The ‘Joba Rules’ Prove Irrelevant

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

With Joba Chamberlain on the disabled list with tendinitis in his rotator cuff, the full extent of which has yet to be disclosed, it is time to acknowledge the secret truth of the Joba Rules: There are no Joba Rules.

Although commonsense precautions such as pitch counts and innings limits may avoid exacerbating a pitcher’s already high chances of serious injury, they don’t do anything to reduce them. Far too many factors are at work — from the mechanical interactions of the parts of the shoulder, arm, and elbow; weather conditions; length of innings, and perhaps what position the pitcher slept in the night before — for “rules” to have more than the slightest impact on negative outcomes.

The Joba Rules are as hopeless as rules for life: Do everything right, live a clean life, never touch a cigarette, spend your days breathing only pure mountaintop air, and you can still get lung cancer. Looking both ways every time you cross the street means you might not see the bank safe that’s falling toward you.

Moving from the philosophical to the practical, the Yankees will need to get through some or all of the ever-shrinking remainder of the season without their staff ace. This may prove to be a question of purely academic interest, given the difficulty level of the current road trip. After concluding the current series at Texas tomorrow, the Yankees travel to Anaheim for three games against the team with baseball’s best record, followed by three games at Minnesota, where the Twins have a .650 winning percentage.

Simultaneously, the Red Sox will be playing four games with the White Sox on the road, a difficult series to be certain, followed by three with the Rangers at Fenway Park. The Rays will spend the same period of time on a four-game trip to Seattle and a three-game trip to Texas. By the time the Yankees reach the theoretical safe haven of a three-game home series against the Royals on August 15, the picture of the American League East and wild card races could be very different, the most likely change being that the Yankees won’t be in it. This aging club was already suffering a death by a thousand cuts due to its early struggles, disappointing seasons by veterans, and plethora of injuries. This most recent cut, when combined with this harsh road trip and a schedule that doesn’t get much friendlier after that, with few home games and too many good teams, is likely to be the one that finally puts paid to the Yankees’ chances.

Between now and then, the Yankees will be forced to try their umpteenth rotation patch of the season, one which regrettably will not cover for Andy Pettitte’s recent rough patch. Ian Kennedy will take Chamberlain’s spot in the rotation. Kennedy has pitched very well at Triple-A Scranton of late. Since the All-Star break, he has made three starts and one relief appearance, pitching 27 innings with a 1.33 ERA. Most importantly, in those 27 innings he has walked just five, or 1.7 per nine innings pitched. That’s a big change from his unsustainable major league rate of six per nine. No pitcher can survive a walk rate like that for long, especially not one like Kennedy, whose success is built around command, not raw stuff.

Given that Kennedy’s entire existence as a top prospect was predicated on his ability to locate his pitches, his control problems signaled something more frightening than typical rookie jitters — the complete loss of his ability to pitch. Until Chamberlain’s injury, Kennedy’s initial meltdown had soured the Yankees on his potential to the degree that he hadn’t been seriously considered to take the failing Darrell Rasner’s spot in the rotation, the team preferring the 31-year-old journeyman to Kennedy, a former first-round pick who as recently as April had been seen as a key part of the team’s youth movement. Chamberlain’s time out forces the team’s hand but probably does nothing to improve their confidence in Kennedy, so if he fails, this comeback is likely to be abruptly, and perhaps permanently, terminated.

As for Dan Giese, a longtime reliever in the minors who had never started a professional game before this season in a career that goes back to 1999, his very presence in the rotation signals the level of the team’s desperation. First, it’s never a good sign when a team starts robbing its bullpen of marginal middle relievers to feed the rotation. Call it the Greg Cadaret Story. It demonstrates a lack of confidence in the alternatives, bordering on panic. Undermining the successful bullpen scheme because minor league possibilities seem weak and trade possibilities remote is tantamount to waiving a white flag, be it to divisional competitors or possible trading partners. The price of Jarrod Washburn just went up, which is as funny to type as it is to read.

At this writing, it has yet to be disclosed just how long Chamberlain’s time out will be. Given the Yankees’ situation, it doesn’t have to be very long for the club to feel the effects. Ironically, they probably wouldn’t have pulled out a postseason spot even with Chamberlain. Without him, the end will come sooner and harder.

Mr. Goldman writes the Pinstriped Bible for and is the author of “Forging Genius,” a biography of Casey Stengel.

The New York Sun

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