Earl Weaver, one of the best in the business at arguing with umpires, also knew a thing or two about developing young pitchers.
According to Buster Olney, the Yankees may be using Earl Weaver’s patented approach of breaking in a young starter, and thus limiting his wear and tear, by sending him to the bullpen. The following quote was taken from Olney’s December 21st blog entry:
Heard this: If all goes well in spring training for the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain is likely to start next season in the Yankees’ bullpen, as part of the team’s effort to limit his innings. Chamberlain will go to spring training and, at the outset, prepare to pitch out of the rotation, along with five other rotation candidates: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mike Mussina and Ian Kennedy. Assuming that none of the other five has a physical or performance breakdown, Chamberlain would then open 2008 in the bullpen, as a set-up man, for at least the start of the season — under the Joba Rules.
The Yankees want to restrict the number of innings Chamberlain throws, and working him out of the bullpen for at least a couple of months will allow them to do that. Chamberlain may return to the rotation sometime in the middle of the season, depending on the Yankees’ needs.
This plan makes sense to me, because, as I’ve previously written, the Yankees simply cannot expect their young trio of starters (and perhaps the increasingly elderly Mike Mussina) to be able to throw between 180 and 200 regular season innings if they hope to get anything from them in the play-offs.
Just think of Fausto Carmona and C.C. Sabathia this past post-season, the two co-aces of the Indians who had exceeded their career innings maximums by 41.1 and 31 innings respectively before the start of the play-offs (this was actually much worse than even those numbers if you delve deeper, because Sabathia made a 48.1 inning jump from the previous season and Carmona made an incredible 112.2 innings leap after pitching mostly out of the bullpen in 2006).
This idea is a good one for the Yankees, but in addition to watching Joba Chamberlain carefully, the team should also look after Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy. If the Yankees give each pitcher a brief hiatus in the bullpen, when appropriate during the season, as well as consider skipping a start from time to time, all three could be ready to play pivotal roles in September and beyond.
While ending this non-sense about the Yankees’ version of the Big Three being untouchable and doing what it takes (within reason) to acquire Johan Santana would be the preferred move for New York, diligently protecting its young pitchers will give the team a much better chance at winning its first World Series championship of the new millenium.