Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chamberlain reaching point of no return

Last July, I wrote a story titled "Joba Chamberlain for Roy Halladay: Would You Pull the Trigger?" I did this with a straight face. There were no drugs in my system at the time.

It seems laughable now, but there was logic to it in the salad days of 2009. Chamberlain's breakout 2007 season was still somewhat fresh, and he had shown enough potential as a starter to make you think he would eventually develop into a front-line pitcher.

Most people who commented on the story didn't believe the Blue Jays—then Halladay's team—would have any interest, but there was a vocal minority who said Chamberlain was good enough to be the centerpiece of a trade package.

Even crazier, some believed Joba was too good to be traded at all. In a poll of 135 people, 32.6% said that Joba was untouchable.

Halladay was eventually dealt to the Phillies in the offseason, where he's put up his typical Cy Young-worthy numbers. Chamberlain, meanwhile, has regressed to the point that he's inserted into 8-0 games like yesterday.

You have to earn such an indignity, and Chamberlain has certainly done that with his 5.86 ERA.

Of course, the working theory is that the Yankees "messed up" Chamberlain, that the "Joba Rules" and all the ridiculous strategy that it entailed somehow stunted the right-hander's development.

This is nothing more than a big fat excuse.

I'm reading Bill Madden's excellent biography on George Steinbrenner right now, and let me tell you something, that was a man who could stunt a player's development.

Back when Ron Guidry was a struggling prospect, Steinbrenner—angered by a rocky spring training appearance—said within earshot of the then 25-year-old, "He'll never be more than a Triple-A pitcher!"

Guidry was so distraught by the criticism that he packed up his things and began to drive back to Lafayette, Louisiana. Only a pep talk by his wife got him to change his mind about quitting.

That, my friends, is how you mess with a young pitcher. On a related note, has enough time passed for me to say that George was a complete and utter buffoon? Let me know.

Was Joba coddled unnecessarily? I think even the Yankees would admit that now. But more than anything, the "Joba Rules" were about ensuring Chamberlain's health, and from that standpoint you could say it was successful.

Chamberlain is healthy right now, if not healthy looking. He appears to be carrying more weight this season than in the '07-'09 era. He has visible love handles, and his face has swollen to Bambino-sized proportions. Once a big boy with a baby face, Joba is starting to take on a Bobby Jenks-type mold.

Is a lack of conditioning behind his struggles? I wouldn't go that far, a relief pitcher doesn't need to be cut like Apollo Creed, and one look at CC Sabathia proves that, um, husky guys can excel on the mound.

But something's off, and Chamberlain better figure it out quick. If he thought coming into an eight-run game in Cleveland was a buzz kill, perhaps he should picture what it'd be like to waste away in the Kansas City Royals' bullpen in 2011.

Dan Hanzus writes the Yankees blog River & Sunset and can be reached via e-mail at Follow Dan on Twitter @danhanzus.

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