What Went Wrong: Joba Chamberlain

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Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

For the fourth year in a row, the Yankees relief corps was a strength in 2011. Joe Girardi‘s bullpen machinations helped keep everyone fresh and effective, including journeymen like Luis Ayala and Cory Wade. It also helps when you have three power arms that can pass as relief aces for most teams, but not everything went right with those guys. In fact, in the case, of Joba Chamberlain, this season went about as wrong as possible.

With big money signee Rafael Soriano taking over eighth inning duties to start the season, Joba was pushed back to the seventh inning. No big deal, he was still responsible for three outs either way. He allowed seven runs in his first eleven appearances before settling down and firing off six straight scoreless outings, then took over the eighth when Soriano came down with some elbow issues in mid-May. Joba continued to pitch well, allowing just one run across eight innings before needing 35 pitches to record five outs against the Angels on June 5th. It was his highest pitch count of the season (by seven pitches) and his most since since September of 2009, when he was a starter.

Three days later, the Yankees announced that Joba had been placed on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle in his right elbow after feeling soreness for weeks. He would not throw for ten days, and was expected back in about three weeks. One day later, the news was much more grim. Chamberlain’s strained flexor muscle turned into a torn elbow ligament, and he would ultimately require Tommy John surgery. He hadn’t shown any of the usual symptoms or experienced any of the usual pain associated with a torn ligament, so the diagnosis was a bot of a surprise.

The elbow reconstruction was performed in mid-June, and while on the shelf, Joba required another surgery for an appendectomy. Not long after that, he needed another surgery to clean out an infection that developed during said appendectomy. Despite all that, Joba started his throwing program late last month, about two weeks ahead of schedule (unofficially). Tommy John rehab is a long and arduous process, and even the most optimistic of time tables have him returning in late-April. June would be the much more reasonable expectation.

Joba’s fastball velocity was perfectly fine this year, but that’s not really an indicator of elbow trouble. Velocity is more indicative of shoulder issues. Elbow problems general show in control, or lack thereof. Joba threw 45.3% of his pitches in the strike zone this year, which is actually perfectly league average, but it is down from his 48.4% from 2008-2010. Although his swing and miss rate (10.3%) was his best since 2008, his strikeout rate (7.53 K/9) was a career low and down more than two full strikeouts from last year. The strikeouts had been replaced by ground balls (59.7%), either intentionally or unintentionally.

The Yankees were able to survive Joba’s season-ending injury because of their bullpen depth, and they’re going to have to get by without him early next year as well. It would make sense for the team to have him stretch out and rehab as a starter, but we all know it won’t happen. They should be able to ease him back into late-inning work thanks for Soriano and David Robertson, but command is usually the last thing to come back after elbow surgery. It’s very possible that we won’t see the real Joba again until Opening Day 2013.

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  • DERP

    I missed Joba. Something about that big guy that I just love.

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

      Here here. Absolutely one of my favorite guys on this team.

  • MannyGeee

    Damn you Cleveland and your dirty dirty ways…

    #stillblamingthemidges

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Damn you Pudge

      #stillblaminghimforJoba’sinjury

      • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

        It’s always the midges. Goddamn midges.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          The Moose would definitely agree with you

          “The Joba Chamberlain we knew died on the mound that night in Cleveland”

          /Marc Malusis

  • Jamey

    Maybe if Joba can meet with The Yankees before spring training & not grunt, snort, belch, fart or display emotion of any kind they’ll decide he’s a better fit as a starter.

    Joba would be my best case for pitchers coming out of the farm system. My advice to them, unfortunately based on recent examples, would be to never pitch well (or let’s say EXCEEDINGLY well) out of the bullpen even for as minimal as a sample size as Joba did. If you apparently can string together a couple of good innings “for the good of the team” in relief it will hang over your head for your entire career as a starter. The 2nd you have a couple of bad starts, or in Joba’s not pitch terribly at all the “he’s better in the pen” argument will be there until ultimately you’re sitting in the pen as writers, team officials & fans start having visions a bullpen that never gives up a hit ever or something. So Banuelos should be extra careful as well since also being a lefty & lefty relievers are Joe Girardi’s own personal crack cocaine.

    Phil Hughes struggles are still a little mysterious & if he’s there until they figure it out that’s fine. Although if I had to make a guess I’d say there was some kind of physical ailment that either just isn’t going to show up until its just definitely injured or it was a conditioning problem. Being “in shape” & being in shape for baseball are two different things & as I saw mentioned on a comment section on a different site a week back, a lot of guys seem to consider losing the weight they put on over the winter as being the same as being in shape.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      I always liked Joba ever since he showed up throwing at 97-98. Coming back from this type of surgery his best option is to work out of the bullpen then as he gains more stamina he could be worked into the starting rotation. I do not see that happening with the Yankees according to what Cashman has been saying for the last two years. I hope they don’t trade him.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        I hope they do. If they did the loss wouldn’t be that big.

