Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Joba's fantasy outlook

SARASOTA, Fla. - Joba Chamberlain has been a popular fantasy pick this year, going somewhere around the 10th-12th rounds in many leagues. That's a little surprising for a No. 5 starter, except when you consider hey, he's a Yankee and a bit of a sensation - from his college phenom days to his compelling relationship with his polio-stricken father to the "Joba Rules" to his off-field, um, activities. So what's his deal for fantasy?

I had a front-row seat Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium as Chamberlain made his final start of the spring against the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched into the sixth inning, allowing five hits and two runs and reportedly reaching up to 96 mph with his fastball (they don't display the radar gun readings at Ed Smith). He walked three and struck out six.

It's been a pretty successful spring for Joba - 3.60 ERA, eight runs and 20 hits allowed in 20 innings - and the Yankees are adamant about keeping him in the fifth-starter role throughout the year despite his past success as a reliever. There are some legit concerns, however. He's got just two pro seasons on his resume and hasn't pitched more than about 100 innings in either of them. That leads me to believe Chamberlain's going to hit a wall at some point in the second half of the season. The real question is whether the Yanks will be tempted to shift Joba back to the bullpen as Mariano Rivera's setup man - especially if the team is out of the playoff picture or the Damaso Marte/Brian Bruney bridge to Rivera collapses.

The bottom line is Joba's going to have value, but you might want to use him as trade bait in the second half. I'm penciling him in for about 12 wins and more than a strikeout an inning (as his career trends would indicate), assuming he remains in the rotation all season. But I do think New York will have to limit his workload at some point, either by removing him early from games or skipping some turns in the rotation.

Ultimately I believe Joba will be Rivera's heir as closer, but that's another story. If you can get him as a No. 3 or 4 fantasy starter this year, don't hesitate.

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