The Joba Chamberlain issue is incredibly polarizing, as seemingly anyone who writes about baseball for a living has chimed in with their opinion. Yesterday, Wally Matthews checked in with his entirely predictable thoughts:
“We’re just trying to be smart about it,” Girardi said. “We’re not trying to overwork him his first time in the rotation for the whole year. There’s a history that has been studied by our people and this is what we feel is best.”
The Yankees’ “studies” seem to have omitted guys such as Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn and Nolan Ryan, all of whom threw 200-plus inning seasons at tender ages and went on to long, essentially injury-free careers, and ignored many of his contemporaries, such as Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez, who have done the same early in their careers so far without incident.
And they overlook the case history of Joba’s teammate, A.J. Burnett, who also was babied early in his career but still has suffered one injury after another.
So much for scientific “studies.” If a guy is going to get hurt, he’s going to get hurt, and no amount of coddling is going to prevent it, because at some point, they all have to go out on the field and play.
Wally’s theory is that caution should be thrown to the wind, and apparently these studies should be thrown out because some players have stayed healthy despite throwing plenty of innings. Of course, this ignores the concept of the exception proving the rule- the fact that everyone notes the same few pitchers suggests that they are the exception, and that many players who actually got hurt have been lost to the sands of time. Joel Sherman, in what seems to be a direct response to Matthews, brought up another critique:
I KNOW this is going to annoy many people of a certain age, but please stop comparing Joba Chamberlain’s innings to those of Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton…..
Gibson did not pitch against a designated hitter. Aside from perhaps the 3-4-5 hitters, Gibson did not face many home run threats, so he could conserve against the tops and bottoms of lineups……
Gibson never faced hitters who watched their at-bats against him before and during games to pick up patterns. Gibson did not face an era of players steeped in the value of the long at-bat and drawing walks. Gibson enjoyed a larger strike zone and — at times — a higher mound. He did not use a more tightly-wound ball against lighter, whip-like bats designed to zip through the zone for more damage. And we haven’t even mentioned steroids yet.
If this were the NL in 1970, I would champion Chamberlain pitching 200-plus innings. But he is pitching in the AL in 2009. No batting practice fastballs. No soft spots in a batting order. Entire lineups addicted to working the count. Maple bats. Etc., etc., etc…..
Maybe genetics or throwing styles meant these guys were going to be injured whether they were babied or not. But to not have a plan to protect the most precious commodity in the sport is negligent…..
“You can’t ignore a plan because he has New York on his chest rather than Scranton,” Cashman said. “That would be irresponsible. That means the plan doesn’t mean anything, so why have a plan?”
Sherman’s article is about as lucid an argument you will find on the subject, and I strongly encourage you to read the entire thing. As he notes, the players of yore that Matthews brings up were playing in an era where pitching was king. SInce then, every single advance in the game has been tilted towards hitters, particularly in the AL. It is almost impossible to compare the workloads.
The Yankees are being cautious with their most precious asset, so that he pays off in the long term. Anything else would be shortsighted, and anathema to the long term goals of the organization. They created a plan, and are now sticking to it no matter what the situation. It is the right thing to do.