What Went _____: Joba Chamberlain

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Over the past four seasons, few Yankees have inspired as much analysis, hand-wringing and debate than Joba Chamberlain. He seems to embody both the impossibly high expectations the Yankees and their fans place on young players and the ways in which the organization seemingly cannot get out of its own way when it comes to developing young pitchers. In that latter sense, then, Joba’s 2010 campaign is a microcosm of his career. Joba made 73 appearances, and the results should have been better than they were.

By now we know the Joba story. Drafted out of Nebraska in 2006, Joba rocketed through the system in 2007 as a starter and made his Yankee debut in August of that year as a reliever when Kyle Farnsworth could not be trusted. Limited by the Joba Rules, Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and his initial success set himself up for inevitable failure. Transitioned into the starting rotation in 2008, he was excellent until a shoulder injury in Texas derailed his season, and while he showed flashes of brilliance in 2009, he didn’t regain his velocity. When the team again instituted a variety of rules at the end of last year, the Yanks seemed to consider him a lost soul at the ripe old age of 24.

Heading into Spring Training in February, the Yankees had reportedly planned to host a competition for the fifth starter spot, but it was an unfair one from the start. Before camp began, Joel Sherman reported that the rotation spot was Phil Hughes‘ to lose, and Joba stumbled through Grapefruit League play. Destined for the bullpen, Joba inherited the eighth inning role and seemed to excel.

Through mid-May, Joba was as good as we could have hoped. He struck out 21 over his first 16.2 innings and allowed just four runs on 12 hits and five walks. But after giving up a combined seven earned runs in back-to-back appearances on May 16 and 18, the wheels fell off. From May 16-July 25, Joba pitched to an 8.42 ERA as opponents hit .348/.408/.500. Stick Joba on the mound, and everyone became Albert Pujols.

Over that span of 26 appearances, Joba gave up runs in 11 of them, and he did so in spectacular fashion. He allowed four runs to Boston in the 8th inning of a game the Yanks were winning and then choked away a six-run lead against the hapless Indians two weeks later. His nadir came on July 10 when he came in with a 1-0 lead and gave up a grand slam to Jose Lopez.

But through it all, the numbers just didn’t add up. Over those 25.2 innings, Joba had a FIP of 3.49, a mark nearly 5 runs per 9 innings lower than his actual results. He was still striking out more than a batter an inning, and the home run to Lopez was just the second he had surrendered all season. We were waiting for the market correction to come, and it finally did in late July.

Over the final two months of the season, Joba returned to form. In 29.1 innings, he struck out 30, walked just five and gave up seven earned runs on 20 hits for a nifty 2.15 ERA and a FIP — 2.89 — nearly to match. Joba saw limited playoff action in 2010 but gave up just a run in 3.3 innings against the Rangers.

The 2010 data on Joba's fastball velocity shows an upward trend. (Via Fangraphs)

So what do we make of this? On the one hand, Joba’s 9.7 K/9 IP was his best mark since 2008; his 2.8 BB/9 IP was his lowest since his debut season in 2007; and he showed a marked improvement in keeping the ball in the park. On the other hand, at times, he just didn’t have the confidence in his stuff. He threw too many 3-2 sliders and seemed tentative. Even though his velocity seemed to return to pre-shoulder injury levels and improved as the season wore on, he went through stretches where he fooled no one.

The numbers too bear out these struggles. Fewer than half of his pitches were inside the strike zone, and only 9.4 percent of his strikes were of the swinging variety. In 2007, he notched an impressive 16.7 percent mark in that category. His fastball, a whopping negative 20 runs below average last year, rebounded to 2.8 runs above average while the slider dipped from 7.6 runs above average to just 3.6. Perhaps the league has caught on to Joba’s approach and his stuff. Perhaps he’ll never be as consistently good as he was for a few months in 2007.

Going forward, the Yankees seem intent on keeping Joba in the bullpen. “We consider him a bullpen guy in the back end of the bullpen,” Joe Girardi said last month. Even though Joba’s stuff seems to be rebounding, even though he can gets the outs and could be a more valuable member of the pitching staff, the Yanks like his stuff in the pen and clearly view him as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera if he can keep his head in the game.

And so I’m left without a word to put into the blank. Did Joba’s season go wrong because of his mid-summer struggles? Did it go right because it validated the Yanks’ decision to put him in the pen and saw his strike out abilities return? Whatever the answer, Joba remains an enigma who just might not be as good as we all hoped and dreamed he would be.

