Archive for Joba Chamberlain
I thought we were beyond this. The whole “should Joba Chamberlain be a starter or reliever?” debate died a slow and ugly death a few years back, after the Yankees took matters into their own hands and officially declared the young right-hander a full-time reliever. There would be no more bouncing back and forth, no more Joba Rules, no more pitch counts, nothing. He will be a reliever and that’s what he’s done since.
Yesterday, despite not being asked any questions about the topic, Joba told reporters he still believes he has what it takes to be a starter in this league. Here is his full quote, courtesy of Mark Feinsand…
“This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff and (PR director Jason Zillo) is going to be mad at me, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, do you think you have the capability to start? Yes. Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes.
“I guess I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I feel like I’m good enough to do both. I’ve proven that I can do both. Whatever it is, if I close, I want to be one or the other. I’ve been in the role of in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere – wherever that’s at – I could do it? Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them.”
There are two things going on here, the first of which is pretty simple: of course Joba thinks he can start. Pretty much every reliever thinks he can start, especially relievers who are still a few years away from their 30th birthday. He’s confident in his talent and believes he can handle a more important role, which is perfectly normal. It would be a little disappointing if Joba came out and said he’s content as a reliever and doesn’t think he’s capable of pitching in someone’s rotation. You always want your players striving for more, to be better.
Secondly, free agency is looming and starters make an awful lot more money than their bullpen brethren. It’s not close either. The biggest free agent reliever contract in baseball history (Jonathan Papelbon) is nearly identical to the third largest free agent starter contract given out this past winter (Edwin Jackson), nevermind in baseball history. Being a starter pays much more because they’re simply more important. You know this, I know this, Joba and his agent knows this.
With the obvious caveat that there is still eight months worth of baseball to be played between now and free agency, it seems very unlikely Chamberlain will be re-signing with New York after the season. That makes me sad. He’s made it very obvious we wants to start and the Yankees won’t give him that opportunity. That last part is very clear. Ivan Nova and his 4.41 ERA in 62 career starts is in camp competing for a rotation spot this spring while Joba and his 4.18 ERA in 43 career starts is not. Think about that. Nova has gotten 19 more starts (and counting!) to prove himself than Joba.
Anyway, some team is going to give Chamberlain a chance to start next year. He’s still young enough (only 27) with good stuff and former top prospect shine, which is the kind of package that typically has fans clamoring for their team to swoop in. I’m guessing Joba will get a contract like Carlos Villanueva’s (two years, $10M) with the promise that he’ll compete for a rotation spot in camp with the bullpen as a fallback option. Maybe his quasi-hometown Royals will give him that deal, or maybe it’ll be Padres and their big ballpark. I could see the Rays pulling off a move like that, the Rangers as well. Either way, Joba’s days with the Yankees are numbered because there is still, six years later, a difference of opinion about his role.
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.
7:43pm: The Yankees and Joba Chamberlain have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract, the team announced. No word on the money, but MLBTR projects a $1.8M salary for 2013. The projections were dead-on for Brett Gardner ($2.8M) and way off for Phil Hughes ($7.15M). Joba, 27, will be a free agent next offseason.
Tom asks: I’ve seen people suggest that Joba Chamberlain‘s career is a failure with the reasoning that when he was a prospect, he was promised to be something so special that even considering the attrition rate for prospects, he should have turned out better. Are you happy with Joba’s apparent role now as a good relief pitcher?
Oh no, he’s absolutely not a failure. Joba was selected with the 41st overall pick in the draft and here’s the full list of players taken with that pick who have been above replacement level in their career.
|1973||Red Sox||Fred Lynn (minors)||OF||46.7|
|1980||Cardinals||Dan Plesac (minors)||LHP||15.9|
|2006||Yankees||*Joba Chamberlain (minors)||RHP||6.5|
|1982||Phillies||Lance McCullers (minors)||RHP||4.7|
|1991||Tigers||*Trever Miller (minors)||LHP||4.2|
|1965||Athletics||Bob Stinson (minors)||OF||3.5|
|1983||Reds via Yankees||*Joe Oliver (minors)||C||2.2|
|1970||Giants||Butch Metzger (minors)||RHP||1.0|
|2007||Athletics||*Sean Doolittle (minors)||1B||0.8|
|1990||Red Sox via Braves||*Frankie Rodriguez (minors)||RHP||0.4|
That’s it, ten guys and Joba is currently the third best with a chance to climb into second before things are all said and done. The Yankees have gotten plenty of return on their draft pick and $1.1M signing bonus, so there’s no way he can be considered a failure.
