The differences between Joba 2008 and Joba 2009

Open Thread: Granderson vs. Soriano
Sticking the new guy in left field

For about eight weeks during the 2008 season, Joba Chamberlain displayed dominance as a starter. After spending the first 60 some-odd innings of his big league career in the bullpen, the Yankees transitioned him to the rotation in June and there seemed to be only a routine drop-off in performance. His fastball still blew away hitters, and his slider still dropped off the table. It appeared the Yankees might see another homegrown star. Unfortunately, after 65.1 innings in the rotation Joba’s shoulder gave a bit, ending his 2008 stint in the rotation. After the season, however, Brian Cashman showed unquestioned faith in his 2006 draft pick, saying that only he and Chien-Ming Wang were guaranteed rotation spots in 2009.

As we remember all too well, Joba’s second season in the rotation didn’t go quite as well as the first. For starters, his fastball lost 2.5 miles per hour, the biggest loss in the majors among pitchers with 50 innings in 2008 and 2009. He seemed tentative on the mound, constantly shaking off Jorge Posada. In many instances he shook his head until Posada signaled for slider, especially in 3-2 counts. But the slider didn’t appear to have the bite we saw over the past two years.

Even still, he managed to pitch decently through July. At that point the Yankees tried two techniques in order to limit Joba’s workload, though neither seemed to take. That might have been a result of the uncertainty he faced, but it also might have been because he’d never pitched so many innings in a regular season. In any case, his performance did decline in the season’s final two months, his ERA inflating by more than a full run over that period. Clearly, something had changed.

Last week we looked at how Phil Hughes changed over the years. Now it’s Joba’s turn. What changes, other than fastball velocity, did he realize in 2009?

As regards his fastball, it appears that velocity is all he lost. In terms of movement he remained the same. In 2008 his fastball broke 4.4 inches towards right-handed batters (compared to a pitch with no spin), compared to 4.2 inches in 2009. His vertical movement was almost exactly the same as well, 10.0 inches in 2008 and 9.9 inches in 2009. He might not have been throwing it as hard, but velocity isn’t everything. His vertical movement remains comfortably above league average, though his horizontal movement remains below.

His bread and butter, the slider, did appear to have changed from 2008 to 2009. It did lose some velocity, about .08 mph, or about one percent. By comparison, his fastball velocity decreased by about three percent. In 2007 and 2008 Joba’s slider seemed to travel about 5/6 of the way to the plate and then drop at the last second. The 2007 PitchFx data is rough, but we can see the effect in 2008. Joba’s slider dropped 0.9 inches, while a league average slider “rose” 2.8 inches. In 2009 his slider had an inch less drop, at 0.1 “rise” compared to a league average of 2.3. So not only did Joba’s vertical movement rise, but the league average dropped.

As we know, pitchers employ different kinds of sliders. While some break primarily on the vertical plane, like Joba’s in 2008, others move side to side. In 2008 Joba didn’t generate much side to side movement, just 0.8 inches against a league average of 2.1 inches. In 2009 it appears Joba changed styles, as his slider broke 2.1 inches horizontally, against a league average of 2.4. The Texas Leaguers Pitch f/x tool says Joba got 18.3 percent swings and misses on his slider in 2009, compared to 26.2 percent as a starter in 2008.

Joba’s other secondary pitch, his curveball, also saw diminished movement in 2009. The horizontal break remained consistent, 4.1 against a league average of 5.1 in 2009 and 4.2 against a 5.3 league average in 2009. In terms of vertical break, however, it wasn’t nearly the same. In 2008, when he started working it into his arsenal as a starter, the pitch dropped 6.7 inches, a full two inches better than the league average.

