Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time To Adjust The Joba Plan

Brian Cashman, Joe Girardi, the Joba Plan just ain't working and it's time to make an adjustment.

The issue isn't trying to protect Joba Chamberlain's 23-year-old arm by limiting his innings. The Verducci Effect is a legitimate cause for concern. The issue is how the Yankees are trying to accomplish it.

Joba (8-4, 4.34 ERA) allowed seven runs on nine hits and three walks in four innings, including a five-run, 44-pitch fourth inning, and a Yankees comeback fell short in a 10-9 loss to the Rangers at Yankees Stadium Tuesday. New York's lead over Boston in the AL East was trimmed to six games.

That makes four straight poor starts for Joba since the Yankees began their plan of spacing out Joba's starts in attempt to limit his innings and have him available as a starter for the postseason.

The plan isn't working out so well.

He's allowed 19 runs on 27 hits and 15 walks over 20 innings, while striking out 17. That's on the heels of a three dominant starts coming out of the All-Star break, when he was able to get into a rhythm and carry that over from start to start.

But since the Yankees began starting Joba irregularly, he has had trouble with his command, struggled to put hitters away and has been rocked.

The plan, while it will limit Joba's innings, isn't helping him on the field and something needs to change. Maybe in three or four years, Joba will be able to handle pitching on longer rest, but he is still a kid and maturing. He still has a lot to learn, including how to handle time between starts.

But right now he can't do it, and the shame of it Tuesday was that after jumping out to a 4-0 lead on a two-run double by Hideki Matsui and a two-run homer by Jorge Posada in the first inning, the Yankees should have had an easy win.

But Joba just didn't have it, giving back two in the second before that disastrous five-run fourth. Still, when Robinson Cano homered in the bottom half, the score was 7-5. Some good relief pitching and the Yankees would have been in good shape.

But Chad Gaudin was no better than Joba, allowing three runs in 3-2/3 innings on three walks and seven hits, including homers by Nelson Cruz and Michael Young.

That proved all the more frustrating when the Yankees scored four runs in the ninth, and appeared to be in position to pull out the dramatic victory with runners on first and second and no one out after Cano's two-run single.

Joe Giradi then called on Nick Swisher to bunt. Unfortunately, Swisher failed to get the bunt down, popping up for the first out.

Girardi made the right call with the wrong person.

The proper play there is to bunt and move the runners to second and third, where the tying run can score on a fly out. Of course Melky Cabrera would have been walked to set up the force at home or double play, but that would also have brought the red-hot Derek Jeter to bat.

The problem is Swisher is not the right person to have bunt.

Look, I agree in theory at every major league should be able to bunt. It's the fundamentals.

The thing you have to remember about Swisher is that he grew up in the Oakland A's system, playing Moneyball-brand baseball, which absolutely does not believe in giving away outs with sacrifice bunts. As a result, it's likely Swisher never, ever learned how to lay down a bunt.

The mistake Girardi made was not in calling for the bunt, but in not calling on a pinch hitter to do it. If he wanted to keep Swish in the game, Girardi should have let him swing away.

And after Swisher's failure, Melky hit a line drive to short that was turned into a double play when pinch runner Jerry Hairston Jr. was beaten to the bag after first taking a step to third, putting a cap on the heart breaking loss.

But Joba's ineffectiveness is the primary reason the Yankees lost.

He is scheduled to start again Sunday on normal rest. My advice to the Yankees is to keep him on regular rest and when he gets to about 150 innings pitched for the season in about four starts, move him to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

I realize that means he might not be able to start in the playoffs, but here's the reality about the postseason: you don't need four good starters to make it to and win the World Series. It can be done with two -- as the 2003 Arizona Diamondbacks (Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson) proved -- and the Yankees have three very strong ones in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte.

They can get through the three playoff starts the fourth starter would make with Gaudin. Heck, they won in 1996 with an utterly ineffective Kenny Rogers.

Stop messing with Joba's routine and just let him pitch.

Runners In Scoring Position
5-for-10 (.500)
309-for-1,161 (.266)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
92-for-342 (.269)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
244-for-889 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Wednesday vs. Rangers, 7:05 p.m., YES, ESPN2
Derek Holland (7-7, 4.72) vs. Pettitte (10-6, 4.25)

Pettitte got the win despite not pitching well in Boston Friday. Look for him to bounce back with a big effort to get the Yankees back on track.


Unknown said...

Hmmm..... I agree that this isn't working, but I prefer having 4 solid starters in the playoffs as opposed to 3. Seriously, 150 innings??? That's a joke of a limit. But moving him to the bullpen at the end of the year is not the answer. More than the fragile arms that the Yanks brass is trying to protect, they should be more concerned with messing with a young guy's head, which is the more likely scenario here.

An innings limit isn't the best gauge of stress on an arm anyway. It doesn't tell the story - was it a 10 pitch inning or a 40 pitch inning (like last night)? Was it a clean inning or were there guys on base? Throw it all out the window. It's the end of August. He's gotten his spaced out starts. Now let him go and get it! How they didn't plan better for this is beyond me!

Unknown said...

Jason, I'm shocked you're actually trying to use the pitches per inning argument. I just doesn't fly.

For those who don't know, SI writer Tom Verducci did a study a number of years ago and found that when the workload of a pitcher 25 or younger is increased by more than 30 innings from the previous season, the following year he tends to be less effective and more susceptible to injury. It's not an absolute, but the data has shown Verducci's theories to be accurate.

And every year, Verducci puts out a list during spring training of young pitchers at risk. This year's candidates were Cole Hamel, Jon Lester, Mike Pelfrey, Chad Billingsley, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Dana Eveland, John Danks, Jair Jurrjens and Jon Niese.

But the reason the pitches/inning don't matter is because of pitch counts. All young pitchers now have pitch counts of around 100 per game. The only issue is whether a pitcher uses up those 100 pitches in 5 innings or 7 or 9. That means the number of pitches a pitcher is going to throw is a known and a constant. If a pitcher makes 35 stars, he'll throw around 3,500 pitches. The variable, then, is whether he'll throw 175 innings or 220+.

In the case of Joba, he's thrown around 100 pitches in 23 of his 24 starts (one was cut short in the first inning after being hit by a line drive). He's thrown 130-2/3 innings so far, for an average of about 5.4 per start. That means his typical inning is somewhere between 17-20 pitches. He just hasn't had many 10-pitch, stress-free innings.

All that leaves the Yankees in a quandry. Last season, Joba had his profession high in innings and it was only 100 pitches. Yes, the 160 innings the Yanks are capping Joba at isn't enough to get through a season, but how much further can they reasonably push him? That's already a jump of 60 innings, so just trotting him out there straight through and into the playoffs is a poor, poor option.

Meanwhile, this spacingout of his starts absolutely is messing with his head, resulting in starts that are no better and possibly worse than what Gaudin and Sergio Mitre can offer ... and there's no gurantee that Joba will be able to switch the switch and simply turn it around in the playoffs.

The only other option that then makes sense is the one I'm suggesting that moves him to the pen for the rest of this season. It would be the last time that would have to happen because starting next year, Joba should be able to go enough innings to complete the season.

I do think the Yankees did have a plan for Joba when the season started, but it got scrapped when Chien-Ming Wang was injured and Phil Hughes solidified the bullpen.

Of course, the Yankees will have to go through this again with Hughes next year, when he's moved back into the rotation. ... Yes, Cashman, Girardi and the organization still view Hughes as a starter in the future.