What future for Joba’s past shoulder injury?

Guess when Joba suffered his shoulder injury. (Click to enlarge)

Joba Chamberlain and the Amazing Disappearing Velocity has long been one of my least favorite Yankee mysteries from the past half a decade. We know the story well. Joba left a start in Texas in 2008, missed a month of the season and returned without his velocity. He struggled through 2009 in the rotation as rumors of a shoulder injury more serious than the Yanks were letting on persisted and pitched exclusively out of the pen in 2010 with his velocity nearing pre-injury levels. Despite rumors, we never really knew the extent and severity of the injury, the cause of the long-term impact it would have on Joba.

On Tuesday, Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman seemingly spilled the beans. He mentioned Joba Chamberlain’s shoulder injury during his breakfast with Mike Francesa and spoke at length about it during an afternoon appearance on the Michael Kay Show. We now have insight into Joba’s struggles in 2009 and a firm reason why the Yanks want him in the bullpen.

“I don’t think his stuff is the same since he hurt himself in Texas. He used to be a guy who threw the same as a starter and as a reliever. He threw the high-octane 94-99 and you saw it in the first inning as a starter as well as what out of the bullpen,” he said to Kay. “But since the Texas episode, the stuff as a starter has been watered down. I think we’ve seen enough of a sample even though you can argue it’s a small one. But in terms of the velocity and stuff like that, you have to respond to [the statement] ‘Well, if this is what he is as a starter now, that’s not what he was.'”

Cashman continued: “He was 89-92 vs. a guy that was 93-98. It’s a radically different animal now and so the stuff plays up better in the pen. I know people say it always does, but his stuff was consistent as both a starter and a reliever. It’s just not the same anymore that way.”

The Yanks’ GM then alit upon Joba’s seemingly subpar 2010 and spoke about the way the Yanks evaluated him as a reliever. Calling Joba a “huge bounce-back candidate,” Cashman expressed his faith in the pitcher Baseball America once considered the third-best prospect in all of baseball. “I think I think he’s a tremendous reliever,” the GM said. “He had a high batting average in balls in play, and so I think that ultimately he was more unlucky than people realize. He had some tremendous overall numbers in terms of relief stuff.”

Still, as an ardent believer that Joba should have one last chance at the starting rotation, I — without the luxury of Joba’s medicals — have to wonder if the Yanks are jumping the gun. Cashman spoke at length about sample sizes and even admitted that Joba’s sample was arguably a small one. What if it took him a long time to recover from the shoulder injury? What if he’s still building strength up to correct the damage? And why didn’t the Yankees shut him down permanently in 2008 when they knew his shoulder was hurt and their playoff chances were slim?

A day that will live in Yankee infamy. (AP Photo, Tony Gutierrez)

As Cashman’s comments reverberated throughout the baseball world today, a few commentators took on his assertions. In an extensive post on Pinstriped Bible that covers familiar ground, Cliff Corcoran reviews Joba’s injury and lays the blame on the errant throw from Ivan Rodriguez that sent Joba tumbling to the ground. Corcoran quotes himself and so will I:

. . . Chamberlain saw the home plate ump rule the ball foul and came forward off the mound pointing to both Kinsler and the umpire. Ivan Rodriguez didn’t hear him, and Rodriguez’s throw to second base came directly at Chamberlain’s head. In ducking that throw, Chamberlain lept backwards off his feet and landed on his rump before tumbling over in a backwards somersault. Before Chamberlain’s body hit the ground, however, his right arm reached back and attempted to brace his fall.

Chamberlain denied that the fall had anything to do with his injury. [Note: I suspect Chamberlain was simply protecting Rodriguez here. The moment he took that spill, I was worried about an arm injury.]

“I just got stiff,” Joba said at his locker after the game. “It was a little tight in the fourth, and I came back out in the fifth and, it’s not necessarily even in my shoulder. It’s kinda in my deltoid below my shoulder, so my strength was fine and my velocity was fine, I just kind of got a stiff arm.”


