Sunday, August 1, 2010
The Story of Joba Chamberlain
Believe it or not, Yankee fans can be frustrated, too. Hard to believe considering they have won 27 championships and are in the playoff race year in and year out. But occasionally, Yankee fans find something to complain about, something to criticize. And once you get Yankee fans going, there is no stopping them.
This year, the source of the frustration has been Joba Chamberlain. When he came up from the minors, he grasped the attention of Yankee fans. In his first year, he pitched 19 games and gave up just 1 run, an earned run average of 0.38.
It was then that Yankee fans started to dream: maybe he could be the next Mariano Rivera; maybe we don't have to worry about the day our beloved closer calls it quits.
But Joe Girardi had a different idea. Someone — we don't know who — decided that Joba Chamberlain was meant to be a starter. From the moment he was drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft, he was destined to be in the Yankees' starting rotation.
And that is just what management decided to do. He started 12 games in 2008 and 31 games on 2009.
But that wasn't before management decided that he should be on an innings limit. For a few years, all Yankee fans heard was "innings limit, innings limit, innings limit." Nobody ever found out what it was, but he pitched 100 1/3 innings in 2008 and 157 1/3 innings in 2009.
Did that innings limit screw him up? Well, for one thing, ever since he became a starter, his seasonal ERAs have gotten progressively worse: from around 1 in 2008 to almost 6 in 2010. The average velocity on his fastball has also gotten progressively worse: from 97 mph in 2007 to 94 mph in 2010.
The most convincing factor, though, is the attention. Along with hearing about the unknown innings limit everyday, Joba was widely criticized and passionately debated over. Believe it or not, apparently baseball players are humans, too.
Here in 2010, the soap opera is anything but over. You can pick up the Daily News and read about how Joba Chamberlain is messing up the Yankees' bullpen, and then you can pick up a New York Times and read about how the Yankees may trade Chamberlain for Dan Haren.
I — unlike most New Yorkers — can understand how all of this criticism and unstableness can shake up your performance. But what I know — also unlike most New Yorkers — is that the criticism was never merited.
This season has seemed to be the boiling point of the frustration. Next to the near deal for Dan Haren that would have sent Joba to Arizona, people want Joba out, even after they dreamed of him being the heir to Mariano.
At initial glance, it would seem as though New Yorkers have a point. His ERA of almost 6 this season is enough to frustrate any passionate and knowledgeable fan. But if you take a closer look at the numbers Chamberlain has put up, he may be very deserving of a second chance. Maybe even a first chance if you ask me.
If you take out all fielding factors (errors, misplays, etc.), you get a stat calls FIP, which stands for fielder independent pitching. Joba's FIP is a very respectable 3.02. So, for some reason, Joba is experiencing some very bad luck. Wherever that bad luck may be coming from, it is all blamed on Chamberlain, the wrong man.
Accompanying this idea of luck, let's go back to the method that illustrates how luck has affected a player. For those who don't know, we can look at two stats to measure luck: batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and line drive percentage (LD%).
So how does this work? Pitchers get unlucky — or lucky — when balls fall in front of fielders or ground balls find the hole. So, if you have a high BABIP, then many balls are finding holes, meaning you are unlucky.
LD% measures how many line drives you give up. If you give up many line drives, you are not a good pitcher. So, if you BABIP is high and your LD% is low, you are giving up many soft hit balls that are finding holes.
In Chamberlain's case, he is very unlucky. Joba's opposing BABIP this season in .393, very high. However, his opposing line drive percentage is 19.4%, the lowest of his career.
If he is pitching well, why is his ERA so high? To answer that, take a look at these two splits:
Runners on second/third: 6 PA, 2 1B, 1 2B, 2 BB, 6 runs scored
Bases loaded: 5 PA, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 runs scored
So of the 28 earned runs Joba has given up, 12 of them — almost half — come from just 11 plate appearances. The few mistakes he has made came with runners on base and thus brought up his ERA. If you as me, 11 plate appearances should not determine how successful you are.
Furthermore, Joba has had six streaks this year of at least three scoreless outings in a row. The longest streak of the year is eight games. Most of his 44 games he pitched this year have been a part of a scoreless streak. The bad performances are rare and sprinkled in between the good performances.
It seems as though Yankee fans love to dwell on the negative. When it comes to Joba, Yankees fans pick and choose the best reasons to bash Joba Chamberlain. For a guy that has averaged over 9 strikeouts per 9 innings in three of his four seasons, it appears there has been a bit of unfortunate and unworthy finger-pointing.
So that's it. That is the story of Joba Chamberlain. The story of a man who's future seemed bright enough to shine on a plaque in Cooperstown, just to be diminished by the misleading frustration of spoiled Yankee fans. The story of a man buried in criticism, who's talent will be missed when wrongfully thrown away.