Now, being a disappointment is another matter entirely. Joba will billed as an ace-in-waiting — “Chamberlain fits the No. 1 starter profile in nearly every way,” wrote Baseball America (subs. req’d) when they ranked him as the third best prospect in baseball prior to 2008 — as a prospect and he has not delivered on that promise, so in that sense he’s a disappointment. There’s wasted talent here in that he’s been used primarily as a reliever when he had the stuff to start, but the team played a big role in that obviously.
The Yankees gave Joba only 33 full/unrestricted starts (3.88 ERA, ~4.00 FIP) and ten pitch-count limited starts to prove his worth in the rotation in 2008 and 2009. As a 23-year-old in 2009, he pitched to a 4.34 ERA (4.43 FIP) in 24 starts and 130.2 innings before being limited during the final month of the season, when he got hit pretty hard. He didn’t light the world on fire from April through August, but that performance in the AL East at that age doesn’t strike me as something that warrants being banished to the bullpen for good. That’s what happened though. It is what it is.
Joba set the bar crazy high with his out of this world 2007 debut and that led to unrealistic expectations that were impossible to meet. He also didn’t do himself any favors through the years by showing up to camp out of shape and getting arrested for DUI, so I don’t want to make it seem like I’m absolving him of blame for the failure to reach his ceiling. I wanted Joba to get more time to show what he could do as a starter but that didn’t happen, so I’m disappointed. In no way is having one decent year as a starter and 3+ years as a good to great reliever a failure though. Not at all.
The Yankees opened the season with what appeared to be an enviable amount of relief depth, plus there was more on the way at midseason. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the best laid plans…
When the season started, everyone knew the 27-year-old Chamberlain was going to be a non-factor until at least midseason. The right-hander blew out his elbow in early-June of last year, and the recovery time for Tommy John surgery is typically 12 months. He talked about coming back in May while the team cautioned that it might not be until July, but all of the speculation became moot when Joba suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle while jumping on trampolines with his son at a children’s play place in late-March.
Surgery and a lengthy rehab process followed, and it wasn’t until mid-July that he pitched in his first minor league rehab game. The Yankees weren’t counting on him to return this year but Joba insisted he would be back, and sure enough he was activated off the DL on July 31st. He was scheduled to make one final Double-A rehab start that night, but the club had traded Chad Qualls for Casey McGehee earlier in the afternoon and didn’t want to play with a short bullpen.
Joba was terrible early on. He allowed two runs in 1.2 innings in his first appearance and ten runs in his first eleven appearances (10.1 innings). His fastball hummed in around 94-96 and his slider was sharp, but his command was non-existent. That’s pretty typical for guys coming off elbow reconstruction. The good news is that Joba finished very strong, allowing just one unearned run in his final eleven appearances and 10.1 innings while striking out 13 and walking just one. He got hit hard in the postseason and I mean literally — the barrel of a broken bat hit him square in the right elbow and kept him out for a few days.
Although the Yankees did get 20.2 late-season innings out of him, 2012 was essentially a lost year for Joba. The ankle injury delayed his return and when he did get back on the mound, he wasn’t anything special (4.35 ERA and 4.01 FIP). It’s encouraging that he finished well and I suppose it’s good news that missing all that time due to injury will keep his salary down next year, but I think the Yankees would have preferred to have Chamberlain healthy as soon as possible and contributing to the bullpen.
Joba’s injury last season opened the door for Wade, who pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.76 FIP) in the second half after being plucked off the scrap heap. The 29-year-old Wade was expected to be an important middle innings cog coming into 2012, giving the club solid right-handed depth behind Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. He was stellar early on (1.46 ERA and 1.15 FIP in his first ten outings and 12.1 innings) and took on a setup role when Rivera and Robertson went down with injuries in early-May.
