Hot Stove
  • The Joba Ruination leads to opportunity:

The Yankees should make Joba Chamberlain into a starter.

They should do so without constraints or rules.

He should be allowed to pitch until he either is no longer effective or his pitch count has expanded to a maximum reasonable number—and that is contingent on his mechanics and how manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild think he looks.

The Yankees organization has done a nearly flawless job in taking a hot prospect with All Star ability, making him feel entitled; turning him into a paranoid and intrinsically frightened worrywart (“I can’t get hurt!!”); demoting him; and now they appear to be on the verge of taking offers to dispatch him.

Without getting into a Selena Roberts/Alex Rodriguez bit of pop psychology, Chamberlain’s turbulent home life with a troubled mother and polio-afflicted father can be transferred to the way his second home, the Yankees organization, is treating him as if he was their meal ticket only to abandon him when he didn’t immediately become Roger Clemens—the pitcher to whom he was most compared when he burst onto the scene.

Chamberlain’s not blameless here. He hasn’t pitched well; he’s obnoxious and immature; and we don’t know the scope of his off-field antics, but the Yankees are responsible for what he’s become.

And they still have time to fix it.

GM Brian Cashman has repeatedly justified the treatment of the Yankees young pitchers with historical facts, medical reports and analysis that are meant to maximize the talent while minimizing injury.

Has it worked?

When the Yankees “big three” young starters burst onto the scene I, with a prominent memory of the Mets Generation K disaster of Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, preached caution. You can’t automatically anoint young pitchers as future cornerstones given the same history from which Cashman and his minions conveniently picked and chose their methods of development.

You never know.

Ian Kennedy was supposed to be the most polished and big league-ready from the Chamberlain, Kennedy, Phil Hughes triumvirate; he was the worst of the three in practice. On the field he had no control and didn’t listen; off the field he couldn’t keep his mouth shut and invited the ire of everyone in the clubhouse. He was traded to the Diamondbacks in the deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and began to fulfill his potential in the Southwest; but he’s never going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter; nor is he going to be a Greg Maddux-type control artist. His stuff isn’t that good.

Hughes has been held back by his own set of rules and used as a reliever and starter; but there was never, ever any suggestion that he’d stay in the bullpen despite his excellent work there in 2009. He’s a starter; they made him a starter; and he’ll be a good starter for a long time.

The “Hughes Rules” haven’t gone smoothly either as the club appeared to bully the young pitcher out of a start against the Dodgers near his hometown and in front of family and friends in the interests of keeping his innings down; Hughes had a slump—I believe because he lost his groove—immediately after that club-imposed “break”.

It’s stunning to me how quickly the Chamberlain bandwagon emptied at the first hiccup on his way to becoming a star. Cashman is as responsible as anyone because he’s the one in charge, but I can picture the Yankees GM shaking his head in bewilderment at the new push to try Chamberlain in the starting rotation. It wasn’t so long ago that Cashman was ridiculed, lampooned and outright screamed at for his repeated insistence that he sees Chamberlain—with his four pitch arsenal—as a starter. I understood Cashman’s reasoning, but disagreed with it; I thought he’d be a dominant reliever. He was that for a time—that brief and hypnotizing month of September of 2007 when he was unhittable and created a phenomenon that no one could live up to.

In hindsight, having lost to the Indians in the ALDS that season, Cashman must regret putting Chamberlain in that position. Had they won the World Series with Chamberlain as the star set-up man, the entire fabric of his career might have gone differently. In retrospect, since the team lost, it was a long-term hindrance to Chamberlain professionally and personally.

But there’s a glimmer of hope for Chamberlain and the Yankees.

They can start him and they can do it right. They can let him pitch and learn without someone tapping him on the shoulder if he’s rolled through the 4th, 5th and 6th innings, but has reached his arbitrary number of 100 pitches and taking him out of the game.

