Once upon a time, the New York Yankees attempted to protect their famed fireballing reliever Joba Chamberlain with a set of “Joba Rules” which governed the situations in which their prized righty would be showcased.
For whatever reason, the rules never really mattered. Chamberlain has sustained more ailments (on the field and off) over the past six seasons than many players do in an entire career. In turn, he became somewhat devalued on the free agent market, prompting many to scoff at his potential impact for the Tigers’ needy bullpen.
Often times while in New York, the Joba Rules would prevent Yankees manager Joe Torre from using Chamberlain in back to back situations. With the Detroit Tigers, Chamberlain should see no such luxuries, considering he will in all likelihood be pitching for his job given he signed a one year, incentive laden contract with the team and the Tigers have shown little interest in signing others to help put out fires in the bullpen.
Given Chamberlain has evolved and aged a bit since the year 2007, plenty has changed. Joe Girardi attempted to rewrite or cancel the rules, but Chamberlain has never been able to truly outgrow his rookie moniker. There are new rules now, and they should govern his time in Detroit with Brad Ausmus as manager. Here’s a look at the evolution of the Joba Rules with a 2014 twist.
1. Chamberlain should be able to pitch in any situation. If the Tigers have a lead in the seventh inning, Chamberlain should be available. Should Detroit have a lead in the eighth and already used Bruce Rondon, Chamberlain should be able to be called upon as well. If Detroit has a tenuous lead in the sixth inning in a major situation, Chamberlain, in theory, should also be able to be called upon. No situation is too big nor too impossible, and the Tigers will need the same, cold blooded approach from Chamberlain every single time.
2. There should be no rest for the weary. Torre would famously have to rest Chamberlain a day for every inning he pitched. That decree would make players like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer blush, two pitchers of a nearly comparable age who have been used to a greater degree over the same time period. Sometimes, coddling hurts pitchers as much or more than overuse does. Has that been the case for Chamberlain? Arguably. If Ausmus needs Chamberlain two days in a row, he should be ready to go. “Scheduled” days off should remain a thing of the past.
3. No questions about the past, no worries about the future. If Chamberlain gives up runs in a game, it’s not because he had a lousy end to his career in New York and is to be thought of as washed up. If he gives up home runs, it doesn’t mean he won’t make a serviceable relief pitcher beyond the 2014 season in Detroit. The past is the past, and the future remains unknown. All Chamberlain and the Tigers can count on is the present, and that’s exactly what they, along with the fans, should do.
4. Have fun first, play baseball second. Pitching for the Yankees has proven to be a job more than a career for many, and plenty of players simply weren’t made for that task. Mariano Rivera succeeded in the Big Apple with a quiet, unwavering, almost ambivalent approach to success or failure. Chamberlain, an emotional midwesterner, was never going to truly succeed in that market taking daily criticism to heart. Baseball must become fun again for a man who was routinely booed off the Yankee Stadium mound, and Chamberlain should find the joy in his new situation, especially considering he’ll pitch in a park which has helped numerous hurlers rediscover their edge.
5. Listen. It will be a key for both sides. Chamberlain will have to listen to Jeff Jones, Detroit’s pitching coach, and others who are charged with the responsibility of helping him. Similarly, the Tigers should listen to Chamberlain, regarding his health and approach to the game. Success is a two way street, and whenever one side feels as if the other has an unfair advantage or isn’t listening, none can be enjoyed. Open dialogue should be enjoyed between Chamberlain, Ausmus and the entire staff.
Five impactful, general, new Joba Rules is a start. Many won’t desire the signing a pitcher with the question marks Chamberlain undoubtably brings, but on a one year contract, he deserves a fair shot to make a major impact. The talent level has been clear for some time. Now, it’s up to Chamberlain himself to shake off the past in a much quieter, more accepting environment and return to the player he’s clearly capable of being.
What’s the best thing about new Joba Rules? The fact that there are finally none officially defined. Baseball is a game of feel, raw, day to day emotion and power. Chamberlain can bring all of those elements to Detroit and then some, provided the Tigers allow him to spread his wings and be himself. If that plays out, Chamberlain might prove to be one of the bigger values which percolated from baseball’s wild winter market.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax