Joba Chamberlain May Need To Go Back To The Bullpen

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Joba Chamberlain May Need To Go Back To The Bullpen
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Fresh off a dazzling two-hitter against the Oakland Athletics, Joba Chamberlain appears to have turned a bit of a corner as a starter—the A's weak lineup non withstanding.

And now he's probably going back to the bullpen.

Now, before I get slammed by people who accuse me of not knowing the value of a starter, please read on. This piece has nothing to do with ability and everything to do with conserving a pitcher's arm.

Most organizations use a plus 40 rule when it comes to innings. What that means is, teams don't tend to pitch guys 40 innings over their total for the previous season, so as not to wear them out.

This is not a rule set in stone, and yes there will be exceptions. But the Yankees have treated both Chamberlain and Hughes with kid gloves, and as such, they have a decision to make.

Chamberlain threw 100 innings last season. He's currently at 102 innings this season. Chamberlain struggles to work deep into games yes, but even figuring him at a mere five innings a start over the next 12 projected starts puts him at about 160.

I know what you're saying: "That's only a difference of 20 innings off your rule! Big deal!"

That's also a conservative estimate based on innings pitched. It also doesn't take into account the postseason. What if Chamberlain averages six innings a start? Now he's at 172.

If the Yankees make the postseason, and make it to the ALCS--again, just a guess--and he makes two more starts and adds on another dozen innings, you're looking at about 185 innings for the season. Twice the standard increase

That's the concern. That's a major jump for a guy as young as he is. Chamberlain is currently averaging about 88 pitches a start. He's thrown 1758 pitches this season. His current pace over an estimated 14 starts--including the postseason—would have him finishing the season with 2990 pitches after throwing 1711 last season.

I know I jumped from innings to pitches but I did it to illustrate a point. Throwing a ball overhand at 90+ miles per hour is not a natural motion. And having Chamberlain throw that many extra pitches is a dangerous game to play.

So what are the options? Hope for a freak injury that doesn't affect him long term? Keep your fingers crossed for some train wreck starts to keep the innings/pitch count down?

I don't really have a great answer. That's why I'm not a GM or manager. Here's one theory: Swap him with Phil Hughes.

Unlike Chamberlain, Hughes is probably going to miss his innings increase. Including time in the minors and the Arizona Fall League, Hughes threw about 100 innings last season. He's at about 70 innings so far this season. He gave the Yanks 13 innings out of the pen last month, and he's given them 11 this month. Let's assume 15 innings a month for him out of the pen.

That's another 34 in the regular season and then possibly another 10 in the postseason. So he'd be at 114. Still with 26 innings to spare.

If the Yankees started extending him now, he could possibly be able to start full-time by September.

I'm not exactly a fan of turning the bullpen into a tag-team wrestling match. But I'd really hate to see Chamberlain throwing 180 innings this season and then have arm trouble later. Maybe there's another option, but right now, none of them look appealing.

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