Said Chamberlain, “It doesn’t hurt in the wrong places to really, hopefully, be concerned, so I’m just gonna go and get everything taken care of . . . just so they can rule out everything and make sure everything’s alright. This is just getting stiff a lot in a short amount of time. It’s a little stiff, but other than that’s why we go back and just rule everything out.” Joba said he’d never had this sensation in his arm before, but when informed that Girardi intended to have him skip his next start, he said he’d, “hopefully just miss one if that’s the case”

Of greater concern is the Chamberlain quote that appeared on Peter Abraham’s blog last night in which Chamberlain said, “It was something where it grabbed and popped and got stiff.” “Grabbed” and “stiff” I can deal with, but “popped” makes me panic.

That one start Joba hoped to miss turned into a month, and when he returned, he was used only as a reliever in low-pressure situations. His velocity was clearly off, and it didn’t rebound until he moved to the bullpen in 2010. Cause and effect or just the effect of time heeling all wounds?

While Corcoran and I may be tilting at windmills in our efforts to blame Pudge for the decline and fall of Joba, we saw that game unfold and that disaster happen in August of 2008. It didn’t look good, but not everyone agrees. Rob Neyer wonders if Joba is just another pitcher who can’t stand the physical pressures of throwing 100 pitches every five days. It’s certainly another reasonable explanation, but it makes you wonder why the Yanks were so eager to have Joba make his return before 2008 ran out.

Ultimately, Joba is still a wanted man. “Some teams have obvious reached out to us about him in a steal attempt,” said Cashman. These clubs are “not necessarily giving up what I feel is fair value.” But just what is fair value? Is Joba a future set-up man doomed to bounce around the league and never living up to his potential? Is he Mariano’s heir apparent who is being groomed through tough love? Can the Yanks even get what they consider full value out of Joba is the whole world knows about a mysterious shoulder injury?

I think Cliff Corcoran said it best: “I’d still rather take my chances on a 25-year-old who has a 7.6 K/9, a low-to-mid-90s fastball, some bad luck on balls in play, and is another year removed from that supposedly career-altering injury than on the likes of Sergio Mitre or the slop throwing free agent alternatives, and I’d still be loathe to trade any significant prospects for a rotation solution without at least giving that 25-year-old a look first. Still, it’s nice to have a somewhat more substantial answer to why the Yankees won’t use Chamberlain that way, even if Cashman’s admission has likely diminished Chamberlain’s trade value in turn.”

Sherman: Cone to return to YES booth

Joel Sherman is at the BAT dinner tonight, and he ran into the Yanks’ old pal David Cone who shared some good news with The Post reporter. Coney will be returning to the YES booth for 25 games this season. We don’t yet know which member of the Yanks’ broadcast team Cone will be replacing, but my money’s on Tino taking his talents elsewhere. I’ve always enjoyed Cone’s contributions to the telecasts, and it’ll be good to hear him on the air again. I wonder if he’s finally figured out his dance yet.

Open Thread: “It was there, and it was gone”

Zack Greinke is down with F-I-P. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan profiled Voros McCracken today, the godfather of DIPS theory (defense independent pitching stats, like FIP). McCracken is quite literally a genius, scoring 155 on a second grade IQ test that sent him directly to fourth grade and soon enough gifted classes, but these days he’s a bit of a tortured soul. He has little to show for his million dollar DIPS idea beyond a wristwatch, and he’s battled both depression and bipolar disorder. It’s a fantastic read and well worth your time, so give it a click.

Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread for the night. The only local sports action tonight is the Rangers and Islanders, who are running out the clock before the All Star break.

Yankees sign Warner Madrigal

Via Kevin Golstein, the Yankees have signed right-hander Warner Madrigal to what we can assume is a minor league contract. The 26-year-old made his big league debut with the Rangers in Yankee Stadium back in 2008, where he surrendered Brett Gardner‘s first career hit and got tagged for six runs in just a third of an inning. His big league career features a 5.28 FIP in a measly 48.2 IP, all with Texas. Madrigal is a converted outfielder, and he missed most of 2010 with a forearm strain. His minor league career is short but stellar, featuring a 9.5 K/9 and just a 2.7 uIBB/9 in 208.2 relief innings through the years.

