The Joba Chamberlain Question Proves too Much for Steve Phillips

September 10, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

September really is the best month to be a general sports fan.

It’s been mentioned already by other writers so I won’t rehash it extensively, but the first month of college football, the ramp up of the National Football League, and the stretch run of Major League Baseball conspire to steal millions of hours from American employers as the leaves turn.

For a baseball nut such as myself, it’s the first time all year that I begin to follow other postseason races with a similar zeal as that typically reserved for the San Francisco Giants.

As such, I feel obligated to pay homage to the media gorillas like FOX Sports and ESPN. Thanks to the big boys, I get to see other contenders in living color—an opportunity that wouldn’t exist otherwise and, until relatively recently, didn’t.

ESPN, in particular, has an amazing array of sports programming if you take an objective step back.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, like many other gigantic corporations, the heavy-hitters have succumbed a bit to the “quantity not quality” mantra.

When I was working for Advanced Micro Devices in Austin, I saw the same thing start to happen to Dell Computers—what was once the model of high-tech efficiency and customer satisfaction became an edifice capable of blotting out the profitable sun from its competitors. Once that happened, quality gave way to market share as the primary driver of the bottom-line.

Guess what happened to quality? Those of you who’ve received a lemon from Dell—something once absolutely unthinkable—can give testimony.

Instead of a computer that crashes when you breathe on it, the media giants produce shoddy analysis package in unfounded arrogance. Meanwhile, the audience gets tortured during telecasts by color commentators who pompously stammer away about the proper strategy or personnel decision despite often being rejects from the very positions they judge so righteously.

Which brings me to Steve Phillips (again).

I just don’t get it.

WHY is this guy considered one of ESPN’s best? He’s packaged with Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser, who are certainly two of the elite in ESPN’s stable. That would seem to indicate the suits consider Phillips at least adequate by comparison, which is utterly insane.

Stevie is sickeningly dismissive and condescending when discussing what such-and-such player, coach, or general manager has done completely wrong. Ironic, considering Phillips was one of the more fantastic failures in recent memories during his stint as the New York Mets’ GM. You’d think someone who fell flat on his smug face in the biggest sports market in the country might’ve learned a touch of humility.

Apparently not.

For instance, the crew spent a good portion of the game discussing what the New York Yankees should do with Joba Chamberlain—to relieve or not to relieve, that is the question.

The Bulldog set a high bar as he gave an insightful and logical foundation for his respectful disagreement with the pinstriped brass. Hershiser felt Joba would’ve been a good replacement for Mariano Rivera and a lights-out set-up guy until assuming the closer mantle, so he saw him more as a reliever.

However, the former Los Angeles Dodger great was also quick to point out the various changes the young Bronx Bomber could easily make to increase his efficacy. Aw Shucks Orel astutely emphasized Joba’s age—almost 24 years worth—and how anything before 25 was gravy as that was the age most Major League pitchers are sincerely ready to start dealing.

I think Chamberlain should be a starter, but Hershiser’s got several things working for him: (A) he’s not incredibly smug; (B) he was a great success inside the game; and (C) his logic is sound even if I like a different line better.

More importantly, the final impression Orel Hershiser left on the matter was that the former Nebraska Cornhusker is still learning i.e. the situation is still very fluid.

Cue Steve Phillips.

Once the axed Mets’ GM was done talking, you’d think Joba Chamberlain was a total disaster as a starting pitcher. You’d think moving him back to the bullpen was a 100 percent no-brainer. You’d think the San Diego Padres were hanging crooked numbers on him whenever he took the bump.

I believe Phillips referred to him as an “ordinary” starter after babbling on about “a young Roger Clemens” for what felt like an eternity. I understand he was talking about Clemens’ performance, but—given all that Roger Dodger’s been up to recently—perhaps there was a better analogy available?

Then he launched into a comparison between the Yanks’ treatment of Chamberlain and the Tampa Bay Rays’ handling of David Price.

Phillips outlined how the Rays started Price slowly and then put the pedal down as the season wore on such that the green southpaw is still available for full starting duty in September. On the other hand, the Yanks started the season with the hammer down and are easing up as the stretch hits, leaving Chamberlain available for only three-inning bursts.

The unmistakable implication being the Rays, who currently look dead in the water, made the right call whereas the Yankees, who are currently coasting to the American League East pennant, blew it.


The solitary bone thrown to Chamberlain by Phillips was to praise the flamethrower for performing well before management decided to ease off the workload.

Look, I won’t pretend to know the right answer to the Joba Chamberlain question. Nor will I brazenly discount Orel Hershiser’s thoughts on the matter, considering he should know a thing or two about good twirling in the Show.

Of course, I will say that Steve Phillips proves, once again, that he is a delusional self-impressed jackass. Or at least he plays one on television.

Joba Chamberlain has taken 26 starts in 2009 and thrown 136 2/3 innings, which is already at 36 percent increase from his 2008 burden. He is 8-5 with a 4.41 earned run average, a 1.53 walks-plus-hits per innings-pitched rate, 117 strikeouts, 67 walks, 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings, a .270 batting average against, and a .787 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against.

Those are pretty good numbers in a vacuum.

Those are crazy good numbers if you’re a 23 year old kid who’s been yo-yoed between the bullpen and first inning while toiling in the AL East.

I realize Joba doesn’t have to face his own juggernaut of an offense, but the division still features (at various times) Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, and Ben Zobrist. Phew.

That’s a whole lotta thump, either be reputation or reality. It’s shredded some arms that are currently looking like they still have some steam left in ’em after being burped out of the Junior Circuit’s eastern division. And it tore through others that were just visiting.

Oh, there’s also the tiny little matter of performing under the psyche-eroding scrutiny of New York City and it’s millions upon millions of expert analysts. You’d think a guy like Phillips might appreciate that aspect of Chamberlain’s achievement in particular, given how the Big Apple took a big dump on his resume.

Furthermore, it takes longer to become an effective starter than it does a reliever. The firemen can come out of the ‘pen with guns a-blazin’—they need not hold anything back for the second and third times through the lineups, either in terms of effort or weapons. All of which makes the entire equation simpler; there’s not the same urgency to develop mentally as well as physically.

So of course, as Phillips repeatedly stressed, Chamberlain looks special in relief work while losing some luster when taking the ball from the jump.

Unfortunately, Steve emphasized the myopic limitations that probably doomed his endeavors inside baseball’s power structure. If you have a guy who stands a wonderful chance of developing into a frontline starter (as Joba was in college), THAT is far more valuable than any reliever save possibly a guy like the Sandman.

The problem is you don’t develop a Mariano Rivera—a force like that falls directly from the Baseball Gods’ hands. The prize of the Yankees’ homegrown staff would undoubtedly make an excellent closer, but would he be unique in the way Rivera is?

I’m not so sure.

Even then, a potential starting ace would arguably be a more valuable asset for the long haul (which is why I respectfully disagree with Orel Hershiser).

Apparently, none of this matters to Phillips. To him, the situation is unbelievably simple—the aforementioned bullets dismissed with each incredulous stutter as he expounds on the merits of Chamberlain, the Reliever.

I readily admit Joba Chamberlain’s brightest future may very well be as keeper of the ninth inning, which means Steve Phillips might ultimately be correct.

Yet he still manages to fail the test.




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