New York Yankees 24-year-old right handed pitcher, Joba Chamberlain has been under much scrutiny during his major league career. Joba first appeared in the bullpen with the club in 2007. In 19 appearances during that season, Joba threw 24 innings resulting in 6 walks, 34 strikeouts, and posted a 0.38 ERA. After the 2007 season, fierce debate broke out between Yankee management about Chamberlain’s role on the team as a starting pitcher or reliever. After only 24 Major League innings, Hank Steinbrenner went on to annoit Chamberlain as the “Yankees’ Josh Beckett”. Tension also rose between media outlets as one notable New York radio personality kept screaming that the kid(Chamberlain) “had a second skill”.

Ultimately, Chamberlain performed in both roles in 2008 and 2009 due to the infamous ‘Joba Rules’. Joba Rules stated that Chamberlain would not be permitted to go above a certain amount of pitches thrown per season. This number was never disclosed to the public. The Yankees allowed a 57 inning increase from 2008 to 2009.  In 2009, Joba made 31 starts, posting a 9-6 record. Joba had 133 strikeouts over 157 innings. His ERA was 4.75. More staggering, Joba’s average fastball velocity has dropped from 95 MPH(2007) to 92.3 MPH(2009). Is this a product of energy conservation from starting instead of relieving? Did Joba get tired during the season as a starter?

We’ll ultimately find out this season because ‘Joba Rules’ are over. In the past two seasons, Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland had to worry about appeasing management by limiting Chamberlain innings. ‘The kid gloves are off on Chamberlain. He’s not going to have any restrictions, so Joe (Girardi) and I are not going to have to go into the game thinking, ‘Oh, he’s got 85 pitches or six innings or whatever comes first.’

There is no guarantee, however, Chamberlain will win the Yankees’ 5th rotation spot. The Yankees also have right handed pitchers, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre in the fold. Ultimately, I think it’ll be won by whoever performs the best between Hughes and Chamberlain during Spring Training.  We will have to closely monitor Grapefruit League action this spring.

Prediction: From the way Eiland spoke about Joba, I assume that he’ll be the 5th starter this season. Phil Hughes was excellent in the bullpen last season(51 innings, 65 strikeouts, 1.40 ERA during the regular season). Gaudin and Mitre will be solid long relievers and can be used in case of an injury. For this season, I would go with Joba as my #5 and start the Phil Hughes starting pitcher experiment next season after Andy Pettitte retires. Will we see that tantilizing 98-100 MPH Joba fastball we saw in 2007 this season? He’s great when he doesn’t hold anything back. I hope to see more of that in 2010. Ultimately, I’m sure a lot of teams would die to have pitching depth decisions over two bonafide arms in Hughes and Chamberlain.