    • Short Porch

      That’s when, apparently, the 162 game beer blast is over.

      For Joba, and especially for CC: Beer is not part of a healthy breakfast. Let the Saux drink all the performance compromising drugs they want, right down to the AL East basement.

      A conditioned Joba would be a welcome outcome, but there would be significantly less belching and farting of course.

  • vin

    I haven’t watched too much of the Cardinals this year… but I thought I was losing my mind last night when I saw Joba’s doppleganger in a Cards uniform. Lance Lynn, husky righthander, wearing #62, looked just like a bearded Joba (minus a few mph).

    Anyone else get that impression?

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      I saw him too and one could be the other’s long lost twin.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

    No matter how much we may prefer the professional demeanor of the Yankees to those farting, chicken-eating, never-showering Red Sox, everyone loves someone who is a character. This is why, except for those who clamor to trade him for a bag of balls on here every day, players like Swisher and Joba get a whole lot of unconditional love from Yankee fans. They look like they’re enjoying themselves, and enjoying wearing the Yankee uniform, every day.

    • Dave B

      Amen. Plus, we seem to forget how young Joba is — if he can be developed into a “pitcher” I am still hopeful he could be a shut-down 8th or 9th inning guy.

      • MannyGeee

        if he can be developed into a “pitcher” I am still hopeful he could be a shut-down STARTER

        ~~~

        #wishfulthinking

    • vin

      The Yanks only have Joba for 2 more years. As much as I love him, a big part of me wants to see him have major success with another club as a starter. The kid deserves a shot at starting, and the corresponding payday.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        The kid deserves a shot at starting

        ———————-

        QFT. The farther we get away from him starting you have to believe he either will explode if he starts or he created havoc behind the scenes.

  • the Other Steve S.

    Honestly, with the world of SP the way it is and the bullpen as stacked as it seems to be, I cannot fathom why they wouldn’t try to convert him back to a starter. Especially now with his robo-elbow.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Too much of a headache to go through it again. I wouldn’t mind seeing it but it’s not going to happen. He would have a better chance to start if he was probably on another team.

  • JohnC

    Joba’s days as a starter are over. His shoulder could not take the burden. He is a reliever now and in the future. Hopefully, he rebounds stronger than ever from the TJ surgery and he is able to make it back to the big club by June of next season.

  • Darren

    The best quote that described Joba was from a scout who said
    “Joba’s a grunt and fart guy. He’s not meant to be a starter.”

    Why is this so hard to accept? Lots of guys are amazing relivers but don’t have a starter’s make-up or repertoire and there’s no shame in that. (Hi Mo, Goose, Ron Davis, etc.)

    Isn’t it better to be an incredible asset in the bullpen instead of a medicre one as a starter?

    And it turns out Phil Hughes may not have what it takes to be a starter either. He even talked about how a reliver he can just let if fly for one inning.

    If that’s what he is, that’s what he is. All of you who think he’s gonna magically “step up” and become a #2 starter are deluding yoursleves. Is it possible? Sure. Is it likely? I don’t think so.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      True sometimes guys just don’t work out as starters and ppl understand that. I think some fans have a problem with him not getting a fair shot. No disrespect to Hughes but look how many chances he has been given and he’ll get another shot next yr despite injury concerns and not coming into camp the best shape. Joba started for what a yr and a half and was banished to the pen because there were injury concerns and “his stuff plays better as a reliever.”

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      I guess that the scout who said “a grunt and fart guy cannot be a starter” must have been born after Nolan Ryan retired.

    • TwainsYankee

      Its hard to accept because a mediocre starter is more valuable than a lights out reliever. Joba has not been any worse than a mediocre starter and probably a little better.

      • MannyGeee

        agreed. If Jpba had been given a third of the chances that AJ and Hughes has been given, I reckon he would beat least on their level.

  • JohnC

    I still think Hughes can be an effective starter again. He needs to really dedicate himself this Winter and get on a good strength and conditioning program. He came to camp this past season clearly out of shape and never was able to recover. I’m sure the Yanks will be monitoring him very closely this offseason. Joba is antoher story. He was never able to hold up to the rigors of starting. He is and always will be a releiver

    • The Big City of Dreams

      He was never able to hold up to the rigors of starting

      ————–

      Can’t the same be said about Hughes how many times has he been injured

      • JohnC

        No cause Hughes did win 18 games in 2010 as a starter

        • The Big City of Dreams

          But he faded after what May 12 or whatever date it was

          • JohnC

            He won 18 games that year. How could he have done that if he faded after just May 12? Also, he pitched a great game in game 3 of the ALDS. Granted, he got pounded twice by the Rangers in in the ALCS, but with the proper conditioning, he can be an effective starter again.

