Posted on : 31-05-2010 | By : jpasseri | In : Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box
Saturday afternoon Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, went to the mound in the 7th inning with 2 on and 2 out and called to the bullpen for Joba Chamberlain. The Yankees led 10-6 at the time, and Joba would be facing right-handed hitting Mark Grudzielanek looking to put an end to the Cleveland rally. Unfortunately, by the time Joba struck out Shin-Soo Choo, the Indians had scored 6 runs and turned a 4-run deficit into a 2-run lead making the score 12-10 in favor of the Indians. Joba gave up two doubles, two singles and a walk to the likes of Grudzielanek, Matt laPorta, Lou Marson, James Donald and Trevor Crowe (the bottom of the Indians order plus the lead-off guy) before leaving to a mixture of boos and mock cheers. The radar gun said he hit 94 or 95 with his fastball so location was to blame for the poor performance. His record fell to 1 and 3 after his first blown save of the year and his e.r.a. went up to a horrid 5.82. Joba has now allowed 11 runs (10 earned) on 11 hits and 3 walks in his last 5 outings totally 5 innings. It hasn’t been all bad since Joba does have 10 holds and 2 saves so far this year, but it hasn’t been as good as planned for the Yankees 8th inning set-up man.
Let’s flash back to the summer of 2007 while we try to remove this vision of Joba’s drubbing out of our minds. It was August when the Yanks purchased the contract of the then 21-year old fireballer from their Triple A Scranton team. That meant that the highest drafted Native American baseball player had progressed through every level of the Yankees’ minor league system in a little over a year to make it to the Bronx. Along the way he compiled a 9-2 record with a 2.45 e.r.a. while striking out 135 batters in 88 1/3 innings of work. Opposing batters had only hit .198 against him. Yankees roving pitching coordinator, Nardi Contreras, said that Joba’s stuff made him a man among boys. Joba himself said he was ready to explode on the New York pitching mound. Oh yeah, Joba was a starter for the majority of his minor league and collegiate career, and would now be working out of the bullpen. And for this reason the Joba Rules were constructed.
Joe Torre was the Yankee’s manager at the time. As Yankee fans know, Joe had a tendency to overuse his bullpen pitchers. Scott Procter, Tanyon Sturtze, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill and others had nearly seen their arms fall off after appearing in too many games in relief. So the Yankees had to protect young Joba’s inexperienced and valuable arm from him. Joba was to be brought in only to start an inning, and was not expected to pitch in back to back games. Torre was to give Joba a day off for every inning he pitched, and could only pitch two innings if he had been rested two days beforehand. Also, at the time, pitching out of the pen was suppose to be only for the short-term, because the long-term plans were for Joba to become a starter again. Joba pitched 2 shutout innings in his first game for the Yankees in Toronto. His next game came in Cleveland in relief of starter, Phil Hughes, and again he tossed two more perfect innings featuring a high 90′s fastball and a devastating slider. He struck out 4 including in succession – Josh Barfield, Grady Sizemore and Kenny Lofton. Arod called his stuff “electric”, and it sure was. His debut in front of the hometown Yankee fans soon followed and they were not disappointed. His first pitch was a 99-mph fastball and he struck out Miguel Tejada and Aubrey Huff in a 14-pitch (9 strikes) inning with 54,398 fans standing and chanting “Joba! Joba! Joba!” The next month, Joba unleashed his curve ball to get two key strikeouts against Boston. Pitching coach, Ron Guidry, said his curve ball was a good one. Joba picked up his first career save on his 22nd birthday against the Blue Jays.
Chamberlain helped pitch the Yankees into the post-season, but finally met his match in the playoffs – not from opposing hitters but from bugs or midges to be exact. Attacked by swarms of midges, Joba allowed Sizemore to score the tying run in the 8th inning with his second wild pitch. Cleveland ended up winning 2-1 in 11 innings and took a commanding 2-0 lead in the best of 5 series. Joba’s record that year was 2-0 with an .038 e.r.a., a whip of 0.75, striking out 34 in 24 innings and only walking 6. He had 8 holds, 1 save and opposing batters only hit .145 against him. Phenomenal!
