No player on the Yankees this season has taken up as much of our time as Joba Chamberlain. Sure, A-Rod has his his non-drama that everyone pays attention to, Posada had the whole thing where he couldn’t call a game for a while, and Burnett had a stretch of pretty poor outings. Each has caused a bit of an uproar here and there, but no topic has persisted throughout the season like Joba Chamberlain’s role. I need not reiterate the argument.
Over the next three nights, I’ll take a look at each of Joba’s starts through the first half. Tonight we’ll do his first five starts, with the next five on Wednesday night, the next five on Thursday night, and the final two clunkers on Friday afternoon. Maybe this will shed some light on Joba’s situation, and maybe it won’t. The hope is that we can find some kind of trend, but that’s doubtful. More than likely, this will be just a good chunk of information.
April 12 @ Kansas City
Synopsis: The Yankees, winners of three straight at the time, looked to sweep the Royals. Joba pitched pretty well, going six innings and allowing just one earned run, a home run to John Buck. He also allowed two unearned runs, one of them was the only guy he walked all game. With runners on first and second and two out, Nick Swisher, filling in for the resting Mark Teixeira, made an error at first which allowed a run to score and the inning to continue. Buck then struck again, singling in another run, making it 3-1 Royals.
Joba finished the sixth with 88 pitches, and the Yankees turned it on in the seventh with a four run showing, putting the team on top and Joba in line for the win. Girardi thought that was all for Chamberlain, though, replacing him with Brian Bruney, who mowed down the Royals in the seventh. Then came that dreaded eighth. Damaso Marte got two easy fly outs to left, but then for some reason Joe Girardi went to Jose Veras to get Billy Butler. He walked him, and then Phil Coke gave up the lead on a double to a guy who is too poor a hitter to still be with the Royals. The Royals, who just signed Yuniesky Betancourt as an offensive upgrade. The Yanks dropped the game, and Joba didn’t get the decision.
Pitches – Strikes: 88 – 56 (64%)
Breakdown: 57 fastballs, 13 sliders, 11 curves, 3 changes, 3 two-seamers
Average and Max FB: 92.5, 96
Notes: Threw 2/3 strikes with his fastball, which is always good. Threw almost 85 percent strikes with his slider. He had a bit of trouble with the two-seamer and the slower pitches. Still, good strike percentage, good velocity.
April 17 Cleveland
Synopsis: Joba lasted just 4.2 innings, throwing 93 pitches in that span. After allowing a homer in the first he seemed to settle down, but came apart in the fifth inning, walking the leadoff guy and then getting hammered by the heart of the Cleveland order. A double by Ryan Garko, putting Cleveland ahead 5-3, would chase him from the game. The Yankees came back and tied it on an E1, and going ahead for good on a Derek Jeter long ball. Joba got a no-decision thanks to the offense.
Pitches – Strikes: 93 – 46 (49%)
Breakdown: 65 fastballs, 19 curves, 6 sliders, 2 change, 1 two-seamer
Average and Max FB: 91.5, 95.5
Notes: Joba was down about a mile per hour on his fastball from last game, and totally lost the strike zone. That’s far more concerning than the velocity. He also threw almost 70 percent fastballs, which seems like too much. He did go with the curveball over the slider in this game, but it didn’t quite work out for him. He only threw it for strikes 37 percent of the time. Still, something tells me it wasn’t his curveball that failed him, per se. He threw his fastball for strikes only 52 percent of the time.
April 24 @ Boston
Synopsis: Joba tosses 5/1 innings, allowing one earned run, two overall, and walking four. He had no earned runs heading into the sixth, though the first run was enough of his fault that it should have counted. Anyway, with runners on first and third with one out Joba allowed a single to Nick freaking Green, tying the game and chasing Joba, who had 91 pitches at that point. For the second straight game Phil Coke came in to finish off the job, and for the second straight game he did so without allowing an additional run. Then Mo allowed the two-run jack to Bay, and we don’t want to remember this one any more than we have to.
Pitches – Strikes: 91 – 49 (54%)
Breakdown: 53 fastballs, 23 sliders, 8 curves, 2 changes, 2 two-seamers
Average and Max FB: 92.4, 94.5
Notes: Decent with the average fastball, but he didn’t seem to ramp it up. Threw only 51 percent strikes with his fastball, which is sorta kinda really bad. Here we see something I’ve been pointing out recently: complete reliance on the fastball and slider. Of his 91 pitches he threw either of those 76 times. He’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher at that point. Still almost 70 percent strikes with the slider, but I would hypothesize that the percentage would go down if he continues to rely on just two pitches.
April 29 @ Detroit
Synopsis: Joba dominates. Yankeeland is happy. Seven innings with only 88 pitches, six strikeouts, three hits. The three walks are not nice, but not enough to rain on the party.
Pitches – Strikes: 88 – 50 (57%)
Breakdown: 63 fastballs, 12 sliders, 10 curves, 1 change, 2 two-seamers
Average and Max FB: 92.75, 96.3
Notes: The fastball is there. Maybe a tick below where we’d expect, but remember, this isn’t a guy who’s going to continue what he was doing last year. Basically, he was throwing like a reliever as a starter, maxing out his throws. Then he got hurt. While it’s not necessarily causal, it’s hard to ignore the correlation. Anyway, the 63 fastballs is a lot, but he mixed his slider and curve more, which give him three distinct looks. His 58 percent strikes with the fastball wasn’t great, but much better than his start in Boston. Also threw half his curves for strikes, and 58 percent with the slider.
May 5 Boston
Synopsis: This was the one where Joba allowed three straight hits and a three-run homer before finally getting out of the inning. It looked terrible at first, but then he went to strike out 12 Red Sox in the next 4.2 innings, most of them looking. It wouldn’t be enough, as the Yanks could only muster three runs of Josh Beckett. Joba took the loss, making his first inning even more of a shame.
Pitches – Strikes: 108 – 65 (60%)
Breakdown: 53 FB, 23 sliders, 16 curveballs, 11 changeups, 5 two-seamers
Average and Max FB: 92.3, 96
Notes: Fine velocity again, but it was clear that the fastball wasn’t working. So what did Joba do? Threw a ton of secondary pitches. Even so, he threw the fastball for a strike a hair over 60 percent of the time, dropped his curve for strikes close to 70 percent, and was about 64 percent with the change. Even though the first inning sucked, and even though the Yanks lost, I was kind of proud of Joba after this game. He realized something in the first and acted on it later, and it paid off heavily.
If you just looked at the breakdowns without looking at the results, you could probably pick out which of his starts were the better ones. For the most part he performed poorly when he 1) didn’t throw strikes, 2) relied on just two pitches, and 3) didn’t have his fastball averaging over 92. The same could be said for many, many other pitchers.
We’ll come back tomorrow to look over his next set of five starts. Spoiler: you get cheated with his short start, but you get the one where he annihilated Cleveland. A fair trade-off, I’d say.