The following is a guest post by Samuel Avro. While at work, Samuel Avro covers the energy industry and is the editor of Consumer Energy Report. If not making it to the New Yankee Stadium in the opening two months doesn’t annul the fact, Samuel is a die-hard fan of the Bronx Bombers. Those readers interested in submitting guest posts can contact me via e-mail at ben at riveraveblues dot com.
With Joba Chamberlain firmly entrenched in the starting rotation and the “Joba Rules” a mere memory of the Joe Torre Era, the much-hyped fan-favorite entered the season with a different, albeit strictly-enforced, set of rules.
Gone are the days when a pitcher’s arm wasn’t babied and their innings limit was simply the endurance they were able to sustain. What has increasingly become known as the “Verducci Effect” (due to SI writer Tom Verducci’s yearly compilation of young pitchers he deems at risk) has taken root in the management circles of MLB. While by no means gospel, the rule of thumb is that a pitcher under the age of 25 should not increase his innings total by more than 30 frames over the previous season.
As the Yanks’ righty pitched only 100.1 innings in 2008, the gospel would say that Joba should expect to reach his cap at the 140-150 inning range this season. (While according to Verducci’s rule it should be capped at about 130, Joba threw 110 professional innings in 2007 and could sustain an increase this year of around 40 innings.)
Since Joba has already pitched 40 2/3 innings, If he were to average even a little less than 6 innings per start, he’d be on pace to hit his cap well before the end of the season. The Yankees are left with two options which would allow Joba to remain in the rotation for the rest of the season, while continuing to build up arm strength for seasons to come: They can simply pull him early from a lot of starts; or they could skip his starts in the rotation every now and again, keeping some innings in the tank for later in the season.
To be sure, neither of the options is ideal. If the kid is able to cut down on the walks and can have enough pitches in his arm to allow him to go deeper into games, the last thing I’d want to see is his getting yanked prematurely in a game he is dominating. As far as skipping his turn in the rotation goes, no one knows how his arm will respond when deviating from its normal routine of throwing every five days.
What I’d like to see (for lack of a better idea) is somewhat of a hybrid mentality of the two options. Skip his starts every once in a while, and perhaps limit his innings in games where he isn’t at his best.
Currently, with Chien-Ming Wang coming off another stellar start for SWB, the Yankees have their chance to skip a start of Joba’s without messing around with the rotation. Depending on when Wang returns to the big-league club, the Yankees can easily skip one start of Joba’s without playing around too much with the rotation as a whole.
Since the scheduled starting day of Phil Hughes is not aligned with that of Wang’s, the Yankees — if Wang returns this week — can simply move A.J. Burnett’s day up to Thursday (Joba’s next scheduled start) and have Wang pitch on Friday with Joba rejoining the rotation and filling in for the place of Hughes next week. If the Yankees opted to keep Wang in the minors for one more start, the same plan can be carried out next week when he rejoins the team. That is, the Yanks can push A.J.’s start up by a day to Tuesday with Wang taking Joba’s start on Wednesday. Thursday is an off day.
I know that many people will want the Yankees to just place him in the bullpen near the end of the season as a solution to the innings cap problem, but the days of tinkering with his pitching persona should be over. He’s a 23-year-old pitcher who has the potential to be one of the dominant starters of the next decade. Moving him to the bullpen should be used only as a last resort if the other options are not feasible.
Though the season is still young, the front office will have to start thinking of the solutions before it’s thrust upon them in the midst of a pennant race. They can’t wait to confront the issue when it has already become too late.