Ever Yankee fan knows that Joba Chamberlain is having a poor season this year. Yet when you look deeper into his numbers, many of his rate stats are good. K/9 is a healthy 9.64, BB/9 is an acceptable 3.38, giving him roughly a 3 to 1 SO/BB rate. His FIP stands at a very nice 2.79 and his BABIP is a sky-high .380. This leads some to believe Yankee fans have been too hard on him, and he’s just been unlucky this year.
Don’t be overly swayed by his peripherals. They’re good because of his Jeckyl and Hyde nature this year. When he’s on, he dominates and shows flashes of brilliance. When he’s off, he is lucky to escape only giving up 3 or 4 runs, because he has nothing and is getting crushed. He’s been on more than off, in his 39 appearances this year he’s given up 3 runs or more 5 times. That’s why the overall peripherals are going to look good. But the bad outings have been so spectacularly bad that his ERA is bloated along with some other numbers. But make no mistake, it’s not just bad luck. He’s earned it.
What’s been wrong? Dave Eiland says it’s all about fastball command, which manifests itself when there are mechanical issues. Here’s a recent quote from NJ.com’s Pete Caldera:
Pitching coach Dave Eiland noticed a familiar flaw during Joba Chamberlain’s rough eighth inning Saturday night. “When he’s finishing his delivery, he’s standing up. He’s not out over his front side. That’s why the ball’s up in the zone and there’s no command.”
Chamberlain’s inconsistency has come to represent a shaky first half by the setup relief corps. Eiland said the right-hander’s delivery flaw is easily correctable, but, “He’s got to do it. It’s something we’ve worked on after the last bad outing in New York and corrected it. His next two outings were good.” At 96-97 mph “his velocity’s fine. But he could throw 196 mph, and if he’s not locating, he’s not going to be effective.”
Girardi has also mentioned that his rough outings have been related to getting too much rest, which I detailed yesterday. But you can’t rearrange your bullpen for just one pitcher. If Joba cant learn how to make adjustments on the fly, learn how to be more consistent, he’s too combustible for his current role.
But the question soon follows ‘Who replaces Joba?’ Right now, nobody else on the 25 man roster has asserted themselves as a suitable replacement. After a slow start, Dave Robertson has been reliable since his ERA peaked on May 5th at an ugly 14.21, giving up 8 Runs in 23.1 IP (3.11 ERA) and 4 of those came in one bad outing. But he’s also Walked 15 batters in that same span, and that’s been an issue with him throughout his career. Robertson is a guy who has to live on the corners and therefore will always allow his share of base runners, he’s more suited to low leverage work. The Yanks have tried Damaso Marte as an 8th inning guy in the past, and each time came to the conclusion that he’s better suited as a Lefty specialist. Forget about Chan Ho Park or Chad Gaudin. There really is no replacement, and when that’s the case you simply have to mix and match. Come playoff time, chances are Phil Hughes will be the guy. That keeps his innings down for the year and he showed us all last year that he’s capable of being the bridge to Mariano in a short series. In the meantime, we can look to promote someone from AAA to enter the mix. Again from NJ.com:
Though Joe Girardi has no plans to replace Chamberlain as his primary setup man, the manager said they’ll consider promoting Jonathan Albaladejo, who has 29 saves and a 1.01 ERA at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Of course, if the Yanks are going to be mixing and matching then Joba can be kept around and simply used differently. Forget about him having a defined role, just take your chances with him on a nightly basis and always have someone warming up behind him. The way he’s pitching now is really better suited for low leverage work. But as I detailed yesterday time is running out on sending him back to the minors. After August 7th of this year he’ll have to clear waivers in order to be sent down. This particular tool has a shelf life, and if you don’t use it soon, it won’t be available.
There have long been whispers about Joba’s conditioning (or lack thereof) and the sense of the coaching staff that he constantly needs a kick in the ass. That’s one explanation for his mechanical lapses. There’s also a good chance that this is simply who he is, and the league has just caught up to him. Check out what ESPNs Keith Law said about him after seeing him in the Futures Game back in 2007:
That’s JAH-buh. Get used to it, because as long as he stays healthy he’s coming quickly. Big, imposing guy with about as broad a set of shoulders as you’ll see on anything smaller than an elephant, and big league stuff — 92-96 mph fastball with an out-pitch 83-85 mph slider that had good tilt. His fastball command was so-so, but he really nails the slider. The one caveat is that his delivery isn’t great, with some length in the back, some effort required, and a weird finish in which he pulls his glove hand in hard, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the fastball command never got to the point where he can start in the majors. And I wouldn’t be surprised if his stuff is so good that it doesn’t matter
Commanding his fastball has been an issue with him throughout his career. Whatever is causing those momentary lapses in his delivery, whether its mechanical or lack of conditioning or lack of focus, it has to be corrected. The way he’s pitching now he’ll wind up on the Long Island Ducks in 5 years. Riding a bus in Scranton may be the wake up call Joba needs. Lots of guys have thrown the ball 99 MPH and failed. Mark Wohlers, John Rocker, Kyle Farnsworth, etc. If you can’t locate, you’ll get crushed. Joba needs to keep his fastball below the waist. If he can’t figure out how to do that, and do it consistently, he’s just a tease with a great arm like all of those other guys.