It has been nothing but a frustrating season for Joba Chamberlain. He started off with some success, but the velocity on his fastball just wasn’t there. Then he started pumping mid- to upper-90s fastballs, but started getting hit hard. Now his ERA is inflated and we’ve heard numerous calls for his expulsion from the eighth inning role. That’s natural. No matter what he’s doing otherwise, he’s allowing runs to score, and therefore is making it more difficult for the Yankees to win ballgames. At some point if he’s not getting results then he has to be taken out of such critical situations, right?
At some point, yes. At this point, however, I’m a firm believer that Joba should continue to get the ball. In terms of events over which he has the most control — strikeouts, walks, and home runs — he’s performing exceptionally. It’s on balls in play that he gets hurt far worse than he has in the past. This could be something mechanical — and at this point I’m willing to bet that he’s experiencing some physical difficulty that’s hurting his command — but it also certainly involves some degree of luck. There is, of course, the chance that his luck doesn’t even out by the end of the year; that’s a peril of pitching out of the pen. But there’s also a good chance that by mid-August we see a Chamberlain more like the 2008 version than what we’ve seen so far in 2010.
This was actually a discussion on a few sites today. Steve Goldman at Pinstriped Bible first took it up, and concluded that it’s far too early to give up on a pitcher of Joba’s caliber, even if it seems like his “potential is seemingly already spent.” Later in the day Bloomberg Sports presented much of the same information in graphical form. They also noted Joba’s drop in pop-up rate and his minuscule strand rate as potential issues. Then Rob Neyer added his commentary, from which we can take away one important point.
“Jose Lopez’s grand slam a couple of weeks ago is still fresh in our minds, and with that single pitch Chamberlain’s ERA jumped from 4.91 to 5.89.”
Such is the nature of relief pitching. It’s going to take patience with a pitcher like Joba, who has such high expectations placed on him. We’re not seeing immediate results, and so the natural reaction is to call him a bust and move onto the next guy. The Yankees, however, like something they’ve seen with him. For all you hear about the organization’s frustrations with his maturity and entitlement, they keep sending him back out there. Something tells me they’re thinking more along the lines of the crew at Bloomberg, Goldman, and Neyer, and not like the callers on AM radio.