Trusting Joba in critical spots

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

The Yankees apparently had this all planned from the beginning. Though they feigned a competition for the fifth starter spot in spring training, by most accounts they had already chosen Phil Hughes for the role. That meant Joba Chamberlain, who occupied that spot in 2009, would head back to the bullpen. His home, according to some. The Yankees then claimed that Joba would not be handed the eighth inning role, that he’d have to earn it. Yet that seemed to be just another line to calm the public. Of course Chamberlain would occupy the eighth inning. It’s what he was born to do.

In the first game of the season, with the Yankees down by one, Joba took the ball in the eighth. Things did not go according to the Joba plan, at least the one he authored in 2007. A single, a walk, and then a two-out single gave the Red Sox a two-run lead that Jonathan Papelbon would protect in the ninth. Yet in the next game, with the Yankees leading by a run in the bottom of the eighth, Girardi did not hand the ball to Joba. Instead he went to David Robertson. The plan, apparently, was to use Robertson against Youkilis, Damaso Marte against David Ortiz, and then bring in Joba to finish the inning.

That’s exactly how it happened, though Youkilis put a snag in the plan, singling off Robertson and taking second when Marte threw away a pickoff attempt. He did retire Ortiz, so Girardi handed the ball to Chamberlain with one out and a man in scoring position. Joba basked in the situation and then unleashed his best stuff on Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew, striking them both out. Ball safely in Mo’s hands, Joba sat down a happy man after that game.

He continued strong from there. He allowed a run in his next appearance against the Rays, but the Yanks already had a lead. He gave up a big home run against Anaheim, but those will happen. Those were the only two instances, from April 6 through May 15th, during which he surrendered a run. For the most part Joba was busy striking out opposing hitters and keeping them off base. But then came hard times. He loaded the bases against the Twins and handed Mariano a tough situation. Then he blew a 5-1 lead against Boston. Against Cleveland last weekend he was the largest culprit in the bullpen meltdown.

This asks the question of whether the Yankees can trust Joba.

His recent performances and 5.26 season ERA might say no, but despite the recent blips Joba has put together a quality season. His strikeout rate is at 10.52 per nine and his walk rate is the lowest it has been since 2007. The home run against the Angels is the only one he’s surrendered this season. He’s even getting more ground balls, which is an excellent weapon with men on base. These factors just haven’t come together yet for Chamberlain. He’s the victim of some bad luck, and hasn’t done himself any favors with men on base.

The first number that stands out is Joba’s BABIP, .380. His mark has always trended high, .332 in 2008 and .320 in 2009. Yet even those numbers are far below his current .380 mark. It’s not like hitters are making considerably better contact, as his line drive rate is 19.4 percent, about two percentage points lower than last year, while his groundball rate is 48.6 percent, almost six points better than last season. Maybe hitters are making better contact on the ground and finding the hole more easily. Other than that, the only better explanation for his BABIP is bad luck.

His strand rate also sticks out. At 56.6 percent, he’s among the league trailers. As expected, this comes from poor numbers with men on base. With the bases empty Joba has struck out 14 of the 48 batters he’s faced, 29 percent, while striking out just 16 of the 62 batters he has faced with men on, 26 percent. He has also walked a few more with men on base. What also stands out is his groundball rate with men on . That’s just 39 percent, against 61.3 percent with no one on. Unsurprisingly this has led to more extra base hits with men on base, five, than with the bases empty, one.

It also seems like May was an aberration of sorts for Chamberlain. His strand rate that month was 38.9 percent, against 77.6 percent from April and 75 percent during his brief stint in June. His BABIP in May was also .465, owing much to a 12.5 percent infield hit rate. In other words, it seems like, maybe, Joba’s poor overall numbers draw from one poor month. He still has plenty to prove, but for right now it’s just one bad month. Every pitcher has those.

I don’t want to do a paragraph on each of the next three points, but I think they’re important enough to at least bulletize.

