We're going back to the future again with Joba Chamberlain and a Steinbrenner shouting his opinions on how the "idiots" are running the Yankees like a guy at the corner stool after one too many boilermakers.
Of course, Hank Steinbrenner not only inherited from his father the Yankees ownership but also the right to run his team as he sees fit. And he has a reasonable point.
Yes, the idea that Chamberlain's 100-mph fastball demands a spot in the starting rotation is overly simplistic. (Do we move Kyle Farnsworth into the rotation, too?) But Chamberlain will almost certainly have more value pitching on a 200-inning pace than an 80-inning pace even if we assume substantial regression in the longer role. I've given up trying to persuade anyone that the best use of Chamberlain would be as a 120-inning reliever. Such talk is tantamount to a human rights violation in the modern era of counting pitches and awarding those so-called abuse points
Let's assume the move will be made. Who do the numbers say should be replaced in the current rotation? And is there someone hiding under a rock like Chamberlain last year, when we pleaded our case for him as a bullpen savior a month before he was promoted? Also, what should the expectation be for Chamberlain as a starter? We'll use our formula for converting relievers into starters to set the bar.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that Mike Mussina has to go in Joba's favor. But Mussina is the Yanks' third-best starter at the moment. That definitely says more about the April of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy than it does about Moose. But there's no guarantee the growing pains of these Yankees young guns won't last throughout the season. The expectation for young pitchers is that they will struggle. Even those who end up being great, collectively, pitch below league average their first full season.
Mussina is yielding fewer baserunners than both Hughes and Kennedy. And neither of the young pitchers is impressing when it comes to missing bats or limiting walks. Both sport ratios of about 1-1 here, a very strong argument for more Minor League seasoning.
Let's look at these three a little more deeply with the help of a great Pitch Data Summary tool featured at Baseball-Reference.com.
Mussina has generated swinging strikes 11 times this year on 319 pitches. That's five percent of strikes. At his peak, his rate was over three times that and it was 13 percent as recently as 2006. Last year, it was nine percent.
But Mussina's control is still good enough to allow him to maintain a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2-1, which is above league average. The problem with him now is the long ball -- he has yielded five homers in 20 innings. But consider he allowed 14 homers in 152 innings last year. Could he have lost that much stuff in the offseason? That swinging-strike stat suggests it is definitely possible. Still, I think it's unlikely.
Steinbrenner's comparison of Mussina to Jamie Moyer was pretty spot-on. Mussina hasn't lost that much velocity, but it's pretty clear he's going to have to be near perfect with his control and attack batters on the horizontal plane in order to have even moderate success.
Looking at Kennedy and Hughes the same way is depressing for those like me who were bullish on one or both. (I've maintained that Kennedy is overrated given his lack of stuff.)
Kennedy this year has generated swinging strikes on just 11 percent of strikes. In 301 pitches, guys have swung and missed 17 times. Hughes, though, is even worse: nine percent of strikes are swinging: 18 swings and misses on 336 pitches.
There is no sign of dominance from either pitcher. I am surprised that Hughes hasn't showed more stuff. I attributed his less-than-advertised velocity last year to his hamstring and ankle problems. But it looks like reports of a fastball that could touch the mid-90s were exaggerated.
Chamberlain gets batters to swing and miss on 20 percent of strikes. That's 14 times in 98 pitches.
Even more importantly, he's throwing strikes 70 percent of the time compared to 60 percent for Hughes and 55 percent for Kennedy. Kennedy's number is atrocious. If he doesn't get that number up to at least 65 percent he has no chance to achieve even moderate success.
My verdict: If someone goes for Chamberlain, it has to be Kennedy.
How should we expect Chamberlain to fare as a starter? There are too few examples of relievers moving into the rotation. It usually works the other way. The relievers turned starters we sampled saw a 14 percent increase in ERA and 18-percent decrease in strikeouts per nine innings and a 10-percent decrease in walks (which I attribute to sample-size problems). Starters turned relievers had a 30-percent decrease in ERA and 37 percent increase in strikeouts per nine innings and 18 percent increase in walks per nine innings.
I will assume that better-caliber pitchers made the move from relievers to starters. Let's find a midway point in those numbers and make an educated guess that the cost of moving to the rotation is a 30 percent decrease in K/9, 10 percent increase in BB/9 and 25 percent increase in ERA. I think that's a pretty conservative way to project Chamberlain.
The problem is that his numbers are so spectacular as a reliever that they're going to be out-of-this world no matter how you discount them in this translation. He's yielded only two earned runs in 30-plus innings with 42 K's and eight walks.
We can still use his projections, I guess. Give him a 2.50 ERA as a reliever with 100 K's and 25 walks in 80 innings and that comes out to a 3.12 ERA with 140 K's and 53 walks in 160 innings as a starter. You have to go with Option B given those choices.
I know that Brian Bruney has excited the faithful this year, but I still think he has control problems (five walks in 11 innings). I don't see anyone else on the big-league roster being able to replace Chamberlain as a dominant bridge to Mariano Rivera.
There are two guys in the Minors who may fit the bill. Alan Horne will miss another week or two with a strained biceps but scouts have told me that his stuff is almost in the Chamberlain class. He's 25 and struck out 165 batters in 157 innings in Double A last year. Scott Patterson is a tall and funky righty who will be 29 in June but who allowed 45 hits and one homer in 74 innings at Double-A last year (91 K's, 15 BBs). He has pitched well for Triple-A Scranton before being tagged for two runs on Friday.