What Went Wrong: Joba Chamberlain

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The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the poster boy for the Yankees’ recent player development failures.


Man, these last six years and two months did not go according to plan for the Yankees and Joba Chamberlain. Not at all. He was supposed to be the future of the pitching staff, the hard-throwing strikeout machine who chewed up innings and was the New York version of Michael Wacha or Jose Fernandez or whoever is the young pitcher flavor of the week. Things didn’t go according to plan — not even remotely close, really — and Joba’s final season in pinstripes was a nightmare.

After returning from Tommy John surgery in the second half last year, Chamberlain struggled for a few weeks but closed out the season very well, creating some optimism that he would get back to his pre-elbow reconstruction form the further he got away from surgery. He opened 2013 in the seventh inning setup role behind Mariano Rivera and David Robertson but ahead of Shawn Kelley on the reliever depth chart. The Red Sox pounded Joba to three runs in two-thirds of an inning on Opening Day, but he followed by allowing just one run in his final 8.2 innings and nine appearances of the month.

Joba’s season was put on hold on April 27th, when he suffered a right oblique strain in the team’s 23rd game of the season. He apparently suffered the injury while filling in at closer during a game in which Robertson and Rivera were unavailable:

It was a cardiac save, no doubt about it. The oblique injury sidelined him for a month.

By the time Chamberlain returned from the DL, Kelley had begun to establish himself as the team’s go-to seventh inning reliever. Joba got his old job back but in his second appearance following the injury, he turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 lead in the span of two-thirds of an inning against the Indians. A three-run homer by Drew Stubbs did the trick. Boone Logan came in to finish the frame and Joe Girardi relegated Joba to lower leverage work for the time being.

In twelve appearances and eleven innings between the meltdown against the Tribe and the All-Star break — only two of those 12 appearances came with the Yankees leading, both times by seven (!) runs — Chamberlain allowed seven runs on 16 hits (three homers) and five walks. That’s a 5.73 ERA and 5.78 FIP. Opponents hit .333/.407/.542 against him during that time, pretty close to what Mike Trout hit this summer (.323/.432/.557). Joba turned everyone he faced into the best player in the world during a five-week stretch this season. Geez.

That game against the Indians was the last time Girardi used Chamberlain in a truly important situation. He made 20 appearances in the second half and only six times was the game separated by fewer than three runs. Two of those six were extra-inning games, last arm in the bullpen stuff. Only four of those 20 appearances came in games the Yankees were leading — twice by seven runs, once by four runs, and once by three runs. The three-run lead came in Game 160, after the Bombers had been eliminated from postseason contention.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Following the All-Star break, Joba’s average Leverage Index when entering the game was 0.57. That ranked 220th out of 245 relievers to throw at least ten innings in the second half. Girardi didn’t trust him and rightfully so, but for whatever reason, he used Chamberlain in what was then the team’s most important game of the season, on September 19th against the Blue Jays. The Yankees were three games back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column and were down two runs in the seventh inning against Toronto. Joba faced three batters and allowed a walk, a single, and a three-run homer. Just like that, the two-run deficit in a hugely important game became a five-run deficit.

That disaster against the Blue Jays wound up being Joba’s second to last appearance with the team. He finished the season with a 4.93 ERA (5.64 FIP) in 42 innings, and he also left an extra bad taste in everyone’s mouth when he told Rivera not to “shush” him while talking to his family during a road trip to Kansas City in May. Joba reportedly apologized and Mo played it off as no big deal, but still. It was not exactly appropriate.

Chamberlain will leave the Yankees via free agency this winter with a 3.85 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 444.2 career innings. I don’t think they’ll bring him back under any circumstances, not even on a minor league contract. At this point, I think it’s clear Joba’s failure to fulfill his so obviously enormous potential has more to do with him not putting in the necessary work — showing up to Spring Training overweight on more than one occasion is evidence of that — than the team jerking him around, but they didn’t exactly help matters either. Both share some of the blame, but after six years, the last four in the same role, most of it falls on the player. Joba will be some other team’s problem now. The disastrous 2013 season was a fitting end to a disappointing tenure in New York.

