This past week, Yankee relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain (MillieJupiter’s favorite ballplayer!) developed a sore elbow which upon further review, revealed a torn ligament which will require “Tommy John” ligament transplant surgery. Almost within seconds, cyberspace was awash in complaints and theories regarding his usage several years ago when the Yankees developed what was called the “Joba Rules.” Many disagreed at the time, feeling he needed to build arm strength rather than worrying about pitch or inning count. Others felt he was being babied. With this injury, the skeptics and critics alike have jumped on the bandwagon of “I told you so…”
Allow me a few words.
First of all, as Brian Cashman, GM, has said repeatedly, these were not Joba specific rules but were rules covering all the Yankee minor league pitchers, limiting pitches, innings and frequency of use, as a developmental policy. This whole policy in general has been developed in part as a reaction to what is called the “Verducci Effect.” Tom Vedrducci, a sports writer for Sports Illustrated, has been talking about the misuse or abuse of young pitchers and developed this theory – pitcher under 25 years of age who increased the number of innings pitched more than 30 from the previous year’s total were significantly more likely to be ineffective or injured. A few years ago Verducci started announcing pitchers who has had this significant increase in workload and his theory seems to be playing out very accurately. In the last five years, Verducci has flagged 44 pitchers 25-and-younger who increased their workload by 30 innings or more. Of those 44, only eight of them (less than 20 %) made it through the following season without injury AND lowered their ERA, which he documents as a sure sign of ineffectiveness. A look at the list of pitchers he identified reads like the DL list in MLB’s offices - Josh Johnson, Homer Bailey, Joba Chamberlain, Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, . Mat Latos, Cole Hamels, Chad Billingsley, Jon Danks, Francisco Liriano, Fausto Carmona, Dustin McGowan, Gustavo Chacin, Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes and Anibal Sanchez. What they have in common is they have all experienced injuries, some never returning to the promise of their early careers and Verducci called it. The Verducci Effect isn’t a theory, it is a predictor.
Are major league pitchers babied? Well you know, when players received $6000 a year to play, they were seen as replaceable parts in a baseball business cog. When they cost millions of dollars to be signed, developed and then make it to the majors, you better believe they should be babied. They are a highly trained, specialized athlete who can deliver thunder and lightning with one arm. Why would you chance anything else? You don’t let them participate in “dangerous sports” like motorcycling and sky diving but you’ll over use them and threaten your investment? Not if your smart or competent you won’t.
So now, back to the Yankees. How can you expect them to do anything but protect their investment? Yes, perhaps they had some influence in the injury because of the way he moved from starter to reliever to starter to reliever again but to me, the inning numbers are a more important factor and not to be trifled with. This is just another warning to the Yankees and other MLB teams that injuries, major injuries, career ending injuries can be sometimes prevented and this needs to be fully explored.
Were they protecting their investment? Yes, I think so. Will he get the best medical care he possibly can? Absolutely. Will he return to the major leagues as an effective pitcher? That may take a while to figure out. MillieJupiter and I both hope so!