My question is how to evaluate the pitch’s effectiveness. It’s not necessarily a swing and miss pitch like the slider, so whiff rate isn’t the only factor. In that regard, however, he did a bit better in 2009, inducing a swing and miss 14.9 percent of the time, compared to 5.6 percent as a starter in 08. He didn’t throw it as often for a strike, though, 55.9 percent in 2009 against 58.7 percent in 2008. Hitters swung at it more often in 2009, however, 34.3 percent against 23.8 percent in 2008. Might the greater vertical break in 2008 have fooled more hitters, causing them to look at more strikes?

(I was hoping that Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F/x Tool could tell us, but it appears to not be loading 2008 data. Drat.)

When we discuss Joba Chamberlain 2009 season, the topic often centers on his fastball. While his reduced velocity did cause concern, his pitches still broke in a similar manner. What might be more concerning is the change he saw in his secondary pitches. The breaks on his slider and curveball changed in 2009, and as we saw in the case of the slider, it led to fewer swings and misses. It appears Joba has a lot to work on for the 2010 season. Thankfully, he showed up early to get a head start.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Open Thread: Granderson vs. Soriano
Sticking the new guy in left field
  • bexarama

    The difference is obvious; he wore high socks most of the time in 2008 and he didn’t in 2009.

    Nah, most young guys are gonna go through some bumps in the road, which means we shouldn’t be freaking out and throwing them in the bullpen because they’re not dominating, and this write-up is pretty awesome.

    • RKelly39

      Love the high socks — he needs to rock that good call


        High socks rock – Soriano style. i miss Giambi and his ‘just for men’ mustache look: “its dark, it’s light! now it’s dark again!”

  • Cecala

    He should go into spring training with a mustache. It is obvious players perform better with the power of the mustache on their side…

    • Tom Zig

      Depends on what kind of mustache we’re talking here.

      Is it a Rollie Fingers type mustache? or more like Eckersly/Mattingly?

      • Cecala

        A combination of both would be epic…!

    • Bob Stone

      He should go for a Goose ‘stache.

  • DP

    I see no mention of his mentality and/or level of fire in his eyes. This article has no credibility.

  • Kyle

    +1. Here’s to over-anaylzing a prospect pitcher…

    • the artist formerly known as (sic)

      -1. Here’s to misspelling over-analyzing…

  • ultimate913

    The 2009 Joba is a year older. What do I win?

    • Zack

      a trip to the 8th inning?

    • Steve H

      You get to drink from the fire hose!

  • pistol pete

    I’d put both of them in the pen. Use Gaudin or Mitre as the 5th starter. More games are won and lost in the pen than the no 5 starter. It would also protect Mo to pitch just 1 inning at a time this yr. With Robertson, Hughes, Joba, Marte, and Aceves for a long guy the pen would be set. We’ll still win 50% or more of the no 5 starters starts.

    • For Lack of a More Creative Name… Alex
    • JobaWockeeZ

      I hope that’s sarcasm or a joke. Because that would be a terrible waste.

      Guadin is a average to below average starter. And we’ll have no idea what Mitrer will give us. A sucky 2009 eprformance or a better performance if he fully recovered from TJ surgery.

      So instead of giving them the final spot I’d rather let one of the two young pitchers with ace potential grow. The goal is to win now and win forever so one will be in the bullpen and one will be as a starter for now.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      I’d put both of them in the pen. Use Gaudin or Mitre as the 5th starter. More games are won and lost in the pen than the no 5 starter. (safe)

      • Bob

        To be fair, it is literally true that the bullpen has more wins and losses than the fifth starter. The bullpen went 40-17 for the Yanks last year, 57 total decisions, way more than any 5th starter could possibly have.

        Of course, that’s the ENTIRE bullpen, who pitched 515 collective innings between 21 pitchers. Any one reliever had far, far fewer decisions. If we put Hughes and Joba both in the pen and give them each 250 innings, then we’ll be getting our money’s worth.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          To be fair, it is literally true that the bullpen has more wins and losses than the fifth starter. The bullpen went 40-17 for the Yanks last year, 57 total decisions, way more than any 5th starter could possibly have.