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  • http://riveravenueblues mississippi doc

    So many have written on this blog how badly the Yankees mishandled Joba. While we certainly have not done well developing young pitchers, the fault here belongs to Joba. He has all the talent and had all the opportunity. He just couldn’t do it. He may well be one of these stories of a young pitcher who finds himself when he leaves the Bronx.

  • Karl Krawfid

    Don’t worry, he’ll loose 15-20 pounds and be a beast for some other team.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      I’d like to see that happen.

      • qwerty

        Unless some team can “fix” him it seems doubtful. Joba is suffering from mechanical issues that the yankees forced on him years ago. Anyone ever wonder how he went from throwing 100mph one year and then never again?

        • Batsman

          Ron Guidry, Dave Eiland, and Larry Rothchild….

          With 3 pitching coaches how could any mechanical issues be forced upon Joba Chamberlain?

        • OldYanksFan

          “… suffering from mechanical issues that the yankees forced on him…”

          And you know this how?

          I suspect injuries hurt Joba. He was never the same after his first injury.
          Certainly his early fame went to his head, as simply coming into camp in shape was not important to him.

          For whatever reason, Joba is one of thousands of ‘high end’ prospects to flame out. Blaming the Yankees is a tired meme.
          Somewhere along thie line, Joba lost his Killer Slider. It was that, not loss of velo, that derailed him.

          • qwerty

            There was an extensive article written on it a while back. Outside of this there was also talk about Dave Eiland tinkering with Hughes’s mechanics as well. I believe Eiland was a tinkerer, and once he got a hold of Joba it was all over. You say injuries hurt Joba, but what shoulder injury do you know of which saps a pitcher’s arm strength of a few mphs, but does nothing else? No one has ever found anything wrong with Joba’s shoulder after that incident, and if there was an underlying problem Joba certainly would have reinjured himself by now.

      • qwerty

        I truly believe Joba’s issue is with his mechanics. If his new team can get him back to his 2007 delivery and motion then watch out.

  • Derbs

    I will never be able to figure out what happened to Joba. He was never the same after his injury in 2008 I believe? He was doing great as a starter and was never the same. Ughhh

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Basically. I’d say injury + lazy did him in.

      Did the team have anything to do with it? Perhaps there’s some mental adjustment they thought he could make which he was too much of a dumbass to do. Other than that, pitchers were switched between the pen and rotation long before Joba Chamberlain ever was drafted by the New York Yankees.

      I wish him well. I just never want to talk about him ever again.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Mariano Rivera seemed to do OK with having his role changed from time to time, right?
        Joba just has lousy makeup, I think. That and diminished velocity for whatever reason have turned him into a completely ordinary pitcher.

      • Batsman

        I don’t think it was injury or laziness that did him in.


        I think it is plain old stupidity.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      I will never be able to figure out what happened to Joba.


      He got injured. Failed for the first time in his brief ML career. Lost his confidence. Was switched to a reliever got injured again and the cycle continued.

      I still wonder how things might have been if they ket him a starter after 09.

      • The Big City of Dreams


  • HMVB

    As stated in the article, Joba has had the same role for 4 seasons. I don’t think the argument of the Yankees bouncing him around holds much weight. What I do think is a big factor that doesn’t seem to come to light is his seriousness for his job. His conditioning is poor. I’ve seen him out here and there randomly until 4am on game days, day game game days no less. If I’m spotting him a handful of times in a span of 5-6 weeks, how many more nights is he out partying? I think just too much came to him too soon at a young age and he took it all for granted.

  • HMVB

    Funny thing about the weight. He came back from TJ and the ankle injury the lowest weight he has been (around 225) and he ballooned right back up being back in NYC.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    What Went Epically Wrong: Joba Chamberlain.

    I really just want to never have to talk about him ever again. Too painful. Just buh bye, Joba. You ruled. Thanks for the midges.

