Monday, March 29, 2010

Joba Chamberlain and Francisco Liriano

The Monday print column is about Francisco Liriano and the continuing question: Should he be a starter or a reliever?

A similar long-running dispute exists with the New York Yankees and Joba Chamberlain (left).

Should he be a starter or a reliever?

As with Liriano, Chamberlain has a history of arm issues. Injuries caused him to drop into the supplemental round of the 2006 draft.

The Yankees have bounced him between bullpen work and the rotation and limited his innings as a starter in an explicit effort to protect his arm.

The Yankees had one rotation slot open this spring; Phil Hughes is emerging with that job. Chamberlain is back in the bullpen, and while general manager Brian Cashman says Chamberlain is a starter without a starting job, there are others in the organization who say Chamberlain should be a relief pitcher, period.

Two significant differences between the two situations:

  • The Yankees don't have a closer vacancy staring them in the face;
  • Chamberlain not only has bullpen experience, he has better MLB numbers as a reliever than as a starter.
The Yankees have taken a great deal of Internet (and broadcaster) criticism for their handling of Chamberlain. Some of that criticism comes from old-school types who pretend young pitchers aren't particularly vulnerable to overwork. (Bert Blyleven isn't the only such dude with a mic in front of his face.)

Some of it, oddly enough, comes from the same people who rip Dusty Baker for savaging young starters. And we've seen this before with Liriano; in 2006, there were voices complaining that the Twins should have opened the season with Liriano in the rotation.

The man pitched 120 innings and blew out his elbow. Starting him in April wasn't going to keep him healthy either.

There's no obvious answer to the conundrum. A pitcher is only useful if he pitches; and if he pitches too much, he's likely to get hurt, and then he won't be useful.

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