Baseball America ranked Madrigal as Texas’ 14th best prospect prior to 2009, noting a fastball that touched 96 and a swing-and-miss slider. The Triple-A Scranton bullpen is getting pretty crowded, so a few of these guys are going to get stuck playing in Double-A Trenton this summer. But depth is a good thing, zero complaints about a minor league deal.

The RAB Radio Show: January 25, 2011

Brian Cashman held court at the Hard Rock Cafe this morning, and he ended up speaking pretty candidly. He talked about a number of topics ranging from Derek Jeter to Joba Chamberlain, to the Red Sox and more. Mike and I discuss some of his statements and what implications they have on the team.

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Another measure of Teixeira’s defense

(Kathy Willens/AP)

When the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira in December of 2008, it meant two upgrades for the Yankees. The first came on offense, where Teixeira’s bat would represent an improvement over the aging Jason Giambi. In his final two Yankees seasons Giambi’s numbers dropped a bit, and he came to bat only 868 times in those two seasons. Teixeira would bring not only a superior bat, but also durability. But the most significant upgrade came on defense. Giambi was known as a statue before he even signed his $120 million contract. Teixeira was considered one of the game’s premier defensive first basemen. I can’t count the number of times I said, “I sure is nice to have a real first baseman” in 2009.

Defensive metrics did not agree with what Teixeira’s reputation, and what our eyes, told us. In 2009 Teixeira produced a 0.9 UZR, which ranked him 12th in the majors. That might not have been as ridiculous sounding had Miguel Cabrera not finished with a 3.5 UZR, fifth in the majors. Much as our eyes can deceive us, I don’t think that they deceive us to the level it would require for Cabrera to be a better defensive first baseman than Teixeira. After the 2009 season I recall a lot of ill feelings towards UZR, because of Teixeira’s situation specifically. The stats did not match what our eyes told us, and so we blamed the stats.

In 2010 UZR ranked Teixeira a bit worse. He finished with a -2.9 UZR, 14th in the majors. There might have been a number of good defensive first basemen ahead of him, but it’s doubtful that he finished more than a win worse than, for instance, Ike Davis. Maybe Teixeira isn’t the league’s best defensive first basemen, but after watching him for over 150 games in each of the last two years, and watching him frequently enough during his pre-Yankees seasons, I’m fairly confident that he ranks in the top five.

While UZR is still a widely used defensive metric, it does contain flaws. Almost all defensive metrics will, since we’re still figuring out how to best quantify defense. Perhaps the most aggressive in the pursuit of fielding knowledge is Baseball Prospectus’s Colin Wyers. He has spearheaded BP’s effort to create a more effective defensive stat, and after reading a number of his columns on the topic I see his point. With observation stats such as UZR and DRS there can exist significant range bias. Total Zone, the fielding stat used on Baseball Reference, takes the observation out and instead uses the play-by-play logs to determine defensive value. It’s here that Teixeira excels.

FanGraphs just added Total Zone (with location) data for the 2010 season, so we can see where he ranks compared to his peers. Surprisingly to UZR, but unsurprisingly to Yankees fans, Teixeira finished with a 13 TZL, which ranks him second in the majors. The only first baseman to finish better was Daric Barton, and we know he’s a top-notch first baseman. In 2009 he had a 10.1 TZL, which ranked fifth. But instead of sitting behind Miguel Cabrera (-4.4), he was behind only Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Helton, and Lyle Overbay. That’s a list a bit easier to accept.

This isn’t necessarily an indictment of UZR. After all, the correlation between UZR and TZL in 2010 was .75, so they’re pretty close to one another. What it makes me wonder more than anything is why UZR views Tex so differently. Barton, for instance, led the league in both TZL and UZR. Of the players with worse than -1 UZR, all but two — Tex and Todd Helton — also had a negative TZL. What about Tex’s game causes UZR to rate him so poorly relative to what we see? I don’t have an answer, but I do hope that this sheds a little light on current defensive metrics. Maybe UZR isn’t flawed for everyone. Maybe its biases affect different players in different ways.