New York Yankees Joba Chamberlain throws a pitch against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in New York

Joba Chamberlain finally got his full season to start and things didn’t turn out as the Yankees had hoped. His splits crashed and he wasn’t the same pitcher. At the same time Phil Hughes established himself in the bullpen after being unable to stay healthy in the starting role.

In the minors Chamberlain had an elite strikeout rate and continued to show that in the majors as a reliever.  Overall a pitcher will always have lower strikeout rate as a starter and you can see that in his career K/9 as a starter in the majors at 8.4, while 11.9 as a reliever.  That number is still a great number, but something happened this year.  His K/9 dropped to 7.61 and his walks rose as well.

This has to be partly due to his loss in velocity going from 97 in 2007 to 95 in 2008.  He then dropped to 92.5 this year as a full time starter.  There is obviously some velocity drop being a starter to preserve his arm.  I have the feeling this amount has some to do with his shoulder problems in 2008.

It’s tough to say he would return to a 95-97 mph reliever and dominate again in that role, but as a starter it might be time to expect more of a pitcher around the 4 ERA mark unlike the elite 3 many thought.

So why not just bring Hughes back to the rotation? He has the same drop in strikeouts as a starter, but is still holding a solid K/BB split in his time as a starter.  His numbers would be slightly down as a starter, but that sounds as good as a decreased Chamberlain.

His injury history has also been largely freak injuries.  Health is a skill though and being unable to have 100 IP in a season yet is a big concern for the Yankees.  Is there any less worry about his health though than Chamberlains shoulder?

Obviously the Yankees won’t make a decision like this until spring training and see who is healthy and more effective.  Looking at there projections though it looks like Hughes is the favorite to have success in the rotation.  Here is their CHONE projections.

Player Age G GS Won Lost IP Hits BB SO HR HB Runs ER ERA R vs Rep
Joba Chamberlain 24 27 27 9 7 145 141 62 138 17 8 75 69 4.28 26
Phil Hughes 24 22 22 8 5 116 109 41 109 13 5 56 52 4.03 25

The projections weight their health against them, but in 5 less starts Hughes would be about the same.  I think the better question right now is not who will make the better number five pitcher, but maybe who would be the better reliever and be more valuable in the pen.

If Chamberlain still has the 11 strikeout per nine inning pitcher in him he should return to the pen.  That is a big question with the health and a big chance with Hughes showing he can do it in 2009.  If it was up to me I would return Chamberlain to the pen as his ability to get hitters out was elite.

The wrong choice could be disastrous for the Yankees as trying to jerk them around during the season could be more troublesome for their health.  Once they make the choice they need to stick with it through the season.  While I would never wish ill off someones health I sure due hope the Yankees make the wrong choice.