GM Meetings Notes: Pettitte, Aldred, Peterson

"Tell Derek we'll give him a G4. A G6 is out of the question." (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The annual General Manager Meetings officially start tomorrow in Orlando, though the hot stove is a 24 hours-a-day league. Most of the items on this week’s agenda involve off-the-field stuff like rules and the draft and what not, but of course there will be rumors. Oh yes, there will be rumors. Here’s what Brian Cashman had to say this evening (sources in parenthesis)…

  • There’s still no word as to whether or not Andy Pettitte plans to pitch in 2011 (Jon Paul Morosi). Pettitte recently indicated that if he does pitch next season, it will be his last. Don’t go yet, Andy.
  • Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Scott Aldred will interview for the team’s vacant pitching coach position later this week (Marc Carig). Leo Mazzone is not a candidate for the job after turning them down about five years ago. You might remember that the long-time Braves’ pitching guru said he’s interested in the job a few weeks ago. He’s been out of the game for three seasons now.
  • Cashman would neither confirm nor deny that former Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson is a candidate for the Yankee job (Anthony McCarron). The Brewers canned Peterson on Monday, unsurprising after hiring a new manager. The official RAB stance is a “no” on Peterson, who’s a big time control freak and hasn’t done much of anything since getting away from those three great arms with the Athletics half-a-decade ago. Then again, it’s not easy for fans to evaluate pitching coaches since basically all of their work goes on behind the scenes.
  • Cash hopes to bring the rest of the coaching staff back intact, though Mike Harkey could end up in the dugout as the pitching coach rather than out beyond the right-centerfield wall as bullpen coach (Chad Jennings). Hitting coach Kevin Long already agreed to a fat new deal, so that leaves Harkey, bench coach Tony Pena, first base coach Mick Kelleher, and third base coach Rob Thomson. Both Pena and Thomson have been mentioned as managerial candidates elsewhere, but those jobs are quickly going to other people.
  • The Yankees don’t think that Derek Jeter would ultimately decide to leave the New York, but they’re preparing themselves for a long and presumably grueling negotiation (Jon Heyman). Would it be wise for Jeter to wait this one out and let some other free agents sign to take away the team’s back-up plans? Who else is there anyway?
  • “I’m not optimistic that we’re going to get anything done from a Yankees perspective,” said Cashman (Bryan Hoch). “Maybe we will from an industry perspective. From a Yankee perspective, we’ll gather as much information as we can, but I don’t think there’s anything close enough for us to act on.” Doesn’t sound like he expects them to pull off any big trades or sign any free agents this week, but remember that the wheels of the Curtis Granderson trade were first put into motion at least year’s GM Meetings

And finally, congrats to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman for winning the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award, given for distinguished service in minor league player development. Given the monster year the farm system had, he deserves it. A job well done.

Tex’s hamstring rehab going well

I stumbled across this short video interview USA Today’s Michael McCarthy conducted with Mark Teixeira recently, and although it’s not much more than a few cream puff questions, there is some useful info in there regarding his injured right hamstring. Tex says that everything is going well and he’s working out six days a week, three of which are focused exclusively on the hamstring. He added that if this was the middle of the season, he’d be able to play in about a week, four weeks out from the injury. The original diagnosis called for a six-to-eight week recovery.

So that’s good, glad he’s healing well. Check out the rest of the video, Tex picks on Jimmy Rollins a bit towards the end.

Open Thread: Why signing bench players isn’t worth it

Geoff Blum doing something to help his team lose. (AP Photo)

Geoff Blum, he of the .242/.299/.368 batting line since 2004 (2,390 plate appearances), signed a two-year deal worth $2M with the Diamondbacks today. Two years, $2M. He’ll turn 38 in April. Again, two years, $2M. Sure, he can play all over the field, but his UZR’s are negative pretty much everywhere. For roughly the league minimum, Ramiro Pena or Eduardo Nunez will suck just as much. Having a good bench is a tremendous advantage, but Blum represents the kind of help that’s out there. It’s awful, which is why going in-house or making trades for reserves is the way to go.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. MNF has the Eagles at the Redskins, plus you’ve also got the Rangers, Devils, and Nets in action. Chat about whatever you like, just don’t be a dick.

Yanks announce ’11 tix as bleachers up to $15

The Yankees unveiled their 2011 ticket prices this afternoon, and while most prices will not go up, the team announced increases for six price points including the bleachers. While most tickets that are witnessing an increase will go up by $5, the $12 bleacher seats will now cost $15 for both season-ticket packages and single-game sales. The $5 obstructed-view seats will remain as such, and the Yankees are not cutting any ticket prices this year.

Yankees’ COO Lonn Trost spoke this afternoon with Mike Francesa about the rationale behind the ticket increases, and he explained how the team used the secondary market to gauge demand. Since the Yanks routinely saw bleacher seats sold at 175 percent mark-ups, the team determined they could raise the prices and opted for a 25-percent mark-up. The 2011 ticket prices are listed at the Yankees’ website, and I’ll try to summarize the key increases.

While 54 percent of Yankee Stadium seats will still be priced at $50 or less, a good portion of the seats in the lower levels will see increases. In the Main Level, Sections 205-209 and 231-234, prices are increasing by $5 from $45 to $50 for a full season and $50 to $55 for partial ticket holders. Seats in sections 210-212 and 228-230 will rise from $60-$65 for full packages, but partials will stay at $70. Main level seats in sections 213-214b and 226-227b will increase from $75 to $80.

At the field level, rows 12-30 in sections 116-124 will increase to $260 full plan holders. Game-day ticket prices for these seats will increase from $300 to $325. Season tickets for the field level, rows 15-30 in sections 112-113 and 127b-128 and rows 1-14 in sections 108-11 and 129-131 will now cost $110 for a full plan holders and $115 for partial plan holders. Rows 15-30 in sections 108-111 and 129-131 will now cost $80 for full plans.

