Joba(‘s Elbow Ligament) Rules

Joba Chamberlain is likely headed for Tommy John surgery after an MRI found a tear in his elbow ligament, apparently of mysterious origins because Chamberlain "has no idea when this happened" and yesterday said he thought his injury, classified a strained muscle, was not serious.

This obviously brings up a number of questions, not least of which is: Did the Yankees drive Joba to the DL with their handling of him? I think that's an unanswerable question. We do know that Joba was a starter, then he injured his arm, and after that the Yankees determined he was less of an injury risk in the bullpen, but obviously it didn't matter. Did the Joba Rules lead to that initial injury, or were they in place because Chamberlain was at high risk for injury? Some day, Brian Cashman will write that tell-all book…

My guess is Joba would have gotten hurt anyway. Throwing a baseball is an unnatural act, and when you have the nasty repertoire Chamberlain has/had, and the conditioning concerns he has/had, injury is simply more likely to occur, whether as a starter or reliever.

Of course, that won't stop the old guard from screaming about how this is a prime example of pitch counts ruining the game (cue Nick Cafardo on Twitter):

Joba Rules didn't prevent Chamberlain from needing TJ surgery. Time to re-evaluate the babying. Lots of pitchers getting hurt.

Pitchers get hurt. That's baseball. But I'm pretty sure we're all grateful that smart teams "baby" their pitchers to the extent that it's practical. There are too many Sandy Koufaxes, Tex Hughsons, Smoky Joe Woods, Kerry Woods, Mark Priors, Matt Clements and Boo Ferrises — all pitchers whose careers crashed and burned after criminal overwork — littering the game's history books to believe otherwise.

As a fan privileged enough to watch an all-time great with a fragile frame and a penchant for shoulder injuries unfurl the most dominant pitching we'll see in our lifetimes while never throwing more than 241 innings in a season or 140 pitches in a game, I can't say, nor can anyone else, that the Yankees erred in their handling of Chamberlain. The likelihood from the very beginning was that he would flame out. Because, after all, There Is No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect. 

12 comments… add one

  • Let me correct that for you:
    There Is No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect in the Yankees Organization.
    Cashman has had 13 years and they haven’t developed one decent starter. Wang was a luck fest and Hughes has been below average as a starter.
    By contrast, there are two starters pitching good innings for other teams (Kennedy, Coke) that the Yankees tossed away. Add in Aceves, Clippard, Dunn, Melancon and consider that the Yankees got nothing for any of them. The Yankees have no clue on how to develop or evaluate pitchers.
    But at least we have Bart Colon and Chief Garcia!
    What a joke.

    James YF June 9, 2011, 6:27 pm
  • If you’re going to say that Coke is pitching good innings as a starter, then surely you can say that Hughes has been better than below average as a starter. The rest of your post I don’t disagree with. It’s funny to think that Kennedy is the best bet right now to have the best career of The Big Three, or whatever they were called.

    Nick-YF June 9, 2011, 7:12 pm
  • I could pitch in AAAA…let’s not get too crazy with IPK.

    krueg June 9, 2011, 7:15 pm
  • again, krueg, we’ve established that you and I could make up the middle of the line-up of the Oakland A’s. Pitching now? You’re the new Babe Ruth!

    Nick-YF June 9, 2011, 7:19 pm
  • Dude. I have a cannon. Submarine-style.

    krueg June 9, 2011, 7:23 pm
  • Loving the rain delay. Hopefully it gets rained out…sigh.

    krueg June 9, 2011, 7:24 pm
  • This is just an absolute shame. Poor kid.
    I have to chime in here re: usage/poor mechanics as I have some experience with this issue. Two of my players (one senior and one junior) that went through tears (different degrees) as well. Both saw the best Dr’s in our area (http://www.hss.edu/physicians_altchek-david.asp) in this field. He was able to explain a lot to both players in terms of how this happens and more importantly why it happens. In the case of the junior, after studying his mechanics, release point, arm position/slot at point prior to release, etc…he was leading with his elbow which caused extra stress on his arm, elbow etc…in his case it was the result of poor release point mechanics. (Meanwhile to the my trained eye I thought his mechanics overall were as good as any HS player I’ve seen). What this taught me was that there is far more to pay attention to than I ever thought mechanically. In the case of the senior, his issue could not be pinpointed but was thought (on our part) that overuse (prior to HS) combined with poor mechanics could be the culprit. These two players are the first in my 15 year coaching career that have needed treatment for tears in their elbow, so all of this was new to me. I tried to immerse my self in what the correct schools of thought were on these matters to try and avoid future issues. From physical therapists to doctors who specialize in this field and what I am away with was release point mechanics seem to be the most important point of emphasis in the battle of elbow injuries. Both opted not to have surgery and instead have plate injection therapy and they’ve had great success with that course of action. The senior is off to play Div. 1 at a local school.
    As someone that closely monitors all 3 levels of our pitching I wholeheartedly believe that over usage is a scapegoat in a lot of cases. Proper mechanics seem to be far more important than how often a pitcher throws a baseball. I listened to a lecture by Rick Knapp (who is now with the Tigers but when he spoke he was with the Twins and in charge of developing pitchers in their system). He was a firm believer in throwing and throwing and throwing some more. Not pitching, but throwing to strengthen the arm. Proper rest following pitching days but less of a lay off than traditional schools of thought. There of course are counterpoints to his argument as well…so who really knows.
    I guess the best course of action is just to educate yourself as best you could and hope for the best.

    John - YF June 9, 2011, 8:55 pm
  • But do kids lose speed if they have to change their mechanics? Or does proper mechanics equal optimal power?

    krueg June 9, 2011, 9:06 pm
  • From what I’ve seen Krueg guys that throw exceptionally hard are either freaks of nature or have flawed mechanics. Two real good examples of that are Strasburg (flawed mechanics) and Chapman (Freak of Nature). On my level and in the case of the Junior he has regained probably 90-95% of his velocity. Now is that due to the change in mechanics or is it because he’s afraid to let loose? I don’t know the answer. More to your question I don’t think perfect mechanics equate to higher velocity, no. I think the opposite. Guys who can whip their arm with no concern of injury (like Randy Johnson, Billy Wagner, Strasburg) I think get the edge velocity wise, but that’s not scientific fact of course. My POV is different though I am extremely jaded. Two of the best pitchers (other than Porcello who went through a dead arm phase himself) in our area over the past few seasons both went division 1 and both had to have TJ one year into their college careers. So when I see a HS kid throwing 90+ the first thing I think of is what is he doing to get that extra speed? Our kids sit 85-88 (one kid sits consistent 90+ but his mechanics are a mess! He was expected to be drafted and wasn’t. He should be signed soon though, he’s a definite work in progress!) and that’s right about where you need to be to be considered next level.

    John - YF June 9, 2011, 9:33 pm
  • So it’s mostly genetics then, huh? Just throwing efficiently doesn’t equate to speed necessarily.

    krueg June 9, 2011, 10:56 pm
  • Well. Shit.
    What’s Mike Mussina doing these days?

    DustyDrB - YF June 9, 2011, 11:52 pm
  • Thanks for your input, John. Fascinating stuff.

    Paul SF June 10, 2011, 12:37 am

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