Wade pitched fairly well as the de facto right-handed setup man, allowing just six earned runs (3.60 ERA and 4.30 FIP) in his next 17 outings and 15 innings, but the wheels came completely off the bus in mid-June. He allowed one run in three straight appearances from June 16th-22nd, then got hammered for four runs in 0.2 innings by the Indians four days later. Three days after that, the White Sox crushed him for six runs in 2.1 innings. Joe Girardi let him wear that one, leaving Wade in to throw a career-high (by far) 58 pitches.
The Yankees had little choice but to send the soft-tossing right-hander to Triple-A, and outside of one-game appearance as the 26th man during a doubleheader against the Red Sox (three runs in 0.2 innings), he didn’t return until rosters expanded in September. Wade’s solid work in the minors (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) was unfortunately not an indication that his command/mechanical issues were a thing of the past. He surrendered four runs in 5.2 innings during the season’s final month, but he deserves props for throwing a perfect 14th inning in the crazy extra-innings comeback win over the Athletics.
All told, Wade pitched to a 6.46 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 39 innings for the Yankees this year. His strikeout (8.77 K/9 and 22.2 K%) and walk (1.85 BB/9 and 4.7 BB%) rates were dynamite, but batters absolutely punished him whenever he caught too much of the plate with his soft stuff. That happened far too often once the calendar flipped over to June. The Yankees designated Wade for assignment in early-October and the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers a week later, ending his brief tenure in New York. Between get picked off the scrap heap last summer and falling apart in the middle of this season, he gave the team about a full season’s worth of solid relief work (2.28 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 67 innings).
Over at MLBTR, Matt Swartz published his projected salaries for this winter’s arbitration-eligible players. His model was accurate to within 10% for players who did not sign multi-year deals last year — including just a 5% error for the Yankees — and after a summer of tweaks and refinements, he could be even closer this year.
The Yankees have seven arbitration-eligible players to deal with this offseason — Chris Dickerson and Frankie Cervelli fell just short of qualifying — though Casey McGehee is a prime non-tender candidate. The biggest expected raise belongs to Phil Hughes, who should see his salary jump from $3.2M to $5.7M. David Robertson and Boone Logan figure to get ~$1M raises while Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain are in line for negligible pay increases following their injury-shortened years. Jayson Nix still projects to get a six-figure salary and could be non-tendered as well. Without McGehee, the six-man arbitration class will cost the Yankees approximately $16.7M. Not too bad at all.
11:41pm: X-rays came back negative and Joba has a right elbow contusion. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow. Good news, that looked scary.
11:23pm: Joba Chamberlain left tonight’s game in the 12th inning after getting hit in the right elbow with a broken bat. The barrel hit him square and the TBS broadcast showed a big welt right on the tip of his elbow. Joba threw a few warm-up pitches and gave a thumbs up, but Joe Girardi (rightfully) lifted him from the game anyway.
It’s easy to make too much of one game in baseball, especially when you’re talking about a game like yesterday’s. The Yankees clobbered the Orioles to wrap up an important ten-game stretch in which they went just 4-6, but winning that final game in blowout fashion heading into the off-day sure has a way of making everyone feel like things are going to be okay. The club isn’t out of the woods yet though, far from it.
With 22 games left to play, the Yankees still have a number of issues to sort through. The middle relief remains shaky, Mark Teixeira‘s calf is going to keep him out for at least another few games, a number of other key lineup cogs are slumping, CC Sabathia still isn’t pitching as expected, and both the Orioles and Rays remain hot on the Bombers’ tail. Yesterday’s win was both stress-relieving and encouraging, with signs that maybe a few of those issues are starting to sort themselves out.
Granderson’s extended slump has been well-documented around this parts. He took a 4-for-34 skid into yesterday’s game and was hitting .207/.297/.410 with a 31.7% strikeout rate in his last 300 plate appearances. That’s basically half a season worth of below-average production from the club’s second-best hitter a year ago. Curtis simply wasn’t doing enough, which is why Joe Girardi did not start him either Saturday or Sunday against the Orioles.
“It’s just a matter of continuing to swing the bat,” he said to reporters yesterday. “I feel like I’m getting balls to hit and putting good swings on them, but I wasn’t able to do much with them for whatever reason. It’s just baseball being baseball.”
