Monday, April 21, 2008

Stammerin’ Hank

By John Gottlieb
The Phanatic Magazine

So that man that preached patience with Yankee fans during the offseason has already decided to jump off the GWB because the Bombers can’t get out of their own way.

Hank Steinbrenner says only an idiot would use a pitcher with a 100 m.p.h. fastball as a reliever; only an idiot would take a prized prospect and switch him from a reliever to a starter in the middle of a season; only and idiot would take a dominant reliever and change his position, creating a hole at the back end of the bullpen; only an idiot would rush to make a foolish decision after 20 games.

Alright Hank, we get it. You wanted Johan Santana. You were willing to part with the youth that Brian Cashman has built up for a win now at all cost mentality. Anyone reasonable person would think that this would be brought up continually after the Yankees quest for a 27th World Series ended in a first-round loss, but no one thought we’d hear about this before the opening month of the campaign.

Phil Hughes is the second-youngest player in the majors at 21 and Ian Kennedy is 23. They were good enough to be productive contributing members to a team that came way back last year for a postseason birth. Hughes pitched well in the playoffs and Kennedy would’ve made the roster if he wasn’t dinged up. They are young and still need seasoning. It’s not the time to give up…yet.

There is no better back end of the bullpen then Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera. Not Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon. Not Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez. Not Carlos Mármol and Kerry Wood. And not Scott Linebrink and Bobby Jenks.

Baseball used to be a game where pitching and defense won championships. You can break it down even further and say that relief pitching wins you rings. You obviously cannot win a title with a bullpen that can shorten a game to seven innings…and that’s what Joba and Mariano do.

What’s even more surprising is that the Yankees have started each of the last three seasons like this and have made the playoffs each time. The have been awful. The Yanks have a 4.60 ERA, have given up 93 runs (89 earned), 181 hits, have scored a pedestrian 58 runs, and are hitting .231 with runners in scoring position. Throw on top of that injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and you have the making of a made-for-TV movie.

There isn’t a whole lot to be excited about right now if you’re the Yankees. But Joba is not a problem where he is and isn’t a solution for the woeful starting pitching.

Who’s to say that Joba will be dominant after a lineup sees his stuff two or three times in an evening? However, you do know that he is nearly unhittable in the eighth inning.

Hank is asking to destroy this phenom’s arm by making this switch midseason. What he’s demanding would require Joba to head to the minors for at least a month and then come back and make at most 15 starts.

But with those 15 starts who is going to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. Kyle Farnsworth? LaTroy Hawkins? Brian Bruney has done a good job and Ross Ohlendorf has shown glimpses but can those guys be counted on like Joba can?

The Bombers have been brutal, but after the Red Sox complete their four-game sweep of the Rangers on Patriots Day they will only be 3½ games in front of New York. And we all know that Baltimore will not keep playing at this pace and that the Blue Jays are one inning away from a coup d'état on John Gibbons.

It’s clear that like his father before him Hank likes to get his name in the papers and say foolish things from time to time. If he wants to talk about the Red Sox rivalry that’s fine, he signs the checks and it’s all in good fun. But when he says idiotic things like the future of Joba and how he wouldn’t have made the same move last year is just moronic. If Chamberlain wasn’t promoted to the bullpen last year then the postseason would’ve been played without the Yanks for the first time since 1993.

Now is not the time to panic, Hank. Smoke another cigarette, admire some more horses and keep your mouth shut when it comes to on-the-field baseball decisions.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but thank god for Brian Cashman.

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