A Dog Chasing Cars

During the day (and night thanks to a certain "media personality") Tuesday, Joba Chamberlain made some small waves with his comments about his ability to be a starting pitcher; not surprisingly, he still thinks he can start. Obviously, this isn't going to happen for the Yankees. Joba will be a free agent after this year (time sure flies) and presumably, he'll look for some team that will let him start. The last thing you need this afternoon is another beating of this long dead horse, but I can't help it; this situation is still a thorn in my side. Call me an apologist. Call me an optimist. Call me naive. Whatever you call me, I don't believe Joba Chamberlain failed as a starter. He never even had the chance to fail. Joba was not great by any means. Though he flashed brilliance in 2008, he did get away with some shaky in-zone command. In 2009, he was inconsistent. However, the wider judgement across baseball and definitely across the Yankee organization, was that if he couldn't do it then, he'd never be able to do it. A fairly irrational absolutism pervaded the discussion of Joba's role. The attitude seemed to be 'Well, Joba can't do it now, he'll never be able to do it, so he's not a starter anymore.' For whatever reason, he was expected to be a finished product despite a dearth of professional experience.

Certainly, the absolution didn't reside on just one side of this debate. Of course Joba was going to be a front line starter. There was no doubt! However, he wasn't given the chance. Joba may never have become the ace pitcher some of us envisioned him becoming. He could've been ineffective. He could've gotten hurt to the point where it would've been impossible for him to throw 180-200 innings a year. The latter sort of happened, but they never quite tested him out again. Because he never got a chance to fail (or succeed for long periods of time), his career as a starter remains an open book in my mind. Regardless of all that, though, he didn't pan out as a starter. Some of the blame definitely lies with him as he didn't exactly make it easy for people who defended him as a starter, given his up-and-down performances in 2009. But, the organization's impatience with a young 20's pitcher in the league's toughest division still irks me.

If we take a step back from Joba and look at the pitchers with whom he's most frequently associated--Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes--we see something concerning. We can argue that of the "Big Three," Kennedy has been the most successful. What's concerning about that is that Kennedy had to leave the organization to reach (surpass?) his ceiling. There were other mitigating factors regarding Kennedy's departure (it was a trade, after all), but by fans, analysts, and evaluators alike, Kennedy was considered to have the "worst" stuff and the lowest ceiling with the smallest upside. Yet he's made himself into a successful starter in Arizona while Joba works as a reliever and Hughes still battles inconsistency. The Yankees definitely kept the two pitchers who were better at the time of the trade. What's more, it's possible (probable) that Kennedy--a pitcher whose possible 2010 role was unknown--would not have performed as well in New York as he has in Arizona. Still, the race was handicapped in the Yankees' favor and they somehow came up short.

Joba's comments don't bother me and any he makes in the future won't bother me either. I don't think he gets enough credit for not complaining about and commenting on the way the organization jerked him around, though he's certainly had right and reason to do so. The idea of Joba-as-Yankee starter is obviously over and done with, but it's a situation that will always bother me. The situation was, for lack of a better term, completely and totally mind boggling.

Looking back, it reminds me of the Joker's line from "The Dark Knight" about being a dog chasing cars and not knowing what to do if he caught one. The Yankees were long searching for high-end talent and when they got it, they didn't have the slightest clue as to how to handle it. To a lesser degree, it extended to Phil Hughes's situation and it makes me nervous for the future of not just Yankee starting pitching prospects--Manny Banuelos, Brett Marshall, Jose Campos, Jose Ramirez, Rafael DePaula, Ty Hensley, etc--but also the quartet of Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, and Mason Williams. The Yankees have been without premier position-player talent for a long time and when they did have a player who could be identified as such, they traded him away for thus far questionable returns. Until they prove otherwise, when it comes to prospects, the Yankees will be a dog chasing cars.