Friday, April 8, 2011

The New Joba Rules

I must say, it is a supreme relief to my blood pressure that Joba Chamberlain has been relegated to the 7th inning position. Although it was made official on Wednesday, Joba’s demotion from 8th inning guy to 7th inning guy had been made pretty apparent from the beginning of spring training. As soon as Rafael Soriano strolled into camp, and Joba showing up resembling Lard Lad, it was obvious that the Yankees bullpen would go Joba-Rafael-Mariano, with Joba being the only question mark. Yes, Joba Chamberlain was a bigger question mark than the 41-year-old closer.


Watching Joba last year was beyond excruciating. The Yankees have always had trouble with the “bridge” to Mariano, but seeing Joba was particularly bad because he had so much promise. In Joba’s first season, 2007, he had a 0.38 ERA and 12.75 K/9. He also could have been a playoff hero, if not for the infestation of Cleveland by midges (the bugs of Satan). I still think Joba would have ended the bug problem if he ate one of the bugs to scare the other bugs off. If I was a bug, and I saw somebody who looks like Joba eat another of my kind, there would be no doubt in my mind that he was preparing for a buffet.


In 2008, Joba was deemed “ready” for the starting rotation after months of Hank Steinbrenner bitching to the press for an end to the asinine “Joba Rules”. In retrospect, Hank’s complaining was probably justified (for once), as the Yankees had coddled Joba for too long and were protecting him as if he was Baby Jesus. 2008 Joba was best known for receiving no run support and garnering 8 no-decisions. He still seemed primed for the future as being the Yankees number one starter.


Then 2009 happened. Joba’s K/9 went way down, his K/BB rate almost reached even, he hit a league-leading 12 batters, and had control similar at times to that of a young Rick Ankiel. The problem, it appears, is in Joba’s pitch selection.


Fastball 63.9% (92.5) Slider 22.2% (84.6) Curveball 9.2% (77.7) Changeup 4.6% (82.3)

Compared to 2008, Joba threw 2% less fastballs, 3% less sliders, and almost 2% more curveballs and changeups. Joba appeared to be shying away from his go-to pitches, and was more inclined to throw hanging breaking balls and crappy changeups. Hitters were able to sit back, work pitch counts (Joba’s biggest issue during his career. His goal is always to strike the guy out, and with slower pitches it was easier for hitters to call Joba’s bluff), and hit line drives (Hitters had a 21.3% for line drives, 7% higher than 2008).

It was obvious that Joba would be nothing more than a mediocre starter. Just his style of pitching would not work as a starter, plain and simple. That being said, 2010 saw Joba as the bridge to Mariano.

It went over like whatever is worse than farting in Church.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but once again, he walked too many people, too many people were able to get the ball in play, and he had a WPA of 0.86. Also, in a stat Fangraphs calls “Meltdowns”, Joba had 8. I am not sure how one judges a meltdown, but 8 is a ton. Apparently, it doubled his career total.

The pressure also appeared to get to Joba. I realize the way one copes with pressure cannot really be put into statistics, and is therefore ignored by the statistical community, but just watching Joba go through anxiety attacks while pitching proves that it exists.


Joba needed a change, a change back to pressure-free baseball. 2007 was the best year (or quarter-year) of his career. Joba was regularly put into either games that did not matter or games where he was set up to achieve. He thrived in both, and eventually gained the right to pitch in crucial sports (see the 2007 ALDS). Joba needs to be in a position where he is set up to succeed, and the 7th inning role is perfect for that.


The 7th inning role basically requires the reliever to not allow the game to get out of hand. The inning is deep enough in the game to be important, but far enough from the end that the team still has a chance if the reliever screws up. Joba needs an environment where he knows that if he self-implodes, the team still has a chance. He needs to be laid back on the mound. It sounds like I am talking about a 12-year-old pitcher with control issues, but Joba needs to be treated kind of the same way. Obviously, he is an adult, so you can curse at him and stuff, but Joba needs to be put in Joba-ready situations.


This is obviously not what was envisioned four years ago, but it will have to do for now. If Joba is able to get his act together, who has a better 7-8-9 order than the Yankees? If Joba can reclaim some of the “magic” from 2007, how will the Yankees be scored on in the later innings unless Mariano’s arm either catches on fire or falls off.


It is better for the team as well. Finally, Girardi should be able to make an easy decision about putting Joba in the game, instead of hesitating to pick up the phone to the bullpen as he did last year, like he was fearing that someone may have put anthrax in the earhole. No more are the 4-inning starts by Joba where he throws 111 pitches, and no more are the innings where Joba comes in and promptly loads the bases. That last part might happen again, but not as frequently.


Joba has been put in a situation where he can thrive, as he has before. Now, if Joba screws this up, that’s a different story. The Yankee bullpen still should be decent (Soriano and Rivera should be able to plug the leaking holes), but Joba may see a different team in his future. The Trenton Thunder are always looking for players.


On a personal note, the only other pitcher waking me up in the middle of the night with either sweat/urine surrounding me is A.J. Burnett. But I have given up on him.

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