Joba has a strong day, quiets the naysayers . . . for now

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Joba Chamberlain headshot.jpgI don’t recall a spring training game being talked up as much as yesterday’s Yankees-Phillies tilt, which the New York press breathlessly reported as Joba Chamberlain’s make-or-break day.  Certainly Chamberlain needed a good outing — he’s been pitching terribly so far this spring — but it’s not like the Yankees are so shortsighted that they’d decide who their fifth starter would be in mid-March.

But he did pitch well. One run over four innings, pounding the strike zone and pitching very economically, which for him is the biggest challenge. Girardi called Chamberlain’s effort “outstanding.” Which, if I can anticipate the tabloids I have yet to read this morning, will somehow thrust Chamberlain out front in the horse race they’re calling.

Which is just as silly as saying he was so far behind before.  Girardi and Cashman and everyone will probably wait until just before opening day to decide this thing.  And once it’s decided, the repercussions of the decision, such as they are, will likely only be felt for a few months.  If Hughes wins the job, the stricter innings pitched limit he’ll be under will likely lead to Chamberlain or someone else making spot starts.  After this season, both Hughes and Chamberlain will likely be in the Yankees rotation.

In a spring filled with very few compelling storylines in Yankees camp, this one is being overblown.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.