Monday, January 10, 2011

The Mishandling of Joba Chamberlain

On Monday over at Sliding Into Home (a Yankees blog), Domenic suggested that if the Yankees are looking for another starter, they need to look no further than Joba Chamberlain. This Fan commented that it will never happen because the Yankees' brass has said so publicly. The usual reasons are that when they tried that before, Chamberlain had a mysterious drop in velocity (especially at the start of the game) and a lack of command. Domenic was having no part of that and still believes Chamberlain could still be an effective starter. He could be right. But the Yankees have so screwed up Chamberlain's situation, that it would be a miracle if they could ever get things right with him. From this Fan's perspective, it doesn't seem like a former #1 pick could have been handled worse.

Chamberlain was the 41st overall pick of the 2006 draft. A year later, he was a late call up and dazzled, quickly becoming a cult hero in New York. 12.8 K/9 and an 0.38 ERA in 24 innings stamped his image across the land. In 2008, Chamberlain started in the bullpen and pitched twenty times in the late innings and he was very good. Then, without any build up of his innings, and without any time in the minors to air things out, they put him in the rotation and he made twelve straight starts. He was rough in the beginning, great in the middle and his last start was a rough one. He went 3-1 in those starts, struck out seven or more batters in five of those twelve starts. The Yankees as a team won eight and lost four of those starts. Then he made ten more relief appearances to close out the season.

Joba finished 2008 with a 2.60 ERA in 100.1 innings and had 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. In his first two seasons as a pitcher for the Yankees, he gave up just 0.4 homers per nine. It was announced that Chamberlain would be a starter in 2009.

And so he was in 2009. The year started with the announcement of the "Joba Rules." Chamberlain would only be allowed to accumulate so many innings and they stuck to it. He made 31 starts and only pitched 157.1 innings for the season. He did finish 9-6 but his ERA ballooned up to 4.75, his K/9 sank to 7.6 and his walk rate went up significantly. Plus, he gave up 1.2 homers per nine.

The Fan watched a lot of those games and in the first inning, Joba would be throwing 89 to 90 MPH. By the second or third inning, he would be up again to his normal 92-95. He looked tentative as if pacing himself too much and his command faltered. He hit 12 batters and threw five wild pitches. It appears that his coaches did little to prepare him properly.

The Fan has a theory that the Joba Rules messed with the pitcher's head. The expectations were so high, but he wasn't allowed to grow into those expectations. He would just be getting started and with a pitch count ballooning, he would be out of the game by the fourth or fifth inning. Plus, the Fan doesn't think it helped that 20 of his appearances were caught by Jorge Posada. In those 20 starts, his ERA was over five and his K/BB ratio plummeted to 1.57 (it was 3.0 with Molina and 2.0 with Cervelli).

The Yankees lost confidence in him and announced that in 2010, he would have to fight Phil Hughes for the fifth rotation spot. Hughes came out smoking and Joba never had a chance. He pitched the entire year in the bullpen and had an uneven but generally successful season.

The result was that the Yankees built him up via the Joba Rules in 2009 and then wasted that entire process by never using him as a starter in 2010. And now the Yankees' brass has concluded that Joba is done as a starter. He is a back end of the bullpen guy and that's that. He's back to square one after five years.

Personally, that constitutes a jerking around. The fact that Chamberlain succeeded in the past in the bullpen led to his starting demise because it was too easy to put him back out there. Frankly, it's a waste of his talent. Hughes had a nice season and it was nice to see that develop. He now inherits the rotation spot that he earned. It wasn't a perfect season and at times, he struggled just like Joba did. But that won't end up with the same results because the Yankees need starters and Hughes has the job. Joba will get his 70 innings again and when both pitchers come up for arbitration, Hughes will make more money because his job is more important.

When this observer watches both Hughes and Chamberlain, it is apparent that neither have a forceful personality. Neither takes things by the nads and run with it. They both seem to allow themselves to be steered in whatever direction their catcher and their bosses want them to go. Chamberlain may be a smart guy, but he gives off the appearance of not being the sharpest tool in the shed. If that appearance is correct, then what would he know about sticking up for himself and putting pressure on his bosses to force any issue?

After mulling through all of this, Domenic is right. Joba Chamberlain will be 26 in 2011. There is still plenty of time to build him back up and put him back in the rotation. He was a first round draft pick for goodness sake! Shouldn't he get a second chance? Shouldn't he have a chance to be the kind of star they thought he was going to be? He would have to start all over and go through another year of Joba Rules. It would be hoped it would be handled better this time. Martin might be a better fit and if it's Montero, than even better because Joba and Hughes would be the elders then and throw what they want.

Sometimes the "win-now-or-else" persona of the Yankees forces them to make bold decisions that come at the expense of their young players. Nowhere is this more apparent than with their pitchers. Phil Coke is another example of a starter who was forced to be a relief pitcher for two years and now that the Tigers want him to start, he has to build up all over again. Their frantic need to win makes them take young talent like Hughes and Joba and Coke and put them in the bullpen to hold the fort until Mo can come in. This comes at the expense of starting experience and muscle memory needed to start long term.

In these eyes, the Yankees have done a disservice to Joba Chamberlain but he is still young enough to turn it around and become the kind of pitcher his talent seems to dictate he can be. Except this time, he should get a real chance. Maybe that chance will have to come on another team. His own team doesn't believe in him, so it might be best to trade him for a starter. If he is too valuable to trade, then by golly, put him in the rotation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The way i see it the way joba show up the other team is not good he should look at mo and the other yankees.Being a starter you should pace yourself a little better.He is way up then way down.