  • Darren

    On what basis can you possibly make the claim that “it’s clear Joba’s failure to fulfill his so obviously enormous potential has more to do with him not putting in the necessary work…”

    That’s specious and reductive. He sucked, and he’s big, so he sucked because he’s big? Ok… Except for the fact that he was also big in 2007 when he was lights out.

    Plenty of great young pitchers flame out, unfortunately. Joba wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. But to put the blame on him for not “putting in the work” smacks of the WORST kind of sports fan mentality. Der, that guy got injured because he’s soft. That guy lost his stuff becuase he got lazy. Honestly I thought RAB was better than that.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      What do you think happened, then? Honest question.

      • Darren

        I don’t know, I really don’t. The biggest problem seems to be a lack of movement on his fastball even when he gets it up to 96 mph. That plus a loss of confidence – he just doesn’t seem the same out there, but maybe that’s because his stuff got worse. I guess it’s a combination of that, plus three major injuries (which, by the way, he diligently worked his way back from), the hitters making adjustments, and yeah, the team absolutely mishandling him, especially with the ridiculous 3 inning start fiascos.

        I’m not a fan of Joba, especially after the Mo incident, but it just seems so old school (in a bad way) to say that a player who can’t sustain success must be at fault.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I do think “he didn’t work hard enough” is a potential jumping off point from what you’re saying for some. I found myself very frustrated by Joba, the player, even though I very much liked him for the majority of time he was with the team. He wore me down, though, and this season was just horrific.

          You are right, though and, even from me, it’s frustration talking. I never registered an IQ test to Joba Chamberlain, so his level of intelligence/dumbassery is just a frustrated guess. :)

          Here I am, still talking about him.

          • trr

            To me, it’s really a combination in varying degrees of what everyone is saying. The biggest issue, IMO, the injuries. Still, it’s clear that his time in NY is, and should be, over. I don’t dislike the guy, I’m just disappointed he never lived up to his potential.

        • WhittakerWalt

          Just FYI “loss of confidence” is maybe the biggest phony-baloney reason you could give for a player’s failures. One might even call that specious reasoning.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            Think about it though Joba is a player that lived off his power stuff. The guy in 07/08 and certain starts in 09 is different from the person he was in 2010 onward. Hell even in 2011 when he pitched well out of the pen he didn’t look like the old Joba. His confidence was due in large part to having a blazing fastball and devastating slider. Joba even stopped doing the fist pump that made him infamous.

            • WhittakerWalt

              His slider was only devastating when compared to the 100 mph fastball. Once he became a 95-96 mph guy, the slider became a meatball.

              • mike


                also, when it was clear that he could not throw the slider for strikes anymore, it stopped being a weapon and instead became a predictable pitch to lay off.

                so he became a one-pitch pitcher with significant velocity loss, no intimidation factor and no put-away pitch.

    • Baked McBride

      I think part of the reason for his disatrously fat flameout is due to the pitching coaches after Mel left. No matter what his role, they weren’t able to get him to maximize his strengths and command. Of course, he was also a disrespectful, cocky jackass which doesn;t help in beisbol or life

  • RetroRob

    He was injured. He is a bit of headcase.

    Move on. This stuff happens all the time in MLB.

  • Frank

    The Cards will fix him and he and Martinez will be setting up Rosenthal next season. A great BP just got better.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      Or they’ll make him a starter and he’ll win 15 games lol

  • Glenn Brown

    Joba always looked as if hard work was not in his DNA. His character was tested and he failed when he mocked Yogi when he was caught in a DWI. I have been to spring training numerous times and never saw him break a sweat. I have to theorize that his injuries were related to not being in tip top shape. Oh. Not the ankle injury, that was all caused by his own stupidity. One more thing. If the Boss were alive he be calling Joba a lot more than a fat toad.

  • Nathan

    That late ’07 season was almost magical. For me at least, it was like watching another Rivera-Wetteland combo/transition/torch-passing.

    I’ll always view Joba and Phil Hughes together: so much promise yet failures.

