Confession: I'm a Yankees fan, which gives me, like any other Yankees fan, the right to opine about the best interest of Joba Chamberlain's arm. Mike Francesa's also a Yankees fan, and he hosts a radio show, which, apparently, makes him doubly passionate about the precocious righty.
For those who dare to live outside New York, here's a sports radio primer to catch you up: Francesa believes Chamberlain's future is in the late innings, serving as Mariano Rivera's setup man before taking the closer's mantle himself, instead of being a starter. For this season, at the very least, that argument makes sense. When Chien-Ming Wang returns, the Yankees will have five starters besides Chamberlain — Sabathia, Pettite, Wang, Burnett, Hughes — and in the playoffs, only three will be required. Why not shift Chamberlain back to his old role and shorten the game?
That's Francesa's position, and any caller would need sound reasoning to talk him out of it. But when one — Alex from Bedminster — phoned in Wednesday to say that Chamberlain has been one of the five best pitchers in baseball since he's become a starter, Francesa wasn't having it. For the record, Chamberlain has an ERA of 3.97 this year. He started 12 games last year and came in relief 30 times for a 2.60 ERA. In his rookie season, he sported a 0.38 ERA in 19 relief appearances.
A transcript of about five minutes from Francesaland, starting with the call and continuing after Alex was unceremoniously muzzled (audio here):
What are you talking about? Where are you getting that from? Five pitchers in MLB? There's three of them in this town. What are you talking about? His ERA this year is 4! You're out of your mind. Alex, you are lost. Wait, you're telling me, there are five — wait a second, Alex, there are five starting pitchers who have better statistics than Joba Chamberlain as a starting pitcher, you're trying to tell me that? Wait, wait, wait. Don't give me, since he's become a starter. Don't give me since he's become a starter. Give me the fact that you're trying to tell me that right now, he's one of the five or six best starting pitchers in baseball? Wait. What are you going off of, the basis of 30 innings? Hughes is a starter! Alex, Alex, Alex, wait a second, Joba, wait a second, Alex, what's Joba's ERA this year?
Wait, wait a second, ANDY PETTITE IS A STARTING PITCHER! Andy Pettite's a starting pitcher who's won over 200 games! What are you talking about? Andy Pettite can't pitch the eighth! Hey, Alex: Andy Pettite can't pitch the eighth inning! Get rid of him, get rid of him, get me the Joba stats for his career. I'll teach Alex a lesson here and show you the difference in the statistics since he's gone from being a relief pitcher to a starting pitcher. Why bring up Andy Pettite? He can't pitch the eighth inning. Andy Pettite! What is Andy Pettite, at the end of his career, after being a starting pitcher for 15 years, have to do with this? Why don't you bring up Maddux? Or Randy Johnson? Andy Pettite! What the hell does Andy Pettite have to do with this? Andy Pettite. And you're going to try to tell me, I don't know what world Alex lives in, that right now, Joba Chamberlain's one of the top starting pitchers in Major League Baseball? Where? He can't get through the fifth inning!
I'll go over each of his starts with you, where do you want to compare him to? Halladay's pitching today, you want to compare him to him? Santana's pitching tonight, you want to compare him to him? You want to compare him to Porcello's last five starts for the Tigers this afternoon? Get me Porcello's last five starts, he's pitching today, we'll compare them to Joba Chamberlain's. There's a guy no one's even heard of! How 'bout Greinke? You want to bring him up, at 9-1 with an ERA under 1? Joba's one of the five or six — come on, what is he talking about? Guy's got a 4 ERA, can't get out of the fifth inning. You want to talk about his hits per innings, strikeouts per innings, walks per innings, as a starter vs. reliever? You think you're looking at the same pitcher? You live in Neverneverland! You're not even looking at the same guy.
Tyler Kepner, The Times' longtime Yankees beat writer, wrote a more civil and articulate defense of Chamberlain's spot in the rotation, arguing that he's still 23, his starting numbers aren't that bad and finding a serviceable relief pitcher is much easier than cultivating an ace. Both sides have merit. But for the time being, I find myself in Francesa's camp, even if his argument in this case was more style than substance.
Or, in Francesaspeak: Joba Chamberlain is a setup man! He's responsible for the eighth inning! He drives a Dodge Stratus!