No one debates that the Yanks are a better team in 2008 with Joba in the 'pen. Having the ability to shorten games to 6 or 7 inning affairs can be a huge benefit to a team (see 1996). The Yanks (and 99% of the blogosphere) are rightly adamant, though, that eventually, 200 innings of a special talent like The Beast as a starter are far better than 80 to 100 innings as a reliever. I am starting to believe, however, that Joba should spend all of 2008 as a reliever.
First off, Joba recently pitched for the 1st time this spring as a reliever. He needed all of 15 pitches to strike out the side showing his trademark 99 mph heater. Pitching as a starter, Joba was consistently 92-95 conserving bullets in an effort to maximize his innings. As a starter Joba's ERA this spring was 6.14. In his relief stint the other day, Joba was consistently hitting 99 mph and showed a far sharper slider than in his starts earlier in the spring. Of his relief appearance Joba said -
“It felt great. Just getting going, it’s like riding a bike. … I was more aggressive; just attack the zone. You let your competitive edge and your abilities take over. I think I did a better job of throwing my slider. It was back to the slider that I’m used to throwing and not trying to baby it.”
Just getting going? Seems like Joba is more comfortable in the 'pen. He's 22 and extremely emotional. Pitching out of the 'pen allows him to get all fired up when coming in to pitch and then use that emotion to dial up the heat on the fastball. As a starter he would need to temper that emotion and adrenaline in order to extend through 7 or 8 innings. As he ages I expect the adrenaline factor to decrease, but while he's young we should take advantage of it.
In keeping Joba in the 'pen for at least the 2008 season, the Yanks would be following a very successful example set by the Twins in 2002, 2003, 2004. After the 2002 season Twin fans were clamoring for them to put a certain 23 year old lefty in the rotation full time. Johan threw 108 innings in '02, pitching in 27 games with 14 starts; an average of 4 innings per appearance. In 2003 he again started the year in the bullpen and then moved to the rotation half way through the season.
Joba pitched 112 innings between the majors and minors in 2007 . Using the +30 rule, we can expect the Yanks to put a cap on him in the 140 inning range. The Yanks could easily get Joba to 140 innings as a reliever in 2008. All we would need to do is get Joba in around 60 games and average just under 2.5 innings per appearance.
I still believe that there is nothing more valuable than a true Ace, and I believe Joba will be one. I also think that giving a 22 year old who seems much more comfortable and confident in the bullpen a year or two to develop there is not a bad idea. The chances of Joba being the dominant, shut-down ace in the 2008 season are slim. The chances of him being a dominant, game shortening bridge to Mo are extremely high.Comfort breeds confidence, and confidence breeds success. As long as we make sure to get Joba the innings he needs to make the transition next year, I say let him dominate in the 'pen for 2008.