The Yankees once made all the wrong moves when handling a top starting pitching prospect. Using what the Joba Chamberlain experiment taught, they are being much smarter with Luis Severino this time around.
The enthusiasm for New York Yankees rookie pitcher Luis Severino is a bit over the top after one start, but that’s to be expected. What wasn’t expected regarding Severino was that the Yankees were even going to give him a chance to pitch as a starter during the final two-month stretch run to the end of the season.
Given the club’s detrimental adherence to pitch counts, innings limits and protectionist tactics, and that they have yet to admit that they were mistaken in their assessments and utilization of their talented young arms, it marks a significant tilt – if not a total about-face – for them to decide that it’s more important to use Severino as a starter now rather than shield him from injury in a phantom future that might never come to pass.
The general rule of thumb that is used for pitchers is not to increase their innings from the previous year by greater than thirty. Of course, it’s reasonable to ask where these random numbers come from. Like the pitch counts that usually end exactly at 100, it’s a conveniently round number making it a legitimate question as to where it came from and why.
Some teams follow it to the letter, to the extreme of shutting down their arms at a certain point no matter the team situation and whether or not they might need the pitcher to try and make the playoffs or win a championship. Others simply trust their intuitive feelings, keep close tabs on the pitchers, alter their usage based on the individual, and monitor them closely without having a strict number placed upon them.
The Yankees have been an outspoken advocate of the former and its history is viewed in the negative context of the number of talented young starting pitchers the club had who never fulfilled their massive potential. This failure comes in part because of the yo-yoing of many of their pitchers in general, and guys like Joba Chamberlain in particular.
It’s inevitable that there will be comparisons between Chamberlain and Severino. This was particularly notable when the mere thought of bringing Severino to the big leagues was broached and it was assumed that he would pitch out of the bullpen. Severino’s supposed innings limits would preclude him from being of any use as a starter for more than the five (at most) starts he would be able to make prior to reaching the “magic” number of 140 innings before it was time for him to call it a season.
Whether Michael Pineda’s injury or their inability/unwillingness to bolster the starting rotation at the trade deadline necessitated them altering the script with Severino is something only they know. If they have, in fact, decided that the paranoia that has stunted their young pitchers’ growth over the past eight or so years – going back to the “Joba Rules” – it is a positive that they are no longer taking a cookie-cutter approach with their arms.
Instead, they’ve decided to give Severino an opportunity to pitch in meaningful games not as a simple change to the blueprint, but because they need him to contribute.
Had they put Severino in the bullpen, a repeat of the disaster with Chamberlain was a distinct possibility even if they didn’t repeat those mistakes that, in part, ruined Chamberlain’s tenure with the team. In retrospect, the set of draconian rules that the front office dictated to then-manager Joe Torre regarding Chamberlain’s use put forth the impression that: A) a manager of Torre’s stature wasn’t smart enough to decide when to protect a young arm; and B) there was a double-standard for a rookie’s treatment based on nothing any sane veteran baseball person would concoct.
It certainly didn’t help them that Chamberlain was so dominating as a reliever that he looked as if he should be left there forever, without even a consideration of a move back into the starting rotation. Since they didn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs in 2007 with Chamberlain in the bullpen, they were left with a screaming match instead of a thoughtful debate as to what Chamberlain’s optimal role would be.
That the Yankees continued with the indecisive shifting of the pitcher between the rotation and the bullpen made matters worse. When they put him in the rotation, it was not as a full-fledged starter, but with another set of rules – this time placed on Torre’s replacement Joe Girardi – that Chamberlain would pitch three innings, then four innings, then five innings and not go past a certain number of pitches to protect him and stretch out his tolerance for a starter’s workload.
The one time that Chamberlain found a groove as a starter, they seemingly intentionally sabotaged him by skipping him a start. Again, this was to “protect” him. When he pitched again, the inconsistency returned.
By now, we know that Chamberlain never even fulfilled the massive abilities he showed as a reliever, let alone a starter. A late-season shoulder injury in 2008 is largely blamed for why he never regained his searing fastball and “I dare you to hit it” confidence bordering on obnoxious, fist-pumping arrogance.
Long gone from the Yankees, he’s devolved into a journeyman. Released by the Detroit Tigers, he’s now in Triple-A with the Toronto Blue Jays and trying to resurrect his career as something more than that extra arm whose name everyone knows for the wrong reasons.
Did the Yankees allow the screaming from factions about whether Chamberlain should be a starter or reliever affect them? Perhaps. But with Severino, the Yankees had two options to make maximum use of him: they could have traded him as part of a package for a star pitcher to try and win in 2015, or they could recall him and use him in the starting role for which he’s suited and has been trained.
Since they’ve chosen the latter, that might bode well for Severino being allowed to rise or fall in a pennant race similarly to the last starting pitcher New York developed and who was a long-term success for them. His name was Andy Pettitte.
If Severino can be 75 pecent as useful to the organization as Pettitte was, then their decision to hold onto him in lieu of a trade and in their apparent abandonment of those destructive limits will be proven to have been a wise one. Perhaps the Yankees have finally learned from the Joba mistake, and are better off for it.