Granderson came off the bench yesterday and did something he was unable to do the day before: he produced. Three hits in three at-bats, including a solo homer to center and a two-run double to right. The two-run bloop to shallow left off a left-hander was his softest hit of the day but arguably his most impactful. It was just his third three-hit game of the season and they felt like his first three hits in about two months. If he’s able to build off this and strong contributing more to the offense, it’ll be a huge during the final weeks of the schedule. Curtis can do a lot of damage when right.
The Yankees have been looking for a reliable non-matchup middle reliever to couple with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano for about three months now, and there was a lot of hope that Joba would be that guy once he came off the DL. He was anything but reliable at first, allowing seven runs on 20 baserunners in 6.2 innings during his first seven appearances. The stuff was there, the mid-to-high-90s fastball and wipeout slider, but he was making way too many location mistakes. That’s not uncommon for guys coming off Tommy John surgery.
Very quietly though, Joba has been rounded back into form. Yesterday’s six-batter, five-out, four-strikeout appearance put an exclamation point on a road trip that featured 4.1 strong innings. He allowed one hit during the trip, a solo homer to Mark Reynolds on Thursday. Reynolds has been clobbering Yankees’ pitching all year, so it’s not like Chamberlain’s alone here. Other than that, he walked one, punched out eight, and generated 14 swings and misses out of 76 total pitches (18.4%). This doesn’t mean he’ll turn into another dominant late-inning arm or anything, but Joba has shown signs of shaking off the rust — he told reporters yesterday that he made a slight mechanical adjustment as well — and has started to assume more responsibility in a bullpen that needs as much help as it can get.
This one kinda goes hand-in-hand in with the last guy. Wade was dynamite in April and May before completely collapsing in June, to the point where you had to wonder if he was even salvageable. He was that bad. Wade spent a little more than two months in Triple-A and pitched reasonably well (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) before returning as a September call-up. In two appearances this month, Wade has retired all eleven men he faced, include six in two innings yesterday. He looked an awful lot like the guy he was last year and earlier this year against the Orioles.
It’s easy to write someone like Wade off because he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an above-average reliever. He doesn’t come out of the bullpen throwing gas with a knockout breaking ball, he relies on changing speeds and locating with a variety of offspeed pitches. He’s the Freddy Garcia of relief pitchers. Expecting Wade to return to his previous level of effectiveness is probably unrealistic, but these two most recent looks are encouraging at the very least. If he can step back up and give the team another reliable right-handed reliever for those middle innings, it’ll be a huge addition down the stretch.
This isn’t exclusive to Sunday’s game but is worth mentioning. The Yankees put together late rallies in three of the four games against the Orioles, including the two losses. Five eighth inning runs on Thursday tied the game before the bullpen blew it, then Saturday’s two-run ninth inning rally was cut short at one when first base ump Jerry Meals blew the call on a not so bang-bang play. Two runs in the seventh and five runs in the eighth put yesterday’s game out of reach. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what inning the runs are scored in as long as the Yankees push enough across to win, but stringing together hits and scoring multiple runs in an inning had been an issue up until this weekend.
* * *
As I said, one big win has a way of making you forget about all of the team’s problems for at least a day. Granderson has shown flashes of busting out of his slump before so maybe this is just another tease. Relievers and their performances are fickle, so who knows what Joba and Wade can contribute going forward, if anything. If nothing else, at least we saw some positive signs in the finale against Baltimore, which is a lot more than what we had in previous weeks.
Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees are considering a demotion to the minor leagues for Joba Chamberlain given his recent struggles. The club is expected to get CC Sabathia back off the DL this weekend and they’ll need a roster spot.
Joba, 26, has put 20 men on-base in 6.1 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery and an ankle fracture earlier this month. His velocity is more than fine — averaging 94.2 mph according to PitchFX — but his command is nonexistent, pretty typical for guys coming off elbow surgery. The Yankees could send him down to Triple-A or even Double-A (to avoid the traveling circus) for the minimum ten days before recalling him when rosters expand in September. Ten days will do little to help fix his command, but it’ll keep him away from meaningful games.
In the wake of the Chad Qualls-Casey McGehee trade, the Yankees will activate Joba Chamberlain off the DL in time for tonight’s game. He was scheduled to make what was likely his final minor league rehab appearance with Double-A tonight. The Yankees need another non-matchup reliever in the worst way, and Joba certainly fits the bill. Welcome back, big guy.