            • The Big City of Dreams

              He got a ton of run support when he won 18 games. It’s always something with Hughes: a new grip, conditioning, 1st yr as a starter, etc.

        • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

          Please don’t go Michael Kay on us…

        • nsalem

          put on a helmet JohnC you may get pounded for that comment.

  • Dan

    as much as I hope that the injury would turn out to be a blessing in disguise, it won’t be. Girardi and Cashman will simply not allow Joba to be a starter. I don’t get why not. Plenty of pitchers have been good starters at 91-3 with 2 quality pitches. Yeah, his stuff ticks up in the pen, but so does everyone’s. Tell any starter to go throw for 1-2 innings in a game and they will show you an extra MPH or three….
    sigh…. i just wish Joba had a shot at coming back and being a big contributor. I like him and D-Rob at the back end, but I’d rather see Joba start and become what we all hoped he would be…
    Save the big…. 1?

  • LiterallyFigurative

    The tough thing about Joba’s predicament is he won’t get the chance to start here, but he’s no better than the 6th inning guy on the bullpen depth chart.

    The Mike Francesa “Joba is a reliever. Trust me, I saw him do it” crowd will scream all day if he comes back as a starter.

    This all is a result of 2007, when they neeeded a magic bridge to Mo. Joba was just supposed to try, maybe be good at it for a while, then go back to starter next season. But he was so sick wit it that he became the heir apparent. We and Yankee brass saw 96-97, with that slider and said this kid is the real deal.

    I think that once Joba comes back next season and shows he’s got that stuff again, he’ll get traded for a pitcher or maybe some prospects (the Yanks trading FOR prospects? Nuts, I know!). He’ll appeal to some other team as a possible closer/8th inning guy, while here, he’s just the 6th inning guy.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Cashman has indicated that Joba’s will not be a starter with the Yankees. He has some apparent flaw or old injury precluding him from starting.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Kept him too long if that’s the case.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      That is what I call diminishing your player’s value in the open market.

  • The Golden Arm of Steve Sax

    Mike – What do you see as Joba’s ultimate role with the Yankees once he is back healthy (presumably in 2013) – 8th inning set-up guy or closer? Also, if the Yanks were to ever move Hughes back to the bullpen in 2012 due to continued ineffectiveness and lack of velocity on his fastball as a starter, who do you deem as more valuable to the team at that point – Joba or Hughes? Curious to get your thoughts…

  • Realist

    The NY win now mentality doesn’t allow for these guys to truly develop. One mishap and it’s back to the pen headlines. Jobe never got a fair shake. He was rolling that one season he was a starter especially after the all star break then the Joba Rules came into play and destroyed all his steam.

    Joba’s going to end up getting traded away within these next 2 seasons. Hope he gets a shot at being a starter elsewhere and wouldn’t be surprised if he excels as Ian Kennedy has.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Yea that’s right he was doing well and then the rules kicked in. Ppl sometimes dump on him as a starter but he was not as bad as some fans made him out to be. I wouldn’t mind seeing him on another club.

  • Brian S.

    I liked the Vazquez trade at the time before we knew he would have a dead arm but could you imagine if that trade never happened and they had let Joba start in 2010? Joba might have stayed healthy and been a 4-5 win pitcher right now and we would still have Vizcaino and a surpisingly good Melky…

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Vazquez smh the gift that keeps on giving

    • LiterallyFigurative

      The Vazquez trade was sheer stupidity. Not even in hindsight. I didn’t think it made sense before it even happened.

      You could’ve put Melky in right, have Swish DH and hit 2nd (instead of Nick Johnson), found a servicable starter on the market, and still had Vizcaino and Dunn. Your OF would’ve been great defensively, plus Melky had that nack for spots.

      It was a George Steinbrenner-esque overreaction. Let’s pay $11 mil for a 4th of 5th starter on an NL team, to pitch 30 times in the AL

      • The Raging Platypus

        Not for nothing, but isn’t characterizing Vazquez as a “4th or 5th starter on an NL Team” that year rather unfair? I’m fairly sure he had a great year, and was considered a Cy Young candidate.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/EricDKoch Eric

    Bring him back as a starter and see how it works out. If not, put him in the pen for good.

    • Alibaba

      I would like that, but it will not happen. We are great at destroying starting pitching prospects.