The New Joba Rules

The Post is reporting that the Yankees have decided to start Joba in the bullpen this season with a plan to send him to the minors in June and then back into the rotation after that. 

The thinking behind the move is that Joba can only pitch about 140 innings this year and if you use him as a starter from the get go, you burn out those innings by mid-August.  If he starts in the bullpen for the first two months and they use the same rules as last year he is only going to throw about 4-5 innings a week, putting him around 40 innings by the time he gets sent down to the minors versus the ten starts he probably would have made.  You then send him to the minors he makes four or five starts (probably another 25-30 innings) and you recall him for the second half of the season with 75 innings or so left in the tank. 

As an added benefit, you don’t enter the season with a hole in the bullpen behind Rivera.  You get the chance to see if one of the young arms can step up and take Joba’s place in the pen and you give Mark Melancon and Humberto Sanchez (this year’s most likely candidates to become Jobaesque) time to get back in shape.  

Those are good reasons, but I see a couple of problems with this move.

First, you are putting a lot of pressure on Joba.  He has to change mid-season again and then jump into the rotation in the second half of the season when the Yankees are hopefully in the pennant race.  Granted, this kid appears to be impervious to everything except flies, but it is a risk.

Next, what happens if Joba repeats his performance of last year and absolutely dominates baseball for two months while no other viable replacements show up?  What if Mariano gets hurt and Joba becomes the closer?  The Yankees are putting themselves in a very tough position with this choice.

And, if 140 is the "magic number" how will this prevent you from exceeding it?  With Joba back in the rotation at the halfway point, you probably can expect him to make 14 starts and that means a minimum of 70 innings, unless you shut him down in September.

I suggested in a previous entry that the Yankees try a six-man rotation, but I built that on the assumption that Joba could throw 160 innings. If the number is truly only 140 the Yankees have a bigger problem than I thought. None of the other kids are going to throw 200 innings and I have serious doubts about Mike Mussina’s ability to be effective for an entire season. Karstens, Rasner and Igawa are probably options A,B+C for the rotation right now, does that make anyone feel great? Would it kill the Yankees to make a phone call to sign an innings-eating type of guy right now? There are a lot of “names” still out there, Benson, Colon, Garcia and Lohse to name a few. Yes, they are either hurt or not that good, but the Yankees need to at least see if they would sign incentive-loaded deals. Maybe you get a repeat of Jon Leiber in 2004, nothing flashy, but solid league-average pitching. A lack of starting pitching depth put the Yankees into a hole they couldn’t climb out of in 2007, let’s hope they plan better in 2008.