Leave Joba Alone!

Using Fangraphs’ Pitch F/X data, it seems he’s throwing his slider more this year, and has virtually eliminated his change-up.  But the change hasn’t been a valuable pitch for him, and was only really part of his repertoire last year when he was starting.  And the fastball-slider combo is much more in line with what you’d expect from a short reliever.  His fastball velocity is basically what it’s always been when he’s been used as a reliever, and his slider is even a little faster.  The movement on his pitches is also not significantly different from where it’s been in years past.  His walk rate is down from last year, and his strikeout rate, predictably is up to 9.99/9 innings.  His HR/9 is also down in the neighborhood of where he’s been before.

No, the reason that Joba Chamberlain is struggling in 2010 can be traced back to one number: 399.  As in, batters are hitting .399 on balls in play off of Joba.   And that, boys and girls, is simply not sustainable.  For one thing, BABIP that high are never sustainable.  For another, as a team the Yankees are allowing a .286 BABIP this year.  Chamberlain has, by 20 points, the highest BABIP of anyone on the staff with more than 4 IP.  And in the majors?  Joba has a higher BABIP than any other pitcher with more than 40 innings.  Essentially, what this means is that Joba has been one of the unluckiest players in the major leagues.  According to xFIP, his ERA should be a much more palatable 3.41 this year.

Yankee fans need to chill the hell out about Joba Chamberlain, and after the youngster rests for a day or two, Girardi needs to get the chubby kid back in the 8th inning.  He basically is what he’s always been, a pitcher with dominant stuff who walks a few too many guys but generates a lot of ground balls.  It would be nice if the Yankees would catch one of those grounders every now and again so you could see that.

11 thoughts on “Leave Joba Alone!

  1. And if I recall correctly, you're what – a Twins fan?  I would imagine everyone on the Red Sox boards would like Joba pitching regularly also.  Especially in high-leverage situations.


    Do your graphs and charts show how he starts waffling like an old woman as soon as he allows someone on base?  What are his numbers when he has someone on base, or worse yet, in scoring position?  I thought I read that they degrade quite a bit.  And really – having the 2nd worst ERA in the AL – bettering only the amazing Gaudin – I agree – he needs to get his act together.


    I'm guessing you aren't actually watching a lot of these games – those "grounders" look a lot like well-hit line drives.  Shoot – lately Joba's outs are all VERY WELL HIT line drives.  The outfield has made some pretty good wall-climbing circus catches, just to keep Joba's ERA in single digits.


    Sorry, but your numbers don't match what I see.  You know what they say about statistics.

  2. You call Joba's replacement Nate Robertson, who has never worn a Yankees uniform, and use statistics to back up your argument. Try watching a game once in a while instead of reading statistics on a web site and spouting off.

  3. My apologies, folks.  David Robertson.


    Anyway, @Jon, to his stats with men on:

    Joba strikes out 24.6 percent of the batters he faces overall, but 25 percent even with runners on base.  With runners in scoring position, Joba strikes out 25.8% of the batters he faces.


    He walks 8.9 percent of the batters he faces overall, 9.2 percent with runners on, and 11.3 percent with RISP.  That looks significant until you realize that a) we're talking about a difference of basically one walk over 62 plate appearances, and b) that two of the walks were intentional.  So actually, he's been stingier with runners on base than when the bases were empty.


    He has allowed 3 homers on the year, all of which did come with men on base.  However, the first one came on April 23, the other two are from his disappointing last five appearances.  But between those days, he pitched with runners on an awful lot without allowing home runs.  If there's a legitimate trend there, I'm not seeing it.


    Overall, Joba has allowed a .295/.356/.422 line.  With runners on, it jumps to .333/.403/.547.  In other words, almost all of the increase is due to batting average on balls in play with runners on base.  I don't have a spray chart to look at that has a breakdown by situation, but I imagine a large portion of the increase would be due to having the 1B holding runners on, and the rest is luck, because there is nothing in the data that suggests that Joba is any different with runners on, except for "what you see."  Though I'm sure you're an expert in human psychology and all that.  Are you the body language specialist on Bill O'Reilly per chance?


  4. Thanks @Charlie, for reminding me that not everyone who has my son's name isn't a tool.


    The Nate/David Robertson issue has been corrected.  That's totally on me, because I accidentally typed the wrong first name in there as I was hurrying to assuage your fears and tell you not to trouble your pretty little head.  Obviously, that oversight completely discredits my entire argument and the evidence I used.  Thanks for pointing that out too!


    Anyway, I watch plenty of games, including some of the Yankees' (that's me, cheering loudly for their opponents from the Midwest).  And if I were running my beloved