The Cardinals are masters of this maneuver. Rotation members Brad Thompson, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro (on the DL) each had 10 starts and 20 relief appearances in 2007. Ace Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper moved from closers to starters. St. Louis GM John Mozeliak said longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan "has a model in mind of who can make the conversion generally it is big guys who have shown durability and have more than two pitches."Shocker, considering last year's use of Chad Billingsley by the LA Dodgers is the comparison this blog and countless others have referenced in illustrating the advantage and safety of such a program.
Chamberlain is certainly a big guy. And Gil Patterson, who worked as a pitching coordinator for the Yankes in 2006-07, vouched that Chamberlain's "curve and changeup are not far behind his fastball and slider, which are electric" and that "there is no question with stamina. He was throwing [last year] 95-96 [mph] in pitches 80 to 90."
But the two cases most similar to where the Yanks are with Chamberlain involve Santana and the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley.
The Dodgers righty was 22 last season, the same as Chamberlain this year. It was his first full major league campaign. He opened with 23 games in relief (6-4, 3.09 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 35 innings). He followed with 20 starts (8-5, 3.38 ERA with 101 whiffs in 112 innings). In total, he pitched 147 innings and began this year as a full-time member of the rotation, a combo similar to what the Yanks envision for Chamberlain between 2008 and 2009.
And Dodgers GM Ned Colletti cited almost the same reasons for Billingsley's usage pattern in 2007 as the Yanks offer for Chamberlain in 2008: "He was ready for the big leagues. Our bullpen was comprised in such a way that we needed him there to start. We got him big-league time and experience without extending his innings or putting him in danger physically. . . . By the end of the year, we wished we had two of him because when we took him out of 'pen the 'pen suffered."
Johan Santana is the other example many [including Sherman] use as a measuring stick for Chamberlain:
Santana climbed from 1081/3 innings in 2002 to 1581/3 innings in 2003, and then in his age-25 season began a four-year stretch in which he became exclusively a starter and led the AL (9121/3 ) in innings before joining the Mets. Santana's arm probably was protected by the gradual innings progression, as the Yanks New York Yanke hope they are doing with Joba.
"At this point, I would have to say, yes [that the 'pen was good for him]," Santana said. "Back then? No. I wanted to be a starter my whole career. . . . I learned a lot in the bullpen. It gives you more time to think, and I went through every possible situation as a pitcher. You're exposed to everything out there, and I'm a guy who's always watched and listened. If Joba does the same thing, he'll be fine."