When Larry Rothschild was hired by the Yankees as their new pitching coach, a slew of articles appeared outlining Rothschild's tasks ahead. Many of them mentioned the two guys that needed "fixing" the most as A. J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain. It was always those two. While few of us would disagree that A. J. Burnett needs an engine overhaul, it simply doesn't seem fair to lump Joba Chamberlain in that same category. The two are considered the Yankees' head cases. Well, this Fan isn't a psychiatrist, so let's stick to baseball facts. Joba Chamberlain will be fine.
It's easy to get lost in a relief pitcher's ERA. And it works both ways. A closer will pitch one inning really well for 30 odd appearances and everyone talks about their "amazing" ERA. Yet one bad appearances (or two or three) can balloon a relief pitcher's ERA in the flick of an eye. Let's say that a relief pitcher has pitched twenty inning and has given up two earned runs. The relief pitcher has an ERA of 0.90. Isn't he a great reliever? The next outing, he doesn't have anything and he gives up three runs in a third of an inning. Now his ERA is up to 1.76. His next outing is again rocky and he gives up two runs in a third of an inning. Now his ERA is up to 2.61 and so it goes. Two thirds of an inning added 1.7 to the pitcher's ERA. And in some of those outings, the pitcher behind him is actually the one who gave up those runs with a homer or something.
That's why you have to go beyond the ERA to judge relief pitchers. Two of the biggest criteria are the K/9 and the K/BB ratio. Joba Chamberlain's were just fine at 9.7 and 3.54 respectively. His hits per nine innings were rather high at 8.9 and his WHIP reflected that at 1.298. But his homer rate was just fine too at 0.8.
This writer submits that Joba's problems weren't so much being messed up as a pitcher as it was a combination of bad luck and lack of support, particularly from his infielders. His BABIP for the season was .327, but that doesn't tell the full story either. It was his BABIP for ground balls that really stand out. Now this writer has to admit to not doing a full study on this, but it seems that ground balls lead to an out about 75% of the time. Whenever the Fan looks at a pitcher's splits, the BABIP on ground balls is anywhere from .220 to .260. Batters make their living on line drives, which tend to lead to hits upwards of 60% of the time. But Joba's BABIP on ground balls was .309.
This isn't to say that Joba Chamberlain can't get better. He is far less effective against right-handed batters than he is against lefties, which you would think would be the opposite. So he needs an out pitch he can throw to right-handed batters. His walks are still a bit too high. When a right-handed batter was able to pull the ball off of Joba, they had a .522 batting average! He is sloppy with his first pitch. When apposing batters swung on the first pitch and put the ball in play, they had a 1.056 OPS against him.
It is the opinion of this writer that Joba Chamberlain had a decent year as a relief pitcher. He had two tough stretches, one in May and one in August. But the rest of the year he was just fine. All his peripheral numbers are right in line with where you want them to be except his ERA of 4.40. His xFIP, a truer way of looking at a pitcher's effectiveness, was 3.34 and his FIP was 2.98.
So why the bad perception about Joba? Well, for one, he kind of looks like a goober. With his unbent cap and blank expression, he can be mistaken for a rube. Plus, people don't forget the fist pumps and all that stuff he used to pull on the mound. He caught people's attention and thus, he is under a deeper microscope. But the bottom line is that Joba Chamberlain shouldn't be high on Rothschild's to do list. He's just fine.