Thursday, June 5, 2008

Joba a Question Mark? Moose an Exclamation Point!

Now that it's been done, now it can be told: Moving Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the rotation is like being in the summer of '56 and asking Elvis to sing opera. Maybe he could do it, but... why?!?

Johnny Damon is saying what I've been saying. The Yankees have a better chance of winning games with Joba in the bullpen than in the rotation.

If Hank Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman wanted him in the rotation, they should've noted that he began last season as a starter at Double-A Trenton (I saw him pitch 6 strong innings there, but they removed him after that, so they were babying him then, too), and kept him as a starter in the first place, instead of moving him to the bullpen in the second place and back to the rotation in the third place. How many good players, especially good pitchers, have been messed up because management doesn't know how to handle them?

From one end of the age spectrum to the other: Before this season, if you'd asked me if Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame, I would've said absolutely not. But he's turned things around. Whether that's due to buckling down in a contract year, or feeling better, or getting more run support, I don't know. But he looks like the Mussina of 2001 again.

With Andy Pettitte being inconsistent, and Chien-Ming Wang following a sensational start with a nasty slump, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy both being out with injuries, and Joba's status as a starter still a question mark, Mussina has recovered from a slump to become an ace again, a genuine exclamation point!

Last night, he beat the Toronto Blue Jays for his 259th career win. In the age of the five-man rotation, 250 wins may one day be viewed as a milestone the way 300 wins was in the four-man rotation era, which roughly ended around 1991 when Mussina debuted. He's never won 20, although he's won 19 twice and at least 18 five times, and he got his 9th of this season in the first week of June.

If he stays healthy, and the Yanks keep giving him five runs like they did last night, he could make it to 20 wins, another milestone that's been significantly reduced in this age of 5-man rotations and closers who aren't as good as Mariano Rivera -- who has also been an exclamation point this season despite advancing age!

Mussina also passed 2,700 career strikeouts last night. Keeping in mind that 3,000 strikeouts, while not as hard to get as 300 wins, is also affected by the era's mentality of starters going 6 or 7 innings every 5 days, instead of trying to go 9 every 4. So 2,700 is not only a lot, but it should receive Hall of Fame consideration, especially since Mussina has pitched pretty much (depending on when you define it as beginning) entirely in the 5-man rotation era.

His 2008 earned run average is slightly over 4.00, but for his career it's 3.71, for an ERA+ of 122 (meaning that, over his career, his has been 22 percent better than that of the rest of the league). His season WHIP (Walks + Hits, divided by Innings Pitched) is under 1.3, and for his career it's under 1.2.

His career winning percentage is .636. (Currently, Andy Pettitte's is identical, though his Hall qualifications are considerably lower.) This is a percentage better than the following 19 pitchers, all of whom were mainly starting pitchers from the 1920 start of the Lively Ball Era onward, and are in the Hall of Fame: In alphabetical order, Steve Carlton, Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Burleigh Grimes, Waite Hoyt, Carl Hubbell, Catfish Hunter, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Lemon, Juan Marichal, Hal Newhouser, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Robin Roberts, Red Ruffing, Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn and Early Wynn.

Of these, only Carlton, Feller, Grimes, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts, Ruffing, Ryan, Spahn and Wynn have more career wins, and Mussina may pass Feller's 266 this season, with Grimes' 270 and Ruffing's 273 well within range next season; of these, only Carlton, Feller, Gibson, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Ryan and Spahn have more strikeouts.

I guess being a curve/control pitcher instead of a fastball/domination pitcher helped, as "dominators" generally don't pitch that well at 39 without making adjustments -- whether said adjustments are mastering new pitches like, oh, I don't know, David Cone; or, shall we say, other adjustments like, oh, I don't know, Roger Clemens.

An oddity: Today, the New York Post had Derek Jeter on the back page, passing Mickey Mantle for 3rd on the Yanks' all-time hit list, with 2,416 -- Lou Gehrig is 1st with 2,721, and Babe Ruth is 2nd -- and Hillary Clinton on the front page. This is the first time I can remember either New York tabloid putting people with their backs turned on both cover pages.

Coincidentally, Jeter wears Number 2, and a lot of people are saying Hillary, who finished in 2nd place in the primaries, should now be the Number 2 on the Democratic ticket.

There's a difference, though: Jeter still has a chance to win in the fall. Especially if Jorge Posada comes back strong from injury, Mussina keeps this up, Rivera remains Rivera, and everyone --including Joba -- figures out where Joba belongs. Who knows, that may mean the rotation. But at the moment?

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