There’s a particular fragility and concern associated with Joba Chamberlain‘s workload as a starting pitcher. And, due to his outlandish skillset, there is good reason for the Yankees to handle with care.
There is, however, a notion that Chamberlain would be unable to up his innings total by any more than the emboldened 30 innings increase over his career high as is dictated by the consistently effective Verducci Rule. This mode of thinking would have the Nebraska flamethrower shut down around 140 innings in 2009.
This simply is not accurate.
At least according to Baseball Prospectus injury guru Will Carroll, who addressed Chamberlain’s potential innings limit for 2009 in a recent post last month.
Chamberlain’s ‘09 then would seem equally limited, but here’s where I think a change in his preparation is going to factor in. He threw about 60 innings as a starter and 40 more as a reliever [in 2008]. Some work on “leverage” in relief innings has indicated that it may have significantly more stress on the arm, allowing us to make a simple doubling conversion factor for those taking a year to year role change. (If you don’t think it works, take a look at Adam Wainwright’s stat line and where he came up lame after crossing the converted Verducci line.) Giving Chamberlain this credit gives us an equivalence of 140 innings and lets him go up to around 170 “safely.” Using smart pitch counts, skipping his turn now and again, and perhaps returning him to the pen as he nears the limit makes it very easy for the Yankees to maximize their young ace. There’s also a strong argument that allowing him to prep for the season as a starter will allow him to build up even more stamina in his shoulder. I’ll still say that I’d err on the side of caution with him.
Carrol also had this to say in a recent BP chat:
I think eventually he will [be a 200 inning starter]. The Yankees understand building him up to it and did a great job [last] year. I think he’s a 150-180 inning guy this year.
This is not to say that Carroll’s assessment is to be taken as fact, but it certainly seems to discount the assertion that once Joba approaches 140 innings this season he should face an absolute innings cap.
Once he reaches the 140-150 inning zone, Chamberlain’s health should be reevaluated and, barring any soreness or stiffness, the righthander should be given the freedom to toss another thirty or so innings.
Should the Yankees maintain a watchful eye over his pitchcounts each start and carefully skip him in the rotation whenever feasible or necessary, Chamberlain could reasonably log between 170-180 innings without drawing any red flags.