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November 4, 2009

On the Beat

World Series Midweek Update

by John Perrotto

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Few players have gotten more hype for doing less than Joba Chamberlain. He burst onto the New York scene late in the 2007 season, posting a 0.38 ERA and 1.2 WARP1 in 24 innings. A star was born, and it hasn't burned out, even though Chamberlain had a mediocre 2009 in his first full season as a major league starter.

Chamberlain had a 2.87 ERA in 100 1/3 innings last season, with 2.8 WARP1 as he made the transition from reliever to starter in midseason, making a total of 30 relief appearances and 12 starts. The number of column inches devoted to the debate in the New York dailies over whether Chamberlain should start or relieve and how the Yankees handled his situation seemed to be infinite.

This season, he was thoroughly nondescript. He had a 4.75 ERA in 157 1/3 innings and contributed just 1.4 WARP1. The Yankees have again been questioned for their handling of Chamberlain, as they backed off on the number of innings he pitched late in the regular season and regularly gave him extra rest, then decided to use him exclusively in relief in the postseason.

Thus, it's still all Joba all the time in New York and his change of roles in October and November figures to continue to generate tabloid and talk show fodder throughout the winter. Chamberlain is already bracing to be the center of attention when the Yankees reconvene in Tampa next February for the start of spring training. "It'll be another offseason full of questions," Chamberlain said. "It's something we're prepared for."

The plan, for now at least, is for Chamberlain to be back in the starting rotation when next season begins. Chamberlain is adamant that starting is his preferred role. However, the Yankees also say they have the right to change their mind and whatever moves they make in the offseason might dictate Chamberlain's role.

"Being a starting pitcher in the major leagues is something I've wanted to do for a long time," Chamberlain said. "It's the only thing I have done until I got to the major leagues, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it in the offseason."

The Yankees have closely monitored Chamberlain's pitch and innings counts since he arrived in the major leagues. To prevent notorious relief pitcher abuser Joe Torre from burning out Chamberlain as a rookie, general manager Brian Cashman set strict usage guidelines. Those, of course, were termed the "Joba Rules" by the New York media.

So far, the Joba Rules have worked-Chamberlain has not suffered any arm injuries during his time in the major leagues. However, Chamberlain hasn't always been a fan of the Joba Rules, urging the Yankees to at least partially loosen the reins at times. And while the Yankees have been criticized in some circles for babying Chamberlain, he believes their plan has worked. "As a competitor, it gets frustrating because you want to be out there every fifth day and do things," Chamberlain said. "I also understand I want to play this game for a long time. I feel great. We've done everything the right way in the weight room, with my shoulder (exercises) and all that. As far as the whole year and being where I want to be, I couldn't ask for anything more. I learned a lot, which is going to help me from here on out. It gets frustrating, but I thank them for being patient, sticking with me, and continuing to have the confidence to run me out there no matter what."

---

A couple of Phillies pitchers will also be facing questions when their spring training camp opens just across the Courtney Campbell Causeway from Tampa in Clearwater. Left-hander Cole Hamels and closer Brad Lidge will be asked numerous times about what went wrong in 2009 and what they must do to return to their old form in 2010. Hamels' SNLVAR dropped from fifth in the majors at 7.2 in 2008 to 58th at 3.8 this season. Lidge went from having the best WXRL in the major leagues last season at 7.615 to the worst in the history of the statistic this season at -3.257.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is confident both will bounce back in 2010. In Hamels' case, Manuel said he believes the fans and media have lost sight of the left-hander being just 25 years old, though he was the star of the postseason last year when the Phillies won the World Series. "This is the first time he's had a rough time in his whole career," Manuel said. "He went through the minor leagues and he didn't pitch much because of injuries. He came to the big leagues quick and actually got healthier once he got here. He's been very good ever since he got here. All of a sudden, this year he struggles and this is the first time he's gone through this. It's been a big change for him in the way people look at him, his status in the game, people's demands of him and stuff like that. I think he needs the winter to clear his head with the idea of coming back next year thinking more about baseball, to stay focused and concentrate on his pitching."

