Watched the Yankees game yesterday against the Tigers on MLB.tv and it was a great game...unless you are a Tigers' fan. The big story of the game was not that the Yankees won the game 2-1 on two solo homers by Teixeira and A-Rod. The story was that Joba Chamberlain had a very good game and Phil Hughes came in and did what Joba used to do in the eighth inning. Much has been written about the role Joba should be playing for the Yankees. The "but" though is if he can pitch like yesterday in any kind of consistent manner.
It's hard to forget that Joba Chamberlain is just three years out of the University of Nebraska. He is only 24 years old. He didn't exactly get much seasoning in the minors before being on the express lane to the Yankees. His trouble is the expectations he created with his mind-boggling debut in 2007. The guy came up late in the year and quickly became the eighth inning stud and probably saved the Yankees' season that year. He pitched 24 innings, struck out 34, gave up 12 hits and only walked six. His ERA+ was a stupid 1192.
But here is another "but" concerning that mythical year. Joba was lucky. Yes, he did have a great strikeout to nine inning ratio, but his line drive percentage was 22.8%. Those line drives didn't fall in very often. And when runners did get on base, 96.6% of them didn't score. His xFIP for that short stretch of games was 2.55. That's still very good, but shows he was very fortunate too.
Last year fell more into line with how Joba pitched. His ERA for the season was a very good 2.60 compared to his FIP of 2.66. His strikeouts per nine innings dropped but that was to be expected with some starts thrown in the mix. His ground ball ratio improved and his line drive percentage improved as well.
This year, there was much reason to be concerned. His walks per nine innings are way up. He's given up way more homers. And watching him regularly, he just didn't seem to have the same fire in his belly when he pitched. The Fan thinks that a post-game interview yesterday with Teixeira showed a lot of insight. Teixeira said that Joba pitched more quickly, which kept his fielders more in the game and on their toes. That insight seems to be right on point as Joba has given up ten unearned runs this year. But despite the unearned runs, Joba hasn't been great this year up until yesterday and he seemed to be on the brink of losing his place.
The Fan read a story yesterday. Can't find it now to give you the link, but it was probably on Yahoo Sports concerning Joba and the pitcher mentioned going home for four days to play with his son. The story came out before Joba pitched yesterday. In the story, Joba talked about how energizing it was to spend time away from baseball and with his son. He talked about getting back to having fun and getting back to helping his team. Again, the article was insightful in that Joba is just a young guy who hasn't figured it out yet. He did seem to lack focus and he did seem like he wasn't having any fun.
Yesterday was the Joba Chamberlain that people have been looking for. Against a very good team, he had the fire back. He pumped his fist after an inning ending strikeout. He looked intent and focused on each batter. It was the kind of performance that (despite the three walks and another homer) indicates the kind of pitcher he can be.
We'll see what the next start brings. "But" the role for Joba is right where he is. If he can keep his focus and go out there and have fun and keep his team in games, he is worth much more as a starter than a reliever. Phil Hughes is now going through much the same thing. He's pitching like Joba in the bullpen and now the debate will shift to Hughes and what he should be doing. But Rob Neyer is right, the future for Hughes is as a starter. Just like it is for Joba.
And this Fan still believes that in the long run, the Yankees are better off with those two in their future than the great Roy Halladay. Both are cheap for a few years, have a longer up side and can keep the Yankees competitive for quite a few years. Time will tell how it all plays out though.