Six good innings better than one great inning

April, 1, 2009
04/01/09
5:44
PM ET
Ah, the gift that keeps on giving:

    Joba Chamberlain had his best outing of the spring Tuesday, limiting the Reds to five hits and two runs in 51/3 innings. He was so good, in fact, that he pitched the Yankees almost to the point where, ideally, Joba Chamberlain would come into the game.

    And that's the problem.

    Not even Joba, as good as he is, can fill two roles at once. He can start a game or he can finish it.

    The Yankees, who have an abundance of guys to start their games this year, think it's a good idea to take the greatest two-inning pitcher since Mariano Rivera, circa 1996, and turn him into just another starter.

    I think they're nuts.

    The reality with starters is that they are six-inning pitchers on most days, seven- and eight-inning pitchers on their best days.

    In four out of every five starts, they are going to need a guy to come charging out of that bullpen in the seventh inning to hold the game until the closer gets there.

    A guy like Joba Chamberlain.

    But Joba isn't doing that anymore. Greater baseball minds than mine have analyzed this situation at great length and determined that Joba for the first six innings every five days is better than Joba out of the bullpen five times a week.

    I say that's like hiring Picasso to paint your garage door or asking Mozart to come up with a toothpaste jingle. Many can start; few can finish. Joba can finish. He was a great setup man, and someday he'll be a great closer. Those commodities are a lot scarcer on the market than starting pitchers.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but nobody believes this except for a few ink-stained BBWAA members. Usually I wouldn't even bother mentioning it again, but Wallace Matthews' language here compels me:

Commodities?

Scarcer on the market than starting pitchers?

Look, the markets don't work perfectly. Not in baseball or anywhere else. Generally, though, they do a pretty good job of reflecting scarcity. Shortstops who hit home runs usually make more money than shortstops who don't. Starting pitchers who win games generally make more money than starting pitchers who don't. And effective starting pitchers generally make more money than effective relief pitchers. Why? Because the former are scarcer than the latter.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the two highest-paid starters this year will be Johan Santana and CC Sabathia, who between them will earn $34 million (a figure that jumps significantly in 2010). I believe the two highest-paid relievers will be Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriguez, who between them will earn $23.5 million (which will not jump significantly in 2010).

It's always been this way, and always will be this way, because of course a pitcher who can give you six or seven good or great innings is almost always worth more -- is scarcer -- than a pitcher who gives you one great one. Everybody in baseball knows this. Well, almost everybody. Just watch out for the ink stains …

(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)

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