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Archive for June 9th, 2011

On Sunday, Joba Chamberlain threw 35 pitches, his second most ever in a relief appearance. On Tuesday, the Yankees placed him on the 15-day disabled list with flexor tendon soreness. Today, the team announced that the right hander will likely need Tommy John surgery.

Maybe it’s too simple to connect the dots, but Joe Girardi’s decision to let Chamberlain toil for so long in the series finale against the Angels was questionable at the time. When it was later revealed that Chamberlain’s arm “had been a little tender in the last couple of weeks”, the extended outing became an unmitigated lapse in judgment. Since the initial announcement of the DL stint, Girardi has maintained there was no relation between the injury and Chamberlain’s high pitch count, but the “coincidence” is hard to ignore.

Joba Chamberlain’s Pitch Count Distribution as a Reliever

Source: Baseball-reference.com

It’s impossible to say that Chamberlain’s ligament tear was directly the result of throwing 35 pitches on Sunday, but, considering his compromised health, it’s also impossible to defend the decision to let him do it. Ironically, after years of being so overly protective of their young right hander, the Yankees finally let their guard down and now will pay the price.

With the advancements in modern medicine, and the refinement in Tommy John surgery in particular, Chamberlain could very well come back even stronger than ever, but it is going to take at least 12 months to find out. In the meantime, the Yankees now have a two-man bullpen and no viable options to consistently cover the middle innings. So, the burden now falls upon Brian Cashman to either acquire a reliever or identify someone in the system who can fill the void. There’s no time to point fingers now, but as an organization, the Yankees shouldn’t be washing their hands either.

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When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett before the 2009 season, one of the motivating factors was how well he had pitched in the division while a member of the Blue Jays. In particular, Burnett dominated the A.L. East bullies, going a combined 10-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 18 starts against the Yankees and Red Sox.

A.J. Burnett’s Performance Against the Yankees and Red Sox, 2006-2008

  G W L IP H ER BB K ERA Avg. GS
NYY 10 5 3 71 2/3 55 19 18 72 2.39 64.3
BOS 8 5 0 56 1/3 44 16 21 53 2.56 61.4
Total  18 10 3 128 99 35 39 125 2.50 63

Source: Baseball-reference.com

According to the blueprint, not only would the Yankees benefit by no longer having to face Burnett several times each season, but they would also get to enjoy his mastery of the rival Red Sox. Unfortunately, that part of the equation hasn’t gone according to plan.

A.J. Burnett’s first game in pinstripes against the Red Sox started out exactly as the Yankees had drawn it up. In the first three innings, the right hander needed only 37 pitches to keep Boston off the board. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ lineup was busy building a 6-0 lead against Josh Beckett, Burnett’s former teammate with the Marlins. Then, all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. Over the next two innings, Burnett relinquished the lead by surrendering eight runs, which was only one fewer than he had allowed to the Red Sox in 27 2/3 innings during 2008.  

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