In addition to the prices that are going up, Trost mentioned that the team will soon be selling ticket packages for multiple seasons that are locked in at the purchase price. For example, fans who buy tickets for three years at the 2011 price point won’t have to pay for price increases in the years that covered by the initial purchase contract.

Of course, no one wants to see ticket prices increase, but Trost’s claims bear out the increase. He says that the Yanks are constantly playing to 95 percent capacity, and even when the seats appear empty on TV, the tickets have been sold. Either fans are no-shows — which happens a small percentage of the time — or they are wandering the stadium. The Yankee Museum, Trost said, has been a very popular in-game destination, and the various bars and restaurants have drawn fans away from their seats as well.

Essentially, the increases are a prime example of ticket economics at work. The Yankees might be increasing their payroll and know that the secondary market supports higher prices. The team wants to and can capture that revenue. Thus, many people will be paying more for their tickets come 2011.

Yanks “expecting a sell-out” for Saturday’s Army/Notre Dame game

During his interview with Francesa, Trost spoke about the debut of college football at Yankee Stadium. Because the new stadium cost so much to build, the Yankees need it to become a year-round venue, and Trost has spent a lot of time working to ensure a smooth game on Saturday. If ticket sales are any indication, he will succeed.

The team has sold 51,000 tickets for the game, and while a few seats remain, the club is “expecting a sell-out.” Astute readers will note that Yankee Stadium’s baseball capacity is under that 51,000 mark, and Trost says they’ve added seats by installing temporary bleachers in the bullpens and on the field. For those heading to the game, Metro-North is running extra trains as well.

With Lee, Yanks would have to increase payroll

When it comes to the Yankees’ budget we hear, for the most part, vague statements. Last winter Brian Cashman kept saying that ownership gave him a number he had to stay under. This year Hal Steinbrenner has said that 2011 payroll will be on par with 2010. But does that mean the 2010 Opening Day payroll, or the final number that included Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman? With the work the Yanks have to do on the roster I’d hope it’s the latter. But we just don’t know. What we do know — or at least what we can reasonably assume — is that if the Yankees sign Cliff Lee this off-season, the team payroll will increase considerably by 2014.

If you head over to Cot’s you can see every team’s payroll obligations through 2014. For the most part you see one, maybe two players per team in that column, if any. What’s most common is an option buy-out. Most teams do not have significant commitments four years into the future, and for good reason. Even one bad contract can significantly hamper their flexibility. The Yankees are in a different position than every other team. They can make these commitments, knowing that there will be money in the checking account.

The only question the Yankees face is of how far they’re willing to expand future payroll. If they play their cards carefully they can probably sign Cliff Lee and still come in with a payroll under $210 million. That will include big contracts for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. They’ll shed some of those contracts in the next few years, but they won’t shed all of them. In fact, if they sign Lee to a five-year contract worth the same $23 million Sabathia earns annually, they will have $96.5 million committed to four players in 2014. That does not bode well for payroll flexibility.

What’s worse, in 2014 those four players will be at the tail end of their primes, if they haven’t already exited. Alex Rodriguez will be 38; Mark Teixeira will be 34; CC Sabathia will be 33; Cliff Lee will be 35. We’ve seen players put up superb numbers at those ages, but those are the exceptions. While all four of the above are exceptional players, I think it’s a bit optimistic to think that they’ll all be producing at elite levels in 2014. Even if they are, they’ll still cost nearly half of what the Yankees have paid for the entire team in recent years. Should that then cause them to back off Lee?

If the Yankees plan to stand firm and not raise payroll significantly above $200 million, they probably need to give serious thought to the Lee question. To put it into perspective, the Yankees currently have roughly $140 million committed to eight players (plus Marte, who is dead weight) in 2011. That’s $17.5 million per player, with 17 more spots to fill. In 2014, with Lee in tow, they’d be committing $24.125 million per player, with 21 more spots to fill. I’ll leave that without commentary as to let it sink in.

If the Yankees do sign Cliff Lee this off-season, they’ll have made one thing clear: that they’re going to raise payroll, perhaps by a significant amount, over the next four years. With those four mega contracts running through 2015, at the earliest, the Yankees need more money in order to put players around them. Good players do not come cheap. Unless the Yankees’ farm system produces a string of stars in the coming years, there isn’t much of an alternative.

The RAB Radio Show: November 15, 2010

The RAB Radio Show has returned, but we’re taking a different approach this time. Every day around this time you’ll get a short burst of Mike and Joe, oftentimes with a guest, talking about the Yankee news of the day.

Today we’re talking Rookies of the Year. It’s tough to argue with the winners, though Mike and I hit on some of the finer points of the results. Two former Yankees farmhands, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata, received votes.

Then it’s to the pitching coach situation. What are the Yankees looking for in Eiland’s replacement? Who’s the favorite now? That’s what we’re talking about.

Podcast run time: 20:34

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