy. An uneven transition to the starting rotation last season helped subdue the tri-state area, but a gem at Fenway Park — among other strong performances — kept followers wanting more than they can reasonably expect from a pitcher who will be 23 until September.
The problem is that when fans — and writers, especially in markets like New York — see what a player can do, they want nothing less than that level of production — all the time, starting right now. The truth is that Chamberlain’s best days are probably years away. And there’s nothing wrong with that. At his best, Chamberlain has shown the ability to silence a Major League offense for eight innings. At the same time, he has walked at least one batter in all but two of his starts this season — a sign that he’s still learning, and will be for some time. Just because he allows 10 baserunners in 3 1/3 innings doesn’t mean the experiment is over and he should be flung back to the bullpen. He isn’t anything resembling a finished product.
There are certainly exceptions — pitchers who pretty much turn the Major League learning curve on its head from the day they arrive. Dwight Gooden may be the best example, and more recently, Tim Lincecum has left nothing to be desired.
But pitchers who win the Cy Young Award in their second season are more uncommon than the average Joba cheerleader knows. Your team’s next big prospect may have torn up Triple-A and struck out Curtis Thigpen in his Major League debut, but he’s not Gooden and probably never will be. If he does win a Cy Young, you’ll have to wait for it, just like fans of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Randy Johnson did.
It wasn’t until Johnson’s seventh season that he walked fewer than four batters per nine innings. With 300-plus wins, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame, even if fans in 1992 were griping about his inconsistency.
So yes, leave Joba Chamberlain in the starting rotation and let him grow up there. Just realize that what he does this season is no indication of how well he’ll pitch in 2016 — if he’s even pitching at all then.