          Actual games won and lost by a team and the flawed, overly simplistic, outmoded statistic “pitcher wins” are not remotely the same thing.

          • Bob

            (I know. That was a joke.)

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

              Ah. Praise Jeebus.

    • pete

      the point is that if either of them has a chance to be more than a #5 (both have more than a chance to be much more than that), then putting either of them in the bullpen until you are absolutely sure that he can’t cut it as a starter (IMO, you really can’t make that call until they’re about 30, by which point i’m pretty confident that both will have put this silly debate to rest).

      Furthermore, the dropoff from Joba or Phil to Gaudin or Mitre as a starter, regardless of whether it’s as a #5 or a #1, is much greater than the dropoff from Joba or Phil to Robertson/Marte/Aceves in the bullpen. Joba in the pen could probably be a ~ 3 WAR pitcher. Robertson could probably be a ~ 2.5 WAR pitcher out of the ‘pen. Joba has the potential to be a ~6 WAR starter. Mitre is at best a 1 WAR starter and Gaudin a 2 WAR starter. 4/5 WAR > .5 WAR

      • Tom Zig

        a 3 WAR pitcher out of the pen? That’s pretty high. Mo in his best seasons ever (since WAR has been developed) was at 3 WAR

  • iYankees

    Pitch type value data via FanGraphs seems to indicate that his problem last season stemmed from the fastball. I do think the issue might be movement related. Not sure if I have the dates wrong, but when I look at the TexasLeaguers data, Joba’s vertical movement, as a starter, in 2008, is listed as 9.74 and his movement in on right-handers is 4.67. As a starter in 2009, Joba’s fastball movement was 9.91 vertical and 4.20 horizontal. That seems like a pretty significant loss in terms of horizontal movement. The lack of velocity probably exacerbated the problem.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      I’ve used pitch type value in the past, but after talking to a few other writers I’m not sure if it’s the measurement we’re looking for. It’s a great idea, no doubt, but without a sequencing mechanism I think it loses value. For instance, if Joba falls into a pattern and hitters know a fastball’s coming, they’re going to hit it hard. That doesn’t speak to the quality of the fastball, but instead the sequence of his pitches.

      • hrbomber1113

        Thank you Joseph. I got into an argument with a Sox fan who claimed that John Lackey had better stuff than AJ burnett and because AJ ad a low pitch value for his fastball, this guy claimed that AJ’s fastball was one of the worst and most overrated pitches in the history of baseball. What’s worse is that everyone in the comments backed him up and i got chastised for not having any “evidence” to back up my position. I claimed that since AJ really only throws 2 pitches, that batters have a better chance of guessing what’s coming, and furthermore, AJ loses his concentration and falls behind in the count and just grooves a fastball ALL THE TIME. I also argued that just because a random unproven stat on fangraphs claims his pitch value was low doesn’t prove a guy throwing in the mid 90’s with great sink and movement has one of the worst fastballs in the game. Then everyone started making fun of me because I used my personal observations over a fangraphs stat. Ridiculous. The comments on are worse than ESPN.

        • Januz

          The funny thing about Lackey and Burnett is their career stats are similiar. For example: Burnett: ERA: 3.84 Lackey:3.81. Burnett: WHIP 1.401 Lackey: 1.306. I would agree Lackey is the better pitcher statistically, but it is not a major difference. One thing in Burnett’s favor, is how he not only adjusted well to NY, but how he left his mark in the clubhouse (Pies etc). It will be interesting to see how Lackey adjusts to the Boston pressure, coming from laid-back Southern California.

          • Steve H

            Haven’t you heard, Lackey is a gritty bulldog, he’s perfect for Boston.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            The funny thing about Lackey and Burnett is their career stats are similiar. For example: Burnett: ERA: 3.84 Lackey:3.81. Burnett: WHIP 1.401 Lackey: 1.306.

            And yet:

            Burnett 110, Lackey 117

          • hrbomber1113

            Ya i conceded that Lackey was the better pitcher but Burnett had the better stuff. I’m not sure but hasn’t Lackey struggled in Fenway?

      • iYankees

        Sequencing is definitely part of it. For instance, Burnett’s fastball is rated very poorly, but I think it’s not that his fastball is poor, it’s just that his curveball is very good and he doesn’t throw his changeup much, so hitters know when the fastball is coming. That’s very true. I don’t think pitch type value proves that a pitch is bad or good, rather that it is being used ineffectively. Anyway, with Joba, their seems to have been a loss in horizontal movement on his fastball, a dip in velocity, and he probably didn’t locate it well or throw it as wisely as he could have (sequencing), which probably led to its ineffectiveness.

  • johnny

    I agree that growing pains are to be expected. I think one of the inherent difficulties in being a starting pitcher is learning repeat the delivery of three or more different pitches. Being able to throw two very well doesn’t mean that arsenal wont suffer when you throw a new pitch in the mix. I have no stats to justify this statement but I have absolutely no doubt its true-pitching is fragile.

    • pete

      this is 100% true. It’s also a matter of throwing a pitch not just to its optimal movement/velocity, but being able to consistently locate it well. For joba, coming out of the bullpen he had to be able to spot the fastball to the bottom corners, and up and in on both sides of the plate, which is really like throwing 3 different pitches (for some reason throwing up and in feels the same to a righty and a lefty in my experience), and then all he had to do with the slider was put it down and in on a lefty/low and away on a righty. So in essence, he only had to throw 4 different pitches out of the pen. As a starter, he needs those same four spots with the FB, plus he needs to have the put-away slider (down and in to lefties, down and out on righties), the backdoor/frontdoor slider (lower outside corner on lefties, lower inside corner on righties), the freeze-em slider (probably the hardest to throw – ends up pretty much right down the middle but looks like a high FB – very hard to keep from getting flat), and then the curve to those same spots, and then the backdoor/frontdoor change (inside corners vs. lefties, outside vs. righties), and the diving change (down and in on righties and down and away on lefties). That’s 11 pitches/locations to master, up from 4.

      Personally I think the velocity was just an issue of him being told not to risk getting hurt. He was, after all, coming back from injury as well as pitching about 50 more innings than he ever had before. I think he’ll perform better this year than last on account of improved velocity, which will allow him to get by as he did in ’08 on mainly the same arsenal he had out of the pen, rather than having to try to rely on those other pitches. JMO

  • Matt Imbrogno

    I said it all last season and I’ll say it again: location, location, location. Chamberlain not being able to throw his fastball for strikes as much as he should/wanted meant that batters weren’t swinging at his fastball, and for good reason. In turn, they weren’t swinging at his breaking stuff as much. After all, if Joba can’t locate his fastball, why should I swing at his slider?

    There was also a point at which he seemed to get incredibly predictable. If he had you behind in the count, he was going to go to that slider each and every time.

    • Bo

      Location doesnt matter as much when you’re throwing 96. location matters when you’re throwing 90.

      Big difference. His loss of fastball means big problems.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Location doesnt matter as much when you’re throwing 96. location matters when you’re throwing 90.

        I agree.

        Kyle Farnsworth and Armando Benitez


  • hrbomber1113

    I’m afraid Joba’s shoulder is still hurt. i saw him pitch live this season and his motion is more rigid than usual and he’s really pushing the ball instead of just letting go. I’ve had 6 shoulder surgeries and that’s how you throw when your shoulder hurts. It takes some of the pressure off the joint. I really hope I’m wrong about this but he isn’t free and easy at all, and that would explain the loss of pure “stuff”. One of my good friends is from Nebraska and one of his good friends is Joba’s assistant, or so they claim. And apparently the assistant is saying Joba’s shoulder is injured and he’s just going to go as long as he can before having the surgery. Now obviously we should take that “information” with an entire box of salt and I’m really hoping the staff would know this and wouldn’t risk him after all the Joba Rules and everything. Like I said, I really hope I’m wrong and I don’t believe what a friend of a friend of Joba’s said but I’m definitely worried about it. Even when he came out of the pen in the playoffs and had the “fire” he was still having a lot of trouble throwing a good slider and his fb was 2-3 mph slower than what it was out of the pen the year before. Ugh…painful to think of.

    • Steve H

      The Yankees know his shoulder better than anyone out there. If he was hurt, and risking further injury, he woudln’t have made 30+ starts last year.

      • hrbomber1113

        players lie all the time about injuries, especially to their team. Remember Javy Vazquez in 2004?

        • Steve H

          They knew when Joba’s shoulder was hurt. They created the recovery plan for him and followed his rehab. I’m sure they ran a ton of medical tests to show the shoulder was healthy. He was already injured, he wasn’t going to be able to hide it, they certainly followed up and kept an eye on it. Javy was hurt, and never told anyone, big difference between Joba, who was hurt during a game and went to the DL. Again, knowing that he was hurt, and where he was hurt, there is no way he gets run out there for 30 starts.

          • hrbomber1113

            i’m saying it’s possible he strained his shoulder in 2008. Then he recovered and reinjured it in 2009 but didn’t tell the team about the new injury.

            • Steve H

              Possible? Sure. Likely? No. Again, because he had a prior shoulder injury, and was on strict rules regarding innings and pitch counts, I am sure they knew exactly what was going on with Joba and his arm. Being young and coming off an injury, he was likely monitored a hell of a lot more than CC/Burnett, Javy in 2004, etc.

              • hrbomber1113

                If they come to him and ask if his arm is hurt and he tells them there is no injury, i’m guessing that would be the end of it. He really tailed off towards the all star break like his arm was tired and after 10 days off or so he pitched really well after the break but eventually seemed to wear down after a few starts. I’m sure they asked him if his arm was ok, and if he told them it was fine I seriously doubt they would order an MRI.

                • Zack

                  If there was any concern about an injury, they’d shut him down and send him for an MRI and call up Dr. Andrews, regardless of what Joba tells them.

                • hrbomber1113

                  well there are so many factors that go into pitching that i think they would take him at his word since, luck, conditioning, and mechanics can play a large role in pitching. It’s tough to tell what causes a pitcher to struggle. It’s also possible he was hurt and they never asked him or thought he was hurt. All i said was there’s a possibility that’s what was going on and would explain a lot. I haven’t heard many other explanations about why his stuff was so heavily diminished. I realize velocity drops off when you’re a starter, but when he needed to reach back just for one pitch to throw a mid or upper 90’s fastball or that filthy slider it wasn’t there.

                • Zack

                  If the Yankees staff and trained medical professionals had no worries about Joba making 30 starts last year, then there is no realistic reason for me to worry.

                  Every game post there was some fan beating the injury drum- Jeter is 0-5? He must be injured he doesnt look right, i KNOW he’s injured. Then the next game he goes 5-5.
                  So I tend to trust trained doctors over fans.

                • Kevin M.

                  Except this isn’t just some randome observation without supporting evidence.

                  The FACT is that Joba injured his shoulder in late 08 and has been a dramatically different pitcher ever since. Losing 2.5 mph off your FB is a MASSIVE drop in a single season.

                  Something aint right. Maybe it’s mechanics, maybe it’s simply holding back too much, but maybe it is an ongoing injury.

                • Zack

                  “Something aint right. Maybe it’s mechanics, maybe it’s simply holding back too much, but maybe it is an ongoing injury.”

                  Right there are many factors. But since the trained medical staff and doctors have no issues with Joba making 30 starts last year, then I have no issues with his health.

                  I’m not sure what else I’m suppose to say. Is there a possibility he’s hurt? Sure, but there’s a possibility for everything so that’s not a valid statement IMO. Yankee doctors gave the team the OK to let him pitch, Dr. James Andrews gave him the OK to pitch. What else do you want?

  • Rose

    Maybe AJ Burnett should have a talk with Joba about what Roy Halladay told him. AJ seemed to get hurt trying to throw as hard as he could each time…and Roy (as I believe I read at some point) told him how to continue to be dominant without doing that because that seemed to lead to injury. Perhaps the same can be told to Joba.

    Throwing hard doesn’t necessarily lead to injuries…but when you throw 25 innings on average per inning…AND you’re trying to throw as hard as you can…and you’re still young. It takes a toll on you.

    Again, not saying this is why his shoulder was hurt…just a suggestion.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      But with Joba’s reduced velocity, maybe they already had the talk. And maybe Joba’s just in an adaptation period.

    • Steve H

      I don’t want AJ giving any pitcher advice.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Meh, he could be giving him advice on things not to do. There’s that.

        If Burnett’s giving him advice on how to throw a better curveball, that would be a good thing, no?

        Both Dave Eiland and Mariano Rivera seem to be quality pitching coaches that have dispensed great advice that pitchers swear by and improve with, despite Eiland and Mo being very different pitchers with very different levels of success and consistency.

        • Steve H

          Yeah, there are certainly cases in which AJ would be a good guy to listen to, but not in general approach to pitching. He’s the epitome of not getting everything out of his stuff, he’s clearly not a bad pitcher, but he ain’t what he had the potential to be. And I think the Halladay-Burnett relationship advice was overblown, and used the the people that will quote AJ’s career high 18 wins. Burnett hasn’t turned his career around since meeting Halladay, he’s been what he is, inconsistent.

          • kunaldo

            You also have to realize that while Burnett’s results aren’t always good, it doesn’t mean that his APPROACH is not good. Maybe he just doesn’t execute it well…e.g. Trying to paint a corner, but he can’t control his movement so the pitch leaks over the middle..

  • Jake H

    I do wonder if towards the end of the season Joba started to get concerned after getting close to the most innings he threw. His tempo for most of the year was bad also. Joba needs to pick a pitch with the catcher, set and throw. He was painfully slow all year long. I do wonder if by picking up the pace and being more comfortable that he will regain some of the velocity.

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      keep em on their toes. for sure

      • Steve H

        Like a midget at a urinal.

  • mikey pie

    Totally agree that his command of the fastball was a major problem, but also the differential in velocity between the fastball and slider may have contributed to its ineffectiveness.

    • hrbomber1113

      I agree. You could see several times last year when his fastball was 91 and his slider was 87. Also, I’m not sure what his numbers against lefties were out of the pen but it seemed he didn’t have that explosive swing and miss slider that goes to the back foot of the lefty hitters and lost his best weapon against them.

  • Lucas A.

    I think that one of the biggest differences from 2008 to 2009 was that with the decreased velocity, Chamberlain couldn’t rely on blowing hitters away with the fastball. I looked at some PITCHf/x data and I found that in 2008, Chamberlain’s whiff rate (misses/swings) on fastballs in the strike zone was 13.7%. In 2009, that number was down to just 6%.

  • ralph

    On his radio show, Michael Kay continually asked “Where’s 99? Where did it go?” He says that people that say that he’s just holding back because he needed to throw 6-7 innings instead of 1 are just not thinking about it. I agree with him.

    He’s not the same guy. If he was, in a big jam, he’d rear back and throw 3 or 4 straight 98 mph FBs. He did that in 08 a couple of times before he hurt his shoulder. I watched everyone of his 08 starts and he sat 93-96 and, as if to let people know he could, he hit 97 or 98 in his last inning of all but 1 start (not counting the short starts). Last year even out of the bullpen we did not see 98.

    All that said, he can still be a number 2 and at worst, an AJ Burnett type who is inconsistent but can spin 2 or 3 gems a month. I believe he can be more consistent though. If he can sit 92-94 and hit 96 once in awhile he’ll be fine.