Often, fans see a player that constantly makes the same mistakes and assumes that the player is not trying, or is too stubborn to change his ways. This line of thinking has led many fans to become incredibly frustrated with Joba Chamberlain. After he allowed four of the first five hitters to reach in last night’s game, fans on many of the blogs I frequent were echoing that familiar refrain: “I am really sick of Joba. He is really showing no effort or inclination to get better. He is just stubborn and unwilling to change.” This is a ridiculous fallacy, as we really know very little about what is going on in a player’s head or behind the scenes.
Unless a player is obviously dogging it, it is impossible to discern whether a player is giving his all by watching on television. We can try and interpret the events on the field, but ultimately, we just do not have enough information about the player’s level of preparation, will to improve, or willingness to try new things. Usually, a player who is not performing or is making the same errors repeatedly is trying to change, but cannot execute. Does anyone truly believe that these players are satisfied with failure on the largest stage for baseball in the world? The assumption should be that the players are attempting to avoid failure unless they clearly show otherwise.
This brings me to Joba Chamberlain. He wants to get better, and the notion that he is not trying is not supported by anything but his lack of performance. He is not throwing strikes because he is not confident in his stuff and is afraid of getting hit. We can shout “Just Throw Strikes!!!!” at the television all we want, but it is much easier said than done. He wants to throw strikes, he just does not believe in himself enough at this point to do so. He therefore nibbles at the edges, trying to avoid the fat part of the bat. His shaking off the catcher stems from the same issue. He just does not have confidence in the pitches that the catcher is calling for. This is a less drastic version of the problem Clay Buccholz dealt with for a while, where he was so afraid to throw the next pitch that he would check on the runner at first an inordinate amount of times so as to delay having to come to the plate.
Are these guys not trying to improve? Are they satisfied with their failures? Of course not. It is not a matter of effort for Joba. It is a matter of execution.