It may be hard to imagine this now, but there was once a time when the "Joba Rules" didn't exist.
I know, crazy right?
We've heard and read so much about it by now that it seems hard-wired into our fan experience. Like U2 or The Simpsons, the Joba Rules seem like one of those things that has just always existed and always will.
Joba Chamberlain was a 21-year-old rookie in 2007 when the famous phrase entered the baseball lexicon. It was the unofficial name for an internal team memo explaining how Chamberlain should be used, a hard-line strategy to protect the young pitcher.
The Cliffs Notes version of the Joba Rules: We. Cannot. Mess. This. Up.
It was hard to get on the Yankees for being so cautious. Chamberlain had splashed down on Yankee Universe like a creature from another galaxy, after all. The team hadn't produced a half-decent pitching prospect in over a decade, when, seemingly out of nowhere, this big ole country boy, this hoss, started blowing people away out of the bullpen.
Joba was the difference maker in the Yankees' run to the postseason in 2007, and if not for the Indians' home-midge advantage and some impressive sabotage by Chien-Ming Wang, he may have been the town's new Doc Gooden, his own 70-foot pinstriped likeness plastered on the side of a Manhattan high-rise.
Things didn't work out in '07, but no matter, the Yankees believed they now had the face of their pitching staff for years to come.
The team pain-stakingly transitioned Chamberlain from reliever to starter in the early months of the 2008 season, pitching him three innings at first, then four, then five. It was all very cloak-and-dagger, and it didn't seem to matter that they were sacrificing the bullpen to stretch out their prized thoroughbred.
Unfortunately, the kid gloves transition routine failed. Joba came down with shoulder tendinitis during an August start in Texas, the final nail in the Yankees' 2008 coffin. He returned a month later, finishing the season in the bullpen.
For the Yankees, it was back to square one.
The 2009 season represents Year 3 of the Joba Rules. And while you'd think that the restrictions would loosen as the soon-to-be 24-year-old Chamberlain got older, the Yankees have instead remained fully committed to an inorganic approach to his career.
The argument can be made that this is for his own good.
He has already surpassed his career-high with 121 2/3 innings this season, and as Cole Hamels has shown for the Phillies this year, obliterating your high-inning total in one season typically bodes poorly for the next.
But there's protecting a young star, and then there's coddling him.
Chamberlain finally seemed to find a groove coming out of the All-Star break, ripping off three consecutive strong starts. But the Yankees decided after that third start that it was time to pull the reigns back in the midst of what may have been a breakout moment.
Chamberlain was given two extra days of rest before a poor start against the Red Sox. He was better, but not great, on regular rest against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Now he will get seven more days off before facing the Athletics next Wednesday.
As a result of the shake-up, both Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre will start this weekend against the Seattle Mariners. This is an interesting strategy seeing the Yankees are just six games ahead of the Red Sox, not 16.
To his credit, Chamberlain has been a good soldier. He isn't necessarily on board with the latest incarnation of the Joba Rules, but he isn't getting involved in the discussion either...at least not publicly.
"That's for the smart people to worry about," Chamberlain said this week. "I just go out and pitch as much as I can."
That's a good way to look at it. We can only hope the smart people aren't outsmarting themselves.
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