How Joba can learn about reduced velocity from Lincecum

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At this point last year, we began wondering about Joba Chamberlain‘s velocity. After throwing in the upper 90s out of the bullpen, and then mid-90s in the rotation, Joba had been throwing in the low-90s for most of spring training. This caused particular concern because Chamberlain had missed more than a month in 2008 with shoulder tendinitis. Without his heat, would he be as effective a pitcher?

Clearly, Joba needed to make adjustments if his fastball was to average 92 instead of 95. He didn’t make them consistently in 2009 and it led to a somewhat frustrating season. Now, as we head into a new season, we’re again wondering if Joba will recover his velocity, or if he’ll sit in the low 90s for the foreseeable future. As long as he can make adjustments with his command and secondary pitches his velocity shouldn’t be a problem. For a good sample case, we can look to last year’s NL Cy Young winner and the man picked 31 spots ahead of Chamberlain in 2006.

According to the Pitch F/x gun, Tim Lincecum went from averaging 94 mph in 2008 to 92.4 in 2009. Yet he struck out hitters at the same clip, gave up fewer hits, and walked fewer batters. In other words, he made the adjustments necessary to compensate for diminished fastball velocity. He continues to work with his new physical realities, and is honing his secondary pitches again this off-season. In particular, it looks like he’s working with his slider, perhaps with a goal of throwing it more than 10 percent of the time.

For Chamberlain, the drop-off seems a bit more precipitous. He went from averaging 95.2 mph in 2008 to 92.5 in 2009. That might appear to mislead, since it counts Joba’s innings as a reliever, where he threw in the upper 90s, along with his starts. But he also threw bullpen innings as a reliever after the injury and averaged just 93.9 mph there. As a starter, from June into August, he averaged 95.1 mph. I don’t think it’s likely that he consistently reaches that level as a starter again.

Even so, his velocity matched Lincecum’s last year. One major difference is that Lincecum adjusted by throwing the fastball less often. When it sat 94 mph in 2008 he threw it 65.5 percent of the time. But with a bit less zip he threw it less, just 55 percent. Joba, on the other hand, continued to throw the fastball frequently, at 63.3 percent. He also focussed on one secondary pitch, his slider, over another, his curve, while keeping the changeup almost completely out of his arsenal. Conversely, Lincecum used his two secondary pitches, change and curve, about equally. He also worked in his slider 7 percent of the time, more than Joba used the change.

Reducing his reliance on the fastball won’t necessarily make Joba a better pitcher. After all, if he doesn’t have confidence in his secondary pitches they won’t be very effective. But I think that continued heavy use of the fastball will present problems for his development. He certainly can succeed with it, but he might not be able to do so consistently. And if he can’t do that, it’s likely to the pen with him.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

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  • YankeesJunkie

    Another key for Joba will be to finish off hitters. Last year he consistenly would get hitters to 3-2 counts and a lot of those times it was he was up earlier in the count. Obviously the diminished fastball was part of that, but his inability to use his third and fourth pitch effectively as said was a problem too. The biggest problem for Joba’s development is that he won’t be a starter come April 4th if he loses out to Hughes which at this point is far from certainity, but still a distinct possibility.

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      Yeah, I seem to remember that Joba got to a lot of 1-2 and 0-2 counts and basically threw a couple of waste pitches, offerings that hitters had no problem laying off. If he could use his stuff to go after hitters when he has the advantage in the count, it could lead to longer, more consistent outings.

  • http://www.i-yankees.com iYankees

    Totally agree about going to his other pitches more. The curve, in particular, is a good pitch and one that he should work in at a higher rate in 2010.

  • Chris

    It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that a lot (possibly most) young pitchers go through a period of reduced velocity soon after they start pitching full seasons. Once their bodies adjust to the long season in the majors, they recover their lost velocity. Until Pitch F/X, there hasn’t been any way to measure this accurately. Even a scout would likely miss a 1-2 MPH drop in velocity since they can’t possibly watch and record every pitch.

    • YankeesJunkie

      It will defitenly be interesting to see how Joba pitches in his third full season of the majors.

    • http://www.i-yankees.com iYankees

      I wonder, though, is such a drop in velocity due to the grind of longer seasons, with tougher competition, or is it brought on by an evolving approach to the way one pitches as a big leaguer? Maybe a player dials down the fastball because he realizes you can go to your other pitchers more often, and still be successful. Or, maybe you decide to spot the pitch on the corners rather than try to throw it through a wall. For Joba, he just seemed to have lost some zip, but for others guys, a cognizant alteration is also a possibility.

  • BigBlueAL

    Well everybody knows that the slider is coming on a 3-2 count.

    This was my main problem with Joba last season and so far it seems like its still the problem. His reduced velocity is a HUGE problem because he is not a pitcher quite frankly. You saw it last season when he started to nibble like crazy and walk the ballpark. I dont think he has a clue on how to pitch w/o his velocity.

    Its one thing for an older pitcher to learn but not a 24 yo kid whose image is that of a flamethrowing 98 mph bulldog coming at hitters. I just read a report on Bumgarner of the Giants about the same thing, if his reduced velocity stays he has to learn to pitch completely different and the expectations for him are reduced from that of a future ace to a solid mid-rotation guy. Difference is at least he is lefty with a somewhat funky delivery and excellent pickoff move. Joba to me doesnt have the tools to succeed w/o a great fastball to be honest.

    • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

      He doesn’t have the tools? You’re no fan of a sharp slider and a pretty nice curve? Give the kid a shot.

      Also, his image is what you make of him. To me, he’s a young starter trying to figure out the game. To you, he’s a “flamethrowing 98 mph bulldog coming at hitters.”

      • BigBlueAL

        But what do you think is his image of himself is?? You think he views himself as a Mike Mussina or as a Josh Beckett??

        I think alot of what messed him up last season, besides the stupid way they went about the “Joba Rules” was him adjusting to just not being able to blow away hitters. Hell even Moose finally had to adjust getting over not being able to blow away hitters and he was almost 40 and a genius when it came to pitching not some 24 yo kid who really hasnt had sustained success as a starting pitcher in the big leagues.

        • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

          Personally, I think he just wants to pitch. He’s always viewed himself as a starter, I doubt he’s changed his mind. There aren’t many Moose’s. Cerebral, crazy location… Hell, there aren’t many Becketts.

          Joba’s own words, “I could win 20 games and people would still say I could’ve saved 50.”

        • http://None Michael

          Eddie Luke Laloosh.

    • Salty Buggah

      Joba to me doesnt have the tools to succeed w/o a great fastball to be honest.

      Joba’s ERA entering August last year: 3.58 (or 3.59…I forget)

      He was able to succeed for a while but then innings thing hurt him.

      • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

        It’s funny, people are quick to point out his success in the pen and his shortcomings as a starter, yet many refute any success he’s had as a starter. Up until his 24th start he had a sub 4 ERA. I suppose that was all luck though..

        • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew
        • BigBlueAL

          Honestly it was pretty much luck. He was great as a starter in 2008 dont get me wrong, but as mentioned above in 2008 when he moved to the rotation he pretty much kept his velocity.

          Hell Im not saying he cant be good, but if he doesnt get his velocity back he aint no future ace. Of course Ill take years of him “just” being a solid #2-3 starter dont get me wrong. But I think the lack of velocity when starting is a huge issue that shouldnt be just looked over as if its no big deal thats all.

          • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

            We’d all rather he had that velocity. It makes it easy on him and even us.
            Still, through those first 23 starts, he had less than a hit per inning and a K/9 over 8. It’s easy to look at the negatives, just try and take some positives from a young starter pitching in the AL East.
            This is a year of reckoning. Training wheels off. Does he break camp at 5? Does he go to the minors and work on his offspeed stuff and fastball location?
            When observing a young pitcher, just consider how hard it is to succeed, let alone in the AL East.

      • BigBlueAL

        That ERA was extremely misleading considering his WHIP was around 1.5 and his FIP was closer to 5.

  • BigBlueAL

    OK before I get jumped on being a Joba hater I just want to say my main thing is not that he sucks or anything but that his lack of velocity is a major concern. Reading all the stuff now about Bumgarner and how many people are really concerned about him now and the fact is he hasnt had his velocity for what half of last season and this ST where as Joba hasnt had his velocity as a starter for a year now is not something we should just gloss over as no big deal.

    Before Joba was always considered the better prospect between him and Hughes for one simple reason, he threw 98 and Hughes threw in the low 90’s. Now they are basically looked at the same because neither one throws harder than the other now. Sorry velocity is a big point especially when the velocity was the main reason everyone loved Joba besides his slider obviously which I believe was talked about here in an earlier thread was much less effective this past season than in 2007-2008.

    I hope Joba is the 5th starer because he has no limits on him this season and I believe like most here he still could be a very good if not dominating starter but he certainly has to start pitching much better than he has for most of last season and in ST this season.

    • http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0902/mlb.alex.rodriguez.through.the.years/images/1993.alex-rodriguez.jpg Drew

      Word. One critique though. As far as being the better prospect, Joba didn’t have much time to be a prospect. He spent 88 innings in the minors. If we rated him above Hughes it’s because we were hypnotized by the meteoric rise.

      Along those lines, if Hughes goes back to the rotation, I wouldn’t expect him to throw 96.

      • BigBlueAL

        Right, Hughes as a starter is 89-92, but thats basically the same as Joba now, although even last season Joba would still hit 95 once in awhile as a starter which Im not sure Hughes has ever thrown that hard as a starter in the majors from what Ive seen at least.

    • Salty Buggah

      I think this post accepted that his loss of velocity is a concern and advocates that Joba learn and alter his pitching style a bit, like Lincecum, to be more successful.

      • BigBlueAL

        Shit you are right, good point Salty. Im probably beating a dead horse then for no reason. Still I would rather just see him get his velocity back :-)

        • Salty Buggah

          No worries, we all do. Every single one of us

    • Bo

      The lack of velocity is a huge concern. Hes obv not the same pitcher when barely hitting 91.

  • http://www.i-yankees.com iYankees

    Joba topped out at 94 in his second exhibition start. He’ll probably end up throwing 91-95, regularly, at the end of the spring. That’s not too shabby.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Is that 94 from the YES or MLBN gun? Because that’s not the same. Tough to make a comparison to the pitch f/x gun.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Even worse, the stadium gun.

      • http://www.i-yankees.com iYankees

        Nah, I’m not sure what the YES gun said. Going off a report from one of the beat guys.

    • Bo

      You need the scouts readings to make a full judgement. But obv he doesnt have the same stuff as he once did.

  • Hughesus Christo

    Mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, mechanics, mechanics. There is no other explanation for the huge fluctuations we see even in-game. That’s not a physiological issue, it’s a matter of him repeating his optimal delivery. He doesn’t do it often enough.

    • http://twitter.com/tafkasic the artist formerly known as (sic)

      this ^^^^^

    • larryf

      I couldn’t agree more. Joba has the mechanics of a relief pitcher-not a successful starter. That picture above of him is painful to look at. Slingshot/all arm. He has it for 2-3 innings max. Time will tell but pitbull is his best mode and in his case doesn’t last for more than one time through a lineup. I hope to be proven wrong…. BTW-with all the days off in the first 3 months-how many starts would he get??

      • Mike HC

        So relief pitchers are supposed to have inconsistent deliveries?

        • larryf

          only after a couple of innings

    • Bo

      Isnt that exactly why he should be a full time reliever????

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

        No.

        If Joba’s inconsistency and velocity dip is due to poor mechanics, it’s going to make him a bad reliever just like it would make him a bad starter.

        • RichYF

          Stick to the plan!

        • http://mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

          O:S still in effect, Eric!

        • Mattingly’s Love Child

          When it comes to Joba, we all lose our minds a little bit….even tsjc. B-Jobbers are B-Jobbers, and those of us with rational minds that want to see him given every chance to start, don’t like hearing the mouthbreathers drone on about chinashop in a bull crap.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

            That.

            I apologize, though, you’re right. I need to Derek Bell that crazy muthaf#$%&a. My bad.

  • pete

    I think it could be another two-three years before we see him consistently hitting the high 90s on the gun (if ever), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is more comfortably in the 93-95 range this year on the FB. One of the things I noticed last year (my opinion – I have nothing to base this off of other than what I saw) was that he appeared to be making a calculated attempt to dial back his velocity. I imagine this was a product of trying to stay healthy all season after coming back from injury, and trying to go deeper into games, but any time you legitimately dial yourself back, you screw with your mechanics, and thereby your command.

    Having said that, while I think mechanics issues are dangerous, I do think it was very important for Joba to get through the season healthy last year, and I do feel that this year he should see marked improvement. I always thought of Joba as a very Kazmir-like pitcher in that he’s a pretty solid bet to dominate for 5-6 innings as far as runs allowed and strikeouts go, but probably have a pretty high WHIP.

    What people struggle with is the fact that joba came up and absolutely dominated out of the pen, and then dominated in the Kazmir-sense out of the rotation right away. Now it seems like anything less than excellence from him is a waste or proves that he doesn’t have the stuff to cut it as a starter, when in fact many young starters take a considerable amount of time to settle in on the velocities that they may have flashed in HS.

    Organizations rightly place a lot of emphasis on pitcher health/longevity and stamina, so from the getgo once they are drafted they are almost uniformly TOLD by their organizations (if they are starters) not to try to blow hitters away, to learn how to pitch. And of course their bodies react, recognizing that in fact they really aren’t even capable of throwing as hard as they want to in the context of longer, more frequent starts, so the body prevents the arm naturally from reaching that highest echelon of its capacity.

    With Joba, however, and many starters who experience stints in the bullpen, he was able to let go of that ingrained reluctance to throw hard, and so when he started in ’08, his recent bullpen stint was so fresh in his muscle memory that it was just easy for him to dial it up to 97-98. Whether this was the cause of his injury or not is a matter of debate (I happen to think him diving out of the way of Pudge’s throw was what did him in), but regardless, when he came back from that, that muscle memory was probably mostly gone, and of course, he was probably discouraged from throwing too hard. I really do think that if the training wheels really are off and they tell him to let loose, he’ll be back up in that 93-95 range (remember he’s been in the 91-92 range in ST so far, which is pretty good for this early (pitchers usually pick up a couple mph as the spring wears on).

    Just a theory.

    • pete

      *dedicated to Steve H

      • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        Heh. I love the post and what you said. I totally agree on the “dialed it back” last year. I think he was trying to be too fine as he was concerned about pitch counts/innings counts/Verducci/Torre Rules/Joba Rules/, etc.

  • Tampa Yankee

    Heard Olney on Mike and Mike this morning (yeah I know but it’s better than listening to the Tampa morning shows) and he said that that FO was happy with Joba’s first two innings and that he tired in the 3rd. This goes hand and hand with what he said after the game:

    “I got a little tired,” said Chamberlain, who was slowed by a stomach virus early in camp that cost him eight pounds and that bothered him in the last outing. But this week he declared himself at full strength.

    And then he ran out of fuel.

    “My delivery was a lot better, I need to keep my legs [strong]. I worked on throwing in and I didn’t cut any balls off,” said Chamberlain, who has given up eight hits and six walks in 32?3 spring innings. “I had a little hitch in my delivery and I fixed that. I will go to the bullpen and continue to work.”

    http://www.nypost.com/p/sports.....RVbMQ5K8eP (safe)

    And like Hughesus said above… mechanics. Joba even mentions that there was something off with his mechanics. It’s still early and if he was indeed slowed by a virus, his body is still working into shape and will have more catching up to do then those who came in “completely” healthy. I still expect him to win the 5th spot and produce this year.

    • Bo

      he was tired, his mechanics were off, his didnt have the right scouting reports, his dog ate his homework, his moms in jail, etc etc excuses excuses

      All excuses. Real answer is he shouldnt be out there for 100+ pitches. It’s not a bad thing to be a good reliever.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

        Not understanding the difference between explanations and excuses:

        /boversimplifying

        • Mattingly’s Love Child

          I defended you up above, but it clearly looks like your off the wagon of O/S.

  • Rose

    As Axisa would say…

    Command >>> Movement >>> Velocity

    The thing with Joba that worries me isn’t his velocity so to speak…but more his command. He needs to find it. He’s all over the place with his pitches…

    • Bo

      Thats all well and good but 98 makes your less impressive command tolerable.

      Pitchers are much different with that increased velocity. Obv hes not the same at 91. At 91 you have to perfect. Hes not.

  • http://nytimes.com Gardimentary

    Maybe Joba should start the season at Scranton?

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      If he doesn’t beat out Hughes for the 5th starter job, I would be in favor of that.

      • http://nytimes.com Gardimentary

        I wonder if they’ll do something completely ridiculous, and put Mitre in the 5th spot. I’ve seen them do that before. Brandon Knight had a great spring one year, and won the job.

        He lasted 2 weeks.

        Aceves could be good in the 5th spot, but I really liked the way he’d bail out a pitcher who didn’t have it in the 4th or 5th inning and keep us in the game. He was an unsung hero for us last year.

        Joba hasn’t learned much since he got here, and some of that might be due to the amount of screwing they’ve done to the kid.
        All this talk of a plan is bullshit. They only they’re planning to do is change their mind.

  • Rose

    Maybe we can trade Joba for a backup infielder?

    Is Royce Clayton still available?

    LOL

  • mikey pie

    Movement, or lack thereof is the major concern. Plenty of guys can get you out w/ a 91 mph fastball that tails or sinks…not many can get you out w/ one that is straight as a string like Jobas. He needs that FB to be 95 because he has no movement and he knows it, thats why his command is so bad, he’s afraid to throw that meat for strikes, as he should be. I also dont see much movement from Hughe’s FB either and at 90 mph he will have the same trouble also. He too was able to excel in the pen when he could gas it up to 95. Nobody wants to admit it because Cash has so much invested in getting one of these guys to be a front end starter, but Aceves is the best of the 3.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

      Regarding movement: http://www.fangraphs.com/pitch.....horizontal

      Nobody wants to admit it because Cash has so much invested in getting one of these guys to be a front end starter, but Aceves is the best of the 3.

      Haha. Wait, what?

    • Mike HC

      Unfortunately, I think you may be on target. Aceves is surely looking like the best of the 5th starter options at this point.

      You are also right on Joba. He nibbles because he has to. MLB hitters mash that 90-93 mph straight fastball all day. That is why Hughes cutter is so important and I think the key to his success as a starter.

      • ROBTEN

        Unfortunately, I think you may be on target. Aceves is surely looking like the best of the 5th starter options at this point.

        Fortunately, “this point” is still very, very, very… early. There is plenty of time left to work things out.

        Innings pitched:

        Aceves: 6.0
        Hughes: 4.2
        Chamberlain: 3.2

        Remember, patience is a virtue.

        • Mike HC

          Absolutely. Not saying it is over. Just saying thus far.

          • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            And Aceves has been better than CC and Lincecum, thus far.

    • Rose

      Couldn’t have said this better myself…

  • Bo

    He’s just not the same pitcher he was before he walked off the mound in texas. You don’t just go from throwing 98mph to 90mph. It doesnt happen just because hes starting and holding back. They should have left him where he was dominant and where his skill set dictated. This whole “4 pitches thing” is bogus anyway. Every pitcher has 4 pitches. Doesnt mean they’re good.

  • JohnC

    The thing about Lincecum is that he has such a violent delivery that I fear he’s gonna have shoulder issues down the road. His motion and delivery puts alot of stress on the shoulder and he is not a very big guy. Somethig the Giants better keep an eye on.

    • Mike HC

      Not being sarcastic at all, would you try to change his delivery if you had the power to? What does keep an eye on it mean? Sometimes you can tinker too much.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

      People have been saying that for a while now. Check out the SI article on Lincecum’s delivery: http://bit.ly/1axKNH

  • H.W. Plainview

    The first thing Joba can learn from Tim Lincecum is to be successful in the majors, you need to pitch effective consistently.

    • H.W. Plainview

      Effectively.

      Grammar fail.

      • Rose

        Need the comma in there too lol jk

        • H.W. Plainview

          True.

    • Tank the Frank

      Love the name.

      Ladies and gentlemen I am an oil man. And as an oil man I hope you’ll excuse me if I use good old fashion plain speak. I’m also a family man. This is my son, H.W.

      One of my all-time favorite movies…if not my favorite.

  • Bronx Ralphie

    I said it two years ago, I said it six months ago to blogger Tampa Yankee and I will say it again now….Joba is horrible and he only belongs in the bullpen. He will never be a good starting pitcher.

    it’s only my opinion.

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      /Operation: Shutdown’d