  • Part of the fan reaction to Joba might come from a home bias. Chamberlain has produced his worst results at Yankee Stadium, an 8.18 ERA. Might the fans be a bit more peeved at Chamberlain for blowing games while they are in attendance?
  • Last year a common complaint was that the Yankees messed with Chamberlain’s rhythm. They pushed his starts back, and then had him throw short stints. But isn’t that exactly what he does in the bullpen? There is no bullpen rhythm. You might warm up for three straight games and never pitch. You might sit for a week. Then you might pitch in three straight games. It’s the way things work. Yet people criticized the Yankees for essentially emulating that last year.
  • Joba’s highest strikeout rate comes in high leverage situations, 12.15 per nine. His walk rate is also low, 2.70 per nine. Yet his BABIP is .449. That should come down a bit. The high strikeouts and low walks is rather encouraging.

After observing Joba’s performances and then reflecting on them, I come to the same conclusion I did on May 19th. Joba’s struggles are in no way extraordinary. He’s struggled at times, which is normal for a young pitcher. He’s had highs and lows, which is normal for a relief pitcher. Yes, the Yankees are looking for more from him. He’s the most talented pitcher in their bullpen behind Mo, and they need him to get from where the starter left off to where Mo begins. Given the course of a full season and not just one third of a season, I think he can prove more than capable of doing just that.

Unfortunately, that requires patience. We haven’t seen much of that from anyone, not the front office, not the fans, when it comes to Joba Chamberlain.

RAB’s Ground Rules for the 2010 MLB Draft

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, MLB Draft Day. D-Day has historically been one of the busiest and most trafficked days of the year for us at RAB, so we need to take a moment and lay down some ground rules and explain how this thing is going to go down.

First and foremost, please take a second to review our Commenting Guidelines. Even if you’ve been with us since day one, give them another look as a refresher.

Secondly, the draft is three days long this year, and I’ll be liveblogging all three days. The liveblog will mostly be me relaying news, sharing thoughts, taking questions, etc., but the liveblog posts will also serve as a draft open thread. Please keep your draft related comments there. We’ll obviously have plenty of non-draft content on the site as well, so keeping your discussions in the appropriate threads will make everyone’s life easier.

I will also be posting short capsules on select players after the Yanks pick them. I won’t write up a capsule for every player the Yanks pick, just the notable ones. For example, here’s Slade Heathcott’s capsule from last year. Use these posts to discuss that player and that pick only, any other draft talk should go back in the draft open threads. No one likes to repeat themselves in a bunch of different spots, so this is to everyone’s benefit.

It’s unlikely to happen because we’ve since upgraded to a dedicated server, but we have experienced technical difficulties on draft day before, and I suppose there’s still a chance the site may crash at some point. I’m hopeful the liveblog will help alleviate the load on the servers, but who knows. The important thing to know is that if the site does crash, you have to please be patient. Hitting refresh a million times a minute will only make it worse. Wait a minute or two before you try to reload the site. We’re fully aware of it whenever the site goes down, and trust us, we’re doing all we can to get it back up and running.

Finally, the best way to follow along with all of the draft content we’ll have over the next three days (and beyond) is to subscribe to our draft feed. You should also subscribe to our regular RSS feed so you don’t miss anything else. If you’re not familiar with RSS feeds, check this site out. Basically, an RSS reader like Google Reader will bring the information right to you, so you won’t have to check your favorite sites multiple times per day. Once you start using one, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Other than RSS, you can also follow RAB on Twitter @RiverAveBlues or @RABFeed. We use the former for random thoughts or to discuss stuff things with you guys, while the latter just automatically tweets a link to each new post. You can also follow the three of us individually @mikeaxisa, @bkabak, and @joepawl. And finally, there’s also our Facebook page.

Draft day is without a doubt one of the most exciting days of the year, and we ask that you follow along with our ground rules to make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Thanks in advance.

2010 Draft: KLaw’s Mock Draft v4.0

Ah, the final mock draft of the year. That’s when you know the draft is getting close. Keith Law has the Yankees taking Texas prep righty Tyrell Jenkins in his latest mock (sub. req’d), who’s been connected to them all spring. At this time last year we had a pretty good idea that Slade Heathcott was going to be the guy unless one of the top talents fell into the Yanks’ laps, but it seems to be wide open this year. Kinda exciting, actually. Haven’t felt like this since 2006.