Manuel has not been concerned by Lidge's focus, and the only physical adjustment he would like him to make is to learn how to hold runners on base better. More than anything, Manuel just wants his closer to have a relaxing winter. "I'd just like to see him go home this winter, keep himself in pretty good shape, kind of get a clear head and enjoy his winter," Manuel said.

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Larry Bowa was fired as the Phillies' manager five years ago, but he still stirs plenty of feelings in Philadelphia. He created a bit of a firestorm before Game Five of the World Series when he suggested on the ESPN radio affiliate in Philadelphia that the reason Yankees catcher Jorge Posada visited the mound so much during the three World Series games at Citizens Bank Park was because the Phillies were stealing his signs to the pitchers.

"There are rumors going around that when you play the Phillies, there's a camera somewhere or bullpen people are giving signs and catchers are constantly changing signs," said Bowa, now the Dodgers' third-base coach. "That's the rumor. Now is it proven? No. (But) I've have three people come up to me and say, 'Watch center field, they've got a camera. Some guys stand up by the fence. If their arm is up it's a breaking ball, if their arm is down...' I didn't see it, but other teams swear by it."

The allegations incensed Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino. "I guess he knows something that I don't know about, obviously," Victorino said. "Everybody makes excuses. Everybody is going to find a reason. For Bowa to come out and say something like that-if he doesn't know what he's talking about, if he doesn't have cold, hard facts-he shouldn't say something like that. To me that's... I don't want to use the word I'm going to use, but it's just not something that should be said. For you to pop off like that, I'm not happy."

Bowa told the Bucks County Courier Times' Randy Miller that he was not making excuses for the Dodgers' losing to the Phillies in five games in the National League Championship Series. "They didn't do it against us," Bowa said. "We just didn't make pitches."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel laughed off the accusations. "I can tell you this, if I can steal signs, I will," Manuel said. "That means we're definitely not. We don't have their signs and we're not stealing their signs. But we are trying."

So why did the Yankees seemingly have a million mound conferences during the games in Philadelphia? "Sometimes it's easier to go talk about what you want to do as opposed to putting down signs and then keep shaking," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It could be you could give two or three signs, you talk about two or three pitches down the road, and that's why our guys do it."

---

Pitching on three days' rest has been one of the hot topics of the World Series, which resumes tonight with Game Six at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees again trying to close out the Phillies after losing 8-6 in Game Five on Monday night.

Manuel did not have his ace, left-hander Cliff Lee, pitch on short rest in Game Four, and he has been criticized for it. Conversely, Girardi has gone with a three-man rotation, meaning that left-hander CC Sabathia and right-hander A.J. Burnett pitched with one day's less rest than normal between starts in Games Four and Five, and left-hander Andy Pettitte will do so in Game Six. If Game Seven is necessary on Thursday night, Sabathia will pitch again on three days' rest. Sabathia turned in a quality start on short rest, allowing three runs in 6 1/3 innings. Burnett, meanwhile, was tagged for six runs in two-plus innings.

Starting Pettitte on short rest seems somewhat risky. He is 37 years old and the last time he pitched with just three days between starts was in his final outing of 2006 with Houston, as he gave up one run in seven innings of a no-decision against Atlanta. He was not sharp in his Game Three start, giving up four runs in six innings.

Yet Pettitte is optimistic that he can clinch the Yankees' 27th World Series title. "I think people make such a big deal about it because it's just not done very often anymore," Pettitte said. "The biggest thing is our routines. We get so set in just pitching on our fifth day, and when you don't do it, it's something that's a little bit unusual. For me, my mindset is just going to be the same as normal. I'm not going to try to blow balls by guys. I'm going to try to pitch like I normally would. Again, for me, if I can get my command and my mechanics are comfortable and stuff like that, I'll make adjustments during the course of the game and I feel like I should be successful."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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