A pitch count is a guideline that should not be taken to the logical extreme to which the Yankees have taken it with Chamberlain. If an athlete is conditioned properly, there’s no reason he can’t throw 120 pitches and be able to make his next start. It has nothing to do with his arm or how many pitches he’s thrown; it has to do with how hard he’s worked and, more importantly, his mechanics and the assessments of the field personnel—the manager and pitching coach—who should not be beholden to a number, but should have the experience and know-how to accurately gauge their charges.

The stat zombie “revolution” and such idiocies as The Verducci Effect have created a culture of experts who have no in-the-trenches experience to be as smart as they think they are. Studying statistics and reports does not make one an expert. Following a set of rules that have pigeonholed everyone into the same category is factory-created garbage that can be found anywhere. It’s not plugging numbers into a machine and achieving the desired result; these are human beings.

For every pitcher they cite who’s gotten hurt from too heavy a workload at a young age, there’s Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and Roger Clemens—pitchers who were allowed to pitch and didn’t have the catastrophic arm injuries that have befallen the hot new prospects like Stephen Strasburg or were handcuffed by failed strategies like those imposed on Chamberlain.

Strasburg couldn’t have been more closely monitored and he still got hurt. I’m convinced—and will remain so—that members of the Nationals organization were relieved when Strasburg required Tommy John surgery for the simple reason that they’d adhered to his usage dictate and he got hurt anyway—there was no one to blame.

This is not good. When you have underlings more worried about their own position rather than how their charges do their jobs, you’ve got a disconnect that’s only going to get worse as time passes and more information disguised as prescription comes available.

Chamberlain should start.

He should be allowed to pitch.

That’s the only way to save him now.

  • Viewer Mail 1.16.2011:

Rob writes RE my quote of a lack of fan interest in the Rays:

“A certain freedom comes with a dearth of attention.”


The economy is exceptionally poor in Tampa Bay.  Don’t let attendance numbers fool you.  There is plenty of interest in the Rays.

This is a fair point, but Florida has always given the impression of being uninterested in their baseball teams until it’s playoff time; it’s as if they’re saying, “we’ll do this until the football season—college and pro—starts”.

Plus, with the number of transplanted New Yorkers in Florida, one has to wonder whether they’re watching the games for the Rays or to watch the Yankees, Mets and whoever else they may have an interest in.

That team is young, good, feisty and well-run. The ballpark is hideous, but they should attract more interest than they do.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Kyle Farnsworth:

I’m sure you know where my jaw was when I read about the Farnsworth deal.  Looks like $2 million too much… the dude makes me sick, but hell, more power to him.

I have to give the Rays a benefit of the doubt that Royals GM Dayton Moore doesn’t deserve. They’ve replenished so many lost causes in their bullpen that maybe—maybe—they can recreate Farnsworth.

Matt Minor writes RE Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and the Yankees:

The big question I can’t stop wondering about is whether the Soriano signing will prompt the Yanks to give Joba yet another look for their starting rotation. Let the games begin anew.

Joba is a waste as a middle reliever. I understand the lack of trust in him as a set-up man and why upper management overruled Cashman on Soriano and, as I said above, they have a chance with this signing to make it into something positive for everyone.

Cashman would be wise to hold the line with Chamberlain and say “he’s a reliever” until spring training starts to avoid controversy, then spring it that Chamberlain’s going to start.

Mike Fierman writes RE Soriano and Joba:

“He won’t be a disaster, but he won’t be the savior either.”

um….you had to go there?  No one is remotely calling him a savior or anything close to it…He’s a nice fill in piece. It’s nice for Yankee fans for our team to be able to spend $36mill for a set up man. End of story.

The off-season has been a disappointment obviously because of Lee, but there simply weren’t any SP fallbacks that they missed out on. I happen to like the Russ Martin signing which more might have been made of in the press had the yanks gotten their #1 priority.

I may have misjudged the Russell Martin signing—his throwing has been historically good and that’s been a big problem for Jorge Posada since his surgery. Francisco Cervelli couldn’t throw (or hit) either.

