How does the old saying go, you can never have too much pitching? Well clearly that’s the case if Joba Chamberlain is able to make a return sometime this season. Recently, reports have said that Chamberlain is somewhere on the road to recovery and is ready to start making some appearances in the minor leagues within two weeks. Chamberlain’s role is a bit tricky though. The bullpen has been doing extremely well this season and Chamberlain hasn’t pitched since June of 2011 so his absence from the MLB may be somewhat of a factor. Regardless, the Yankees won’t spring Chamberlain back into that role, especially if they aren’t hurting for pitching. D.J. Mitchell, who was recently called up, is expected to add some depth to the bullpen as he is taking over Cory Wade’s role for the time being. So with the Yankees trusting younger pitchers like Mitchell, the pitching is sailing fine for now, but how much of an impact will Chamberlain make later on?
Expecting fantastic stuff from Chamberlain out of the gate is unrealistic. Sometimes, guys have to ease back into their roles and Chamberlain is a fine bullpen pitcher. He actually was thought to be the set-up man in 2011 after Rafael Soriano went on the DL so Joe Girardi has a lot of confidence in Chamberlain. Obviously as it’s been noted many times before, New York is not the easiest place to play, let alone pitch. However, that’s an edge that Chamberlain has on most pitchers. Chamberlain’s whole career has been in New York, with a World Series win, so he can alleviate the pressure.
The role for Chamberlain will more than likely be in the bullpen, unless noted otherwise. The Yankees had experimented with Chamberlain as a starter before in 2009. In 2009, he went 9-6 with an ERA of 4.75, 133 strikeouts in 157.1 innings pitched and accumulated a very high WHIP of 1.54. Chamberlain doesn’t have the ideal stuff to start, but with that, we know he’s definitely found his role as a reliever instead of as a starter. What the Yankees decided to do with Chamberlain in the latter half of 2009 was stick him in the bullpen to where he did pretty good. Chamberlain even did well in the 2009 postseason that would result in our latest World Series victory.
Placing him in a bullpen that has been lights out for most of the season is probably the toughest thing about him coming back. We’ve seen before that he’s comfortable in that role, especially in 2008 and 2011 where had an ERA below 3.00 in both seasons. There absolutely is no rush to put Chamberlain back into the bullpen, but it does raise the question on who would be in danger of losing their job. My guess is Chad Qualls or Wade. Now I know we just got Qualls, but he hasn’t been the same since 2009 where he acquired 24 saves. Qualls has also had an ERA at 3.50 or well beyond ever since that season. If Qualls falters or if Wade has a tough time finding his stuff heading into next year, then there’s the opportunity for Chamberlain.
Chamberlain himself has vowed a return this season, but the Yankees are taking a much more cautious approach to the situation. He pitched in a simulated game last night and soon will have rehab starts. While Chamberlain’s drive to come back is great to see, an ankle injury will take some time to heal and even then, is Chamberlain 100%? A lot of the weight that pitchers move off of is from their lower half and putting too much pressure on an ankle could be devastating if it isn’t healed properly. Chamberlain himself understands this, but in a press conference on July 2nd, he had this to say:
“I can promise you I’m going to pitch; I can promise you that. You can go ahead and write that down, too. Tell everybody that it’s going to happen.”
So while Chamberlain’s role may be up in the air to some people, the Yankees have expressed their interest in putting him back into the bullpen. With the uncertainty of how Mitchell will do in Wade’s role, the possibility of Chamberlain coming back before the season’s end isn’t impossible, but it shouldn’t be rushed at the same time. Chamberlain is a valuable arm to us and even though he’s had his struggles in the past, he’s still bounced back to be a pitcher that Girardi can rely on with full confidence. With the amazing way the bullpen has been pitching this year, Larry Rothschild definitely has a game plan. If Chamberlain can adapt to that game plan as well, I have no qualms heading forward.