  • TheLastClown

    I started visiting the site during the ‘Save the Big 3’ days, and it’s become one of my most visited websites throughout the years.

    Joba’s is the only jersey I own, & I was a huge fan from the beginning, like most. When the controversy started, I developed into something of a Joba apologist throughout the years.

    I’ve always thought the primary problem with this whole situation was not Joba’s makeup, nor was it the club’s juggling him from rotation to BP per se. I think the most important piece of this particular pitcher development failure was the initial rush up to the bigs.

    This is indeed conjecture but it seems to me that one of the most important skills learned during a pitchers grooming in the minors is mental toughness, the ability to go out there with less than your best stuff & learn how to pitch. To rebound from a bad start, or a bad inning, or a bad pitch & continue to execute. Joba’s stuff was so great during his 88.1 MiLB innings that he arguably never had to encounter a situation like this before he got to the bigs. BBref’s MiL gamelogs only go back as far as 2008, & I don’t feel like going elsewhere to try & back that last statement up, but a 13.8:2.8 K/9:BB/9 in 88.1 IP is pretty dominant.

    For comparison, here are some other MiLB total IP, before the given player really stuck in MLB. These are just some names that popped into my head, ML SPs with different kinds of stuff. I’m a lot less informed than most regs in this community so forgive me if my analysis is lacking. Also forgive me if someone else has posted something similar in the time it’s taken me to look up these numbers. I’m not willing to refresh & delete.

    Hughes 274.3
    Nova 430.1
    Cone 652.1
    Randy Johnson 400.1
    Mussina 178
    D Price 144
    Pettitte 583.2
    Pedro 379.2
    Wainwright 784.2
    Buchholz 285.2
    Lester 345.4

    So, to dust off an old meme from those ‘StB3′ days:


    (hope life’s going swimmingly for ol’ TSJC)

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Could definitely be a factor.

      This is why, when others start complaining about a player initially struggling to adjust to level, I’m glad the player is learning to deal with adversity BEFORE they reached the majors, which neither Phil or Jona ever had to do.

      All hail the properly microwaved burrito.

      • Batsman

        Hughes did; Joba no.

        Do you remember the season of 2008? The Yankees handed Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy the starting job. Neither pitcher won a single game that season. They both were sent down. When Wang got injured in 2009, the Yankees brought Hughes back up. Phil pitched well. So well, that when Wang came back the Yankees were ready to demote him again to clear the way for Wang. Desperate not to go back, Hughes volunteered bullpen duty and excelled.

        All in all, i think both players are plain stupid. Hughes role as a pitcher may be reduced to the simplified work of the bullpen, where he can throw mostly fastballs in sporadic number of appearances. As for Joba, he’s just plain dumb and arrogant. Those two combined can lead to stubbornness. This is a guy who drove drunk; insults Yogi; jumps on a trampoline when recovering from an injury; and tells the greatest reliever of all time to “shush.” The fact of the matter is, Joba does not know how to pitch. The man has four pitches and his best pitch is the fastball to which all opposing hitters are waiting for. If Joba spent the time mastering one or two of his other three pitches, his fastball would jump 5 mph faster by virtue of a guessing hitter. However, Joba won’t get that because in his head he’s “misunderstood Joba Chamberlain.”

    • Silvio

      Interesting argument. You may be right.

      If so, it’s one of the reasons why baseball is a more difficult game than its rivals.

  • iYankees

    “At this point, I think it’s clear Joba’s failure to fulfill his so obviously enormous potential has more to do with him not putting in the necessary work — showing up to Spring Training overweight on more than one occasion is evidence of that — than the team jerking him around, but they didn’t exactly help matters either. Both share some of the blame, but after six years, the last four in the same role, most of it falls on the player.”

    Couldn’t disagree more, really. I understand where you’re coming from, of course. But I would argue that, the Yankees have demonstrated that this is an ongoing, institutional issue, where they fail to put their own homegrown players on the best possible patch to success. I mean, the Yankees are even acknowledging that given recent overtures towards personnel changes in scouting, player development, etc. Joba is one of many missteps, yet he’s the most glaring and possibly even the poster child of the Yankees’ inability to mature one, potential-laden player.