2010 Draft: Baseball America’s Mock Draft v4.0

All of the last minute mock drafts are rolling in this morning, and Baseball America’s latest effort has the Yankees taking California first baseman/outfielder Christian Yelich (no sub. req’d!). They’ve been linked to him all throughout the spring, and late last night we learned that the Yanks were targeting (one of two) high school bats with the 32nd overall pick, so Yelich fits. He can definitely hit and defend, but he’s got a terrible throwing arm that limits him to first and left. That could improve with some mechanic tweaks and a throwing program, which could help turn Yelich into an impact centerfielder.

(Don’t forget to subscribe to our draft only RSS feed!)

Fan Confidence Poll: June 7th, 2010

Record Last Week: 5-2 (36 RS, 19 RA)
Season Record: 35-22 (314 RS, 228 RA, 37-20 Pythag. record), 2.0 games back
Schedule This Week: Monday OFF, @ Orioles (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Astros (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

All it takes is one inning for Yanks to top Jays

For a little more than a full inning, it felt like the Yankees were going to drop yet another game in which their offense did nothing. As John Sterling mentioned, that’s unfair to the Blue Jays pitchers. He also said that intentionally walking the bases loaded was a “sound strategy,” so I’m not sure I should use him as a reference point here. But he does have a point. Cecil, Romero, and Morrow are three talented pitchers who, if they continue developing, could anchor the Jays’ rotation for years to come.

Thankfully they did put together that odd rally in the eighth. Vazquez got the win, the Yanks avoided the sweep, and now they get to chill, perhaps at home, on an off-day before making the short trip to Baltimore.

Biggest Hit: Cano caps the rally

Jason Frasor threw Robinson Cano a hittable fastball. You can complete the story from there. But plenty led up to the moment.

The story of the eighth is actually one long, bizarre tale that you probably wouldn’t believe if there weren’t video evidence. Somehow the Yankees scored four runs while tallying just two hits. Both hits, as you can imagine, resulted in big RBI. That means every other runner reached base in an alternative manner. And it all started with a HBP.

AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Nathan Denette

Brandon Morrow’s ceiling is no lower now than when the Mariners drafted him in 2006. Maybe the chances that he reaches that ceiling are lower, but the same ceiling still exists. Today we got a preview of what that ceiling could look like, and for the top dogs in the AL East, it was not good news. Through seven innings Morrow had allowed just five baserunners, four hits and, more importantly, just one walk. He had used 99 pitches, so odds were he’d be done soon after he started the eighth. After getting ahead of Francisco Cervelli, Morrow let a fastball get away from him, and it nearly hit Cervelli in the helmet. It just missed, nicking off his shoulder, which meant he got to take first base without major incident.

That was it for Morrow, who handed the ball to Cito Gaston, who handed it in turn to the lefty Scott Downs. Brett Gardner stepped in and took a slider well outside for ball one. Downs then came back with a fastball up and in, but it hit Gardner, giving the Yankees the opportunity they needed. The top of the order was due up with the tying run, who potentially could score on a double, standing on first base. Downs set up Jeter with fastballs. Jeter swung at none of the first three, and two crossed inside the zone.

With the count 1-2 Downs threw a slider low and away. It might not have been a terrible pitch to another hitter, for two reasons. First, Derek Jeter does not like to lose baseball games, and he really doesn’t like losing a few in a row. Second, it was in the perfect spot for Jeter to hit it the other way. He did just that, bringing home the Yanks’ first run of the game and putting the tying run on third with none out. Nick Swisher came up and, like Jeter, took the first three pitches, two of which were strikes. On the 1-2 the new pitcher, Jason Frasor, threw a changeup in the dirt. Swish checked, but the ump didn’t see it that way. He punched him out, which led to the next oddity of the inning.

AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Nathan Denette

The punchout drew the ire of Joe Girardi, and rightfully so. The home plate ump had called a terrible game to that point, and I guess that pushed Girardi over the edge. He emerged from the dugout, hatless because he had tossed it in anger, and got himself ejected. No doubt astute observers made the connection to Girardi’s tirade on June 24th of last year, after Brett Gardner got picked off first base. Girardi’s ejection was followed by Francisco Cervelli’s game-tying home run, followed by another mini rally to put the team ahead. What unfolded in the eighth inning yesterday wasn’t all that different.

