Friday, August 8, 2008

Today's Young Pitchers

The Yankees recently put SP Joba Chamberlain on the DL with "rotator cuff tendinitis." This comes after the Yankees tried so hard to limit his innings last year by having him come out of the bullpen and then tried to limit his innings again this year by having Joba start the year in the bullpen and then proceeding to making him a starter in June. So what gives? Why is Joba hurt?

Well, for one thing, all of the jerking around might have hurt Joba. When Joba was in the minors, he was a starter. When he was called up to the Yanks, he became a reliever. This season, Joba trained to be a reliever and then midway through the season the Yankees moved him into the rotation. I understand that they Yankees were trying to find a balance between their future ace (Joba) and having Joba help them win this season. Unfortunately, it is very hard to have it both ways.

We have seen in the past what happens when you push a young pitcher to much early on (cough...Dusty Baker...). With Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, the Cubs had two of the best young arms in baseball in 2002 and 2003. However, because of Dusty's ability to have a starter throw way to many innings early on, Prior is hurt (career could be over) and Wood has been converted to a closer (albeit a very good one).

So is there a lesson here? We all know that young teams take heavy precaution with their valuable young arms, but maybe its not the right type of precaution.The Yankees tried to be too fine with Joba because they needed him for the stretch run and were depending on him in the first half of this year to be a reliever. Well how about this, since we all know the goal was for Joba to eventually start, why not have him start the year as a starter, but not expect the world of him (i.e dont be afraid to have a sixth starter, feel free to skip over his turn). Obviously, this still might not work in terms of limiting his innings effectively enough, but by not counting on him as heavily for the season, you are able to focus on both his long term ability and getting some use out of him this year.

No one wants to see a Francisco Liriano type injury where a stud is lost in the middle of the season after being called up. Some injuries are uncontrollable, but managers need to have the where-with-all to never put a young pitcher at risk in terms of pitchers thrown and more importantly, stressful pitches thrown (runners on base, long at bats). At the same time, the front office must set the target number of pitches based on the type of delivery the pitcher has, his age, number of innings previously thrown, and any past arm troubles. That combination will help to ensure that young pitchers stay in the game, while the communication between dugout and front office stays strong. Young pitchers will continue to be babied because they are that valuable to the overall health of a franchise.

Bottom line, avoid the three dreaded words: Dr James Andrews.

And we leave you with a frightening image of Joba, even scarier than his 99 MPH fastball.
(New York Post)

Oh boy.

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