Joba Chamberlain Needs To Stay in Rotation, Despite Innings Caps

Joseph DelGrippoAnalyst IJuly 31, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 19:  Joba Chamberlain #62 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Detroit Tigers on July 19, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

During Joba's latest start last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, I thought about the innings limitations the Yankees have supposedly imposed on his 2009 season. GM Brian Cashman is a big believer in those innings limits for pitchers under 25 years of age.

The so-called Verducci effect (named after the Sports Illustrated baseball writer) indicates that pitchers under 25 who have had a professional innings increase of 40 innings from the previous season are usually ripe for an injury or performance letdown the following season. 

Latest examples for this season included young stars Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Tim Lincecum, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Dana Eveland, Mike Pelfrey, Jon Danks, Jair Jurrjens, and Jonathan Niese.

Except for Eveland, who was demoted to AAA after a horrendous start, all the others on the "watch list" have had pretty good seasons. Since the demotion, Eveland has somewhat turned it around in Sacramento.

Anyway, the point is that there is no definite answer for why young pitchers get hurt or don't have good and improved seasons every year.

That is why the Yankees need to forgo the innings limitation of Joba Chamberlain for 2009.

There is no sense in knowing what will happen in 2010 with Joba if he throws 200 innings this season. Bert Blyelven threw 278 innings at the age of 20, and went from 69 innings at the age of 18 to over 200 innings a year later. He also averaged 291 from his age of 21 through 25, and he had a pretty long and successful career.

Since the All-Star break, Joba is a completely different pitcher—a winning pitcher. He goes after hitters early, was ahead in the count often, and worked quickly. Many times after throwing a pitch, Joba would get the ball back from Jorge Posada and be right back on the rubber.

That quickness and efficiency keeps the defense on their toes and ready every pitch.

Ray Miller was a great pitching coach for several major league teams, who learned from Johnny Sain. Miller's mantra was three-fold: 1) work quickly  2) throw strikes and 3) change speeds.

Joba is doing all three now and is successful. Now that is not to say all a pitcher has to do is those three things and they become winners, but when you have the pitching arsenal Joba does, it only enhances your chances.

There are several other things Joba did last night (and his other two starts this half) which were interesting. First, he never shook off Posada's signs. Joba took the sign, nodded and threw what Posada asked.

In the past, Joba would repeatedly shake off Posada, wanting to throw what Joba thought was the right pitch, not what Posada thought was the right pitch.

Would you rather listen to a pitcher with about 30 career starts in the big leagues or a catcher with 15 years of major league experience?

Glad that Joba thought so, too.

I would always trust the catcher in that scenario, as he has the experience plus a catcher is an impartial observer that the pitcher. In the past it was standard for the manager to ask the catcher about how the pitcher is doing, immediately after getting the "I'm good" from the pitcher.

It is great that Joba is listening to other people instead of still relishing the accolades he received back in 2007.

But what Joba was doing most of all was pitching inside. (This should be Miller’s fourth absolute.) Joba practically owned the inner third of the plate Wednesday night, continually throwing his fastball inside on the hands of the Rays hitters.

Joba's inside work returned a paycheck complete with weakly hit ground balls and lightly hit pop-ups and fly balls. Just when the Rays lineup began to look inside, Joba would pepper the outside corner with fastballs and biting sliders.

Joba can get away with pitches down and away when he is ahead in the count. The Rays leadoff hitter, Justin Upton, was continually baffled by Joba's in and out changing speeds routine.

The purpose pitch to Evan Longoria was a nice move, too.

This little streak by Joba is important as the Yankees need to have both Joba and Andy Pettitte strong in the rotation for the entire season. With all that money invested in CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, unless there is a significant scheduling break with days off during the playoffs, the Yankees are going to use four starters in the playoffs.

If that is the case, and Joba continues to pitch effectively, he needs to remain in the rotation this year. Innings limits be damned!

While all the talk now is about his innings limitation, I originally wrote back in April that it was a possibility. Not that I agree with the process, but I understand what the Yankees were trying to do.

Now that the Yankees have the American League East lead, and, as I now see that Jarrod Washburn is off to Detroit, Joba needs to be kept in the rotation.

With injuries to Wang and Ian Kennedy hurting rotation depth in the higher levels of the system, if Joba continues to pitch like he has since the All-Star break, there is no reason to remove him for an innings limit strategy. Because he throws so hard, and has borderline mechanical issues, he will eventually get hurt—most pitchers of that nature do.

The idea is to win championships each season, and the first one on the hook is 2009. Brian Cashman and the Yankees need to let Joba become the 2009 ace for a potential title team while the flag is still available.


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