Joba prepared as a starter in spring training the next season but the Yankees were already showing their confusion as to how he would be used. The team was not prepared to commit to the fact that he would be a starter for the whole year or that he could even open up the season in the pen. In addition, he would be under an innings limit that would not be exceeded (reportedly 140 innings). So after starting for most of spring training, Joba was put back in the pen a couple of weeks before the start of the season despite having 4 plus pitches in his arsenal. Manager Girardi also said that for the moment the “Joba Rules” would not be in service. Joba continued to pitch in the pen as the season moved along despite the Yankees insisting he would be moved to the rotation at some point in time. He had a 2.60 e.r.a. and had struck out 20 batters in 17 1/3 innings. GM Brian Cashman said the team had a plan for him, but he wouldn’t divulge the blueprint. Then beginning at the end of May the Yankees plan started taking shape. Joba would be moved to the rotation by beginning a process of stretching him out to improve his endurance and pitch counts. The move pleased co-owner Hank Steinbrenner who was outspoken against keeping a 100-mph pitcher in the bullpen as a set-up guy. Hank envisioned him as a Josh Beckett-type starter, and remarked that if he had been involved in the decision, he wouldn’t have allowed the team to put him in the pen when they brought him up last year. Not only that, but Joba himself wanted to start and said he was ready to join the rotation. The team was also last in the division at the time of the change with a record of 21-25.
Chamberlain started his first game in June against the Blue Jays and lasted just 2 and 1/3 innings throwing 62 pitches and giving up 2 runs and 4 walks. Going into August Joba was making his 12th start and was sporting a 3-1 record with an e.r.a. of 2.76 in 65 and 1/3 innings. The team had won 8 of his first 11 starts. However, in that Texas start he had to leave the game after 4 and 2/3 innings with stiffness in his right shoulder which was later diagnosed as right rotator cuff tendinitis. Joba came back from the injury in September and again pitched effectively out of the pen which moved Jorge Posada to tell reporters that he saw Joba’s future as a reliever. Joba finished the year 1-2 with a 1.85 e.r.a. as a reliever.
Going into the 2009 season, the Yankees again told Joba to prepare for the year as a starting pitcher. Cashman said the team planned on keeping him in the rotation and not shifting him back to the bullpen. His innings limit was reportedly 150 innings. Joba was 4-2 in the first half of the campaign with an e.r.a. over 4.00, but came out strong after the all-star break with 3 dominant wins over Detroit, Oakland and Tampa. Then the team decided to map out a plan to keep his innings in check. He pitched again 7 days later, and then 4 days later, and then 8 days later. Seeing how that wasn’t working out, the Yankees changed his schedule again and said he’d pitch every 5 days but with shorter outings expected. Joba had been 3-0 with an 0.83 e.r.a. in his first 3 starts after the break, and then 1-2 with an e.r.a. of 8.55 in his next 4 starts when the team started to spread his starts apart. He ended up going 0-4 with an 8.42 e.r.a. in his last 8 starts using this convoluted schedule. Joba found himself back in the pen for the playoff run and contributed there helping the Yankees win their 27th World Championship.
So that brings us back to 2010. Joba once again is told by the Yankees that he’ll be competing as a starter in spring training. However, only one of the group of Chamberlain, Hughes, Mitre and Gaudin will be named the team’s 5th starter. The good news for Joba was that the “Rules” will no longer be in place if he’s part of the rotation. Unfortunately for him, Hughes gets the nod for the 5th spot, and back to the pen it is for him. Cashman adds to the weirdness by saying that Joba’s development plan is finished. Now they can start him if they need him to start or have him relieve if that’s what they need. Whatever? All I know is that what the Yankees had was a fireballing phenom who burst onto the scene like few others had done before, and what they have now is a pitcher who is no longer phenomenal and may never live up to the expectations that many saw in him in that summer of 2007. Joba may one day feel he was ruined by the rules and that he was jobbed out of a great career.