Can Torre Resist a Hot Cup of Joba?
The New York Yankees currently have 16 relievers in their bullpen. Sixteen. At this moment, Joe Torre trusts a grand total of two of them.
Mariano Rivera - 37 years old, 784 games pitched, 443 saves, future Hall of Famer
Joba Chamberlain - 22 years old, 16 games pitched, 1 save
Torre's lack of trust in the rest of the pen is evident, as
A) He has SIXTEEN relievers.
B) He's watched Matt Stairs, Alex Rios and The Syracuse SkyChiefs take the other 14 guys to the woodshed during the Jays current 4-game set in New York.
When Russ Adams and Curtis Thigpen are kicking ass and taking names, what do you think Grady Sizemore or Vlady Guerrero are going to do to this group?
Chamberlain's a special talent who has blistered his way through four levels of professional baseball this season, but he was called up with some special stipulations: for each inning he pitches, he gets a day off. Chamberlain figures to be in the Yankees rotation in the very near future, and Brian Cashman is wisely protecting his young arm.
Chamberlain tossed a pair of scoreless innings on Friday, so he wouldn't be available until Monday, right? Yet there he was, pitching an inning and a third on Sunday afternoon and notching his first big league save. And so Torre is already breaking the rules, and while the Yankees have yet to secure a playoff spot, this was hardly a must-win game, as the Tigers would need a minor miracle to pass the Bombers for the Wild Card.
What happens when the playoffs roll around? What are the odds that Torre will get 7 strong innings out of Roger Clemens or Mike Mussina against truly elite teams like the Angels or Indians? When he doesn't, how far does he push Chamberlain? Those same Angels struck gold in 2002 with Francisco Rodriguez, then just 20 years old, who threw 18.2 innings that October on the way to a World Series title and assuming the mantle of Angels' closer. Despite the workload and the funkiest delivery this side of George Clinton, Rodriguez has now been closing games five for full seasons without arm problems.
For a more cautionary tale, Torre might want to go back a little further, to 1997 and another 21-year-old phenom: Jaret Wright. Wright started 5 times that October, twice on just 3 days rest, and threw more than 27 innings. Cleveland lost that series in 7 games, but looked forward to a rotation anchored by their fireballing young ace. Wright managed 32 starts the following year, but broke down shortly after, and has pitched more than 150 innings just twice in an 11-year career that has seen him average fewer than 7 wins per season.
That is not the return that Cashman and the Yankees are expecting from Chamberlain, so Torre will have to be careful. Do you ride the hot hand to a potential World Series win, regardless of his age? It's an interesting dilemna for Yankees fans - would you choose a World Series title if it means that Joba Chamberlain has to visit Dr. James Andrews early next season? Flags do fly forever, but at what cost?
Torre has already started to compromise with the rules set down for Chamberlain, and the last time there was a compromise involving someone named Chamberlain - think late 1930s, Europe - well... some bad stuff went down.
On a side note, is the whole Jabba the Hutt moniker the oddest and most potentially insulting tribute in the game's history?
Good thing his name isn't Josama.