For some reason, Cito Gaston decided to walk Mark Teixeira to load the bases. Walking Teixeira to get to A-Rod rarely, if ever, makes sense to begin with. But when Teixeira looks as bad as he has in the past few games, it makes zero sense. Funny thing is, if not for a blunder, it might have worked. A-Rod did strike out, but not before the third pitch of the at-bat got away from Jose Molina and allowed Gardner to score the tying run.

AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Nathan Denette

More from the theater of the absurd. With first base open yet again, Gaston opted to face Robinson Cano. After the game he said the first instance was in order to put on the double play, but again that sounds like a weak strategy, especially with a hitter slumping as badly as Teixeira is at the moment. Cano, however, is one of the hottest hitters in the league. He reminded everyone of that on the second pitch, a fastball right in the middle of the plate. He lined it to left and brought home Jeter and Teixeira, giving the Yanks a two-run lead.

AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Nathan Denette

I’ve written entire recaps shorter than that eighth inning description. That’s how bizarre it was. It took a few lucky breaks and a few blunders, and maybe a fired-up manager inspiring his team if you buy that story line, but the Yankees had taken the lead And no one, not Joba Chamberlain, not anyone could take it away from them.

Biggest Pitch: Wells breaks up the no-no

AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Nathan Denette

Plenty of pitchers hold their opponents hitless for the first three frames. Many extend those to four or five. Once a pitcher hits that two-thirds marker is when things start to get exciting. Javy Vazquez was one one out away from that point when he faced Adam Lind for the third time. He’d walked and struck out previously, and in this at-bat it looked like he wasn’t going to swing at crap. He fouled off a 1-0 curveball, but didn’t move the bat from his shoulders for the rest of the appearances. After six pitches he walked to first base.

Still, the no-hitter was in tact when Vazquez faced Vernon Wells. He kept the ball away from him, going slider-curveball for a called strike and a foul. The count 0-2, Javy went back to the slider, but this one hung. Even though it was outside, Wells had enough time to get his arms extended and crush the pitch to left, giving the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead. With the Yanks offense again on the ropes, it must have been a deflating feeling. Vazquez did finish the inning by striking out Jose Bautista.

For Vazquez, the game represented the best-case scenario. As we mentioned before the game, if he brought his command he could slice and dice an offense like the Jays, one that relies on big swings and pulling the crap out of the ball. He used all of his five pitches and prevented the Jays from turning on an inside fastball. His line tells the whole story:

7 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 9 K

Unfortunately, the one hit was a long fly that came immediately after one of the four walks. Those are the breaks. Vazquez had a plan and executed. With a full-strength Yankee offense he wins that game easily. Instead, the Yanks had to catch that lucky series of breaks in the eighth to hand him the nice, but meaningless, point in the win column.

The biggest pitch of the day for Vazquez was the changeup, which he threw 21 times and on which he generated swinging strikes 10 times. He also had some success with the slider, 16 attempts and 13 strikes, including three whiffs. It’s understandable why he went with that pitch against Wells. It was just a bad time to hang one.

Just think, next time Javy gets to face the Astros, not only the worst offense in the league, but also a National League team, which is obviously Javy’s natural habitat.

WPA graph and box score

If this WPA graph were a water slide, Aaron Hill’s GIDP would make it not so much fun.

More at FanGraphs and the traditional box at mlb.com.

Up Next

It’s an off-day but not really, as we have the amateur draft. Mike will be around with the coverage. The Yanks head down to Baltimore on Tuesday, when Phil Hughes goes against Kevin Millwood.

2010 Draft: Yankees targeting high school bat with first round pick

Via Frankie Pilere, the Yankees are said to be targeting one of two high school bats for their first round pick in tomorrow’s draft, #32 overall. The identity of those players is unknown, but the Yanks have been connected to first baseman/outfielder Christian Yelich in recent weeks. They would then follow that up by selecting a high school arm in the second round, #82 overall. That could mean any number of people, but reports this weekend have connected them to Robby Rowland and Jesse Biddle, both of whom fit the bill.

If true, sounds like the Yanks are going to go big and not go home. I approve. Give me upside or give me death.