I totally understand the Soriano signing on numerous levels both practically and conceptually. The team had done little this winter to generate any buzz aside from snickers that they lost out on Cliff Lee despite all the talk that Lee was “gonna be a Yankee, period”.

The money itself it irrelevant—they have it, spend it. The opt-outs are stupid and unnecessary as is overreaction at the lost draft pick.

That said, the concerns about Soriano are real. He gives up too many homers and is not the personality type to thrive in a big game. His refusal to pitch more than one inning for the Rays despite manager Joe Maddon’s request that he do so brings back memories to what sabotaged the Yankees in the middle part of the last decade—they had a load of self-interested players like Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield who didn’t fit into the cohesive unit that was a hallmark of the dynasty.

Gabriel writes RE GMs and full autonomy:

The practice of ownership meddling is prevalent in most professional sports, since sometimes the owners are worried about the course the team is taking, and they feel they have to do something to steer the ship. The (mostly) lack of it is something that I like in the Philadelphia Eagles organization, since their head coach is also their president of football operations, therefore Andy Reid knows exactly what to expect from a player and how he fits in the team. A GM/Manager in baseball would be an interesting concept to explore, and one that will reduce (I think) the meddling of the owners.

Jack McKeon and Bobby Cox went down on the field from the GM’s chair when their clubs were floundering; eventually they had to relinquish the GM title; and that was back in the late 1980s, early 1990s when the job wasn’t as 24/7 as it is now. Whitey Herzog did it too; he actually left the field to go through the Cardinals minor league system to clear out troublemakers and players who didn’t fit into what he wanted to do with speed and pitching. Herzog also eventually gave up the GM role.

It couldn’t happen today in baseball, nor do I think it’s a good idea. I like having a little disagreement and even antagonism.

Monolithic systems end up coming apart.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman:

I’m glad Hank and Hal overruled Cashman. It’s their money and if they wanted to spend it, so be it!

I know what you’re saying, but it could’ve been handled better. There was no need to undermine Cashman after he said they weren’t interested in Soriano; they could’ve told him that they wanted to come to a consensus regarding the possibility of signing Soriano vs the value of the draft pick and that Cashman shouldn’t say anything publicly that could come back and bite him—as it has.

Joe writes RE Billy Beane and the Athletics:

I never heard that Beane was most likely “forced” to make that trade.  Where did you hear that?

It was in the wind more than anything else, but it was implied on various platforms.

Jon Heyman wrote the following in this Sports Illustrated column in early 2009:

Billy Beane, A’s GM: The legendary Beane, who is one of the smartest people in baseball, followed owner Lew Wolff‘s directive to go for it this year(…)

Also, it was suggested here on Shysterball; and denied adamantly on Yahoo here.

Here’s my take: What is Lew Wolff going to say? “Yes, I told Beane to do this,”? Considering the way the Steinbrenners undermined Cashman, Wolff was not going to do the same thing to his superstar GM who, at the time, was the only marketable and recognizable commodity the Athletics had.

Because the “Beane legend” has grown to such monumental proportions due to the ridiculous Moneyball and Michael Lewis’s creative non-fiction—crafted to achieve his own ends—Beane has to maintain that aura of invincibility even if those who know anything about baseball see through the propaganda and league-wide abandonment of the Moneyball principles.

Wolff wasn’t going to humiliate his guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s sitting by silently as the Beane legend fell apart. For Wolff to be telling people he was tired of losing and to have Beane make a trade that was diametrically opposed to what he espoused and believed makes it an easy assumption that Beane, while probably not “forced” to make the Holliday trade, was influenced heavily by his increasingly impatient boss.


2 thoughts on “Abandonment

  1. Joba is not a starter. Period. It was a nice try, but he’s better in short outings where he doesn’t have to hold back. He came up in ’07 as a Gossage type hurler and that’s what Larry Rothschild should focus on.

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