    To put this squarely on Joba just seems like the definition of a copout. It simplifies a rather complex problem and deflects blame from the team when blame is what they’ve earned.

    • WhittakerWalt

      Joba is a grown-ass man. He was given numerous opportunities in numerous roles. He is a failure. That’s on him. If he was succeeding and blowing guys away, the Yankees would be thrilled. He can’t get anybody out. I don’t see how that’s anyone’s fault but Joba’s.

      • Babe’s Ghost

        Ian Kennedy says hello…

        • OldYanksFan

          IPK went from pitching in the toughest division to pitching in the easiest. Now, at the age of 28, he has a career 101 ERA+ and 1.269 WHIP. Just about dead average. Over his last 2 years, his ERA+ has averaged under 90.

          This ain’t that bad, but nothing to brag about.

          When pitching AWAY from their Home stadium:
          IPK has a career ERA of 4.40, 1.320 WHIP, 108 tOPS+ (.760).
          Phil has a career ERA of 4.10, 1.256 WHIP, 85 tOPS+ (.690).

          So obviously, the Yanks ruined Phil, and IPK ‘flourished’ when away from the incompetent Yankees management.

        • WhittakerWalt

          I’m sure you didn’t just submit IPK as an example of a mature player.

      • iYankees

        Perhaps if he was developed properly he wouldn’t have turned into a lost cause? If we’re looking at the entirety of Joba’s NYY career, to blame him solely for the outcome is just idiotic.

    • OldYanksFan

      Can we apply this same logic to every failed player? Are the Mariners incompetent because Smoak and Montero failed?

      I won’t go thru every player and every team.
      Failure is far more common than success.

      Did Cano overachieve because the Yankees have GREAT development?
      Or was it maybe because after hanging with ARod, he realized that hard work and commitment was what ultimately made the difference?

      • mike

        or was it Cano hanging around with Arod, melky and Papi in the offseason having access to their other “training” methods?

        Or am i the only one to look at the size of Cano – and his Dad as a comp – to see something is a little fishy?

        • Ricardo

          When his dad was his age, he was actually about the same size.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Sign Daniel Bard!

  • qwerty

    i can’t wait to find out where both these guys end up, and how they will do. AJ Burnett left the yankees and he was a CY Young contender, lol. Ditto with Ian Kennedy.

  • Jeff

    Personally, I truly believe Joba’s a head case and his problem is solely mental. Somewhere along the line, he reached a point where he knew it all, nobody could teach him anything and he did what he thought was best, irrespective of what anyone else suggested. I’ve found him to be lazy, stubborn, ignorant and just plain obnoxious. I also don’t believe he was ever cut out to be a Yankee and give 100% of himself toward that end.

    Let’s face it — did Joba do everything within his power to be the best he could be? Absolutely not; not by a long shot. And his post-game interviews are evident of that fact where he placed most of the blame of his epic failure after failure on everything and everyone but himself. “I don’t think about that”, “I don’t worry about that”, “That never affected me”, and on and on and on. The story was always the same: “I’ll just have to go out there and do better next time” but rarely did better “next time”.

    Part of the blame (of course) was “Joba Rules” and in my opinion, was that transition period where he turned student to know-it-all and thrived on only that fame and little else (mechanics, talent, work ethic, personal care, etc). He remonds me a lot of Hideki Irabu and George’s “fat toad” missive. Though the Yankees played a large part in his demise (Joba Rules, the build-up, starter to reliever to starter to reliever and so on), notwithstanding the back page headlines, Joba turned into a mental case, plain and simple. Shake off after shake off, he rarely trusted his catcher(s) and went with what he thought was best. And paid the price for that stubbornness each time.

    I think we all reached the point where we dreaded seeing (either) Joe point to that right arm and see 62 loafing from the pen. A collective sigh and knowing he will implode. And shaking our collective heads after he did exactly that, time and again, time after time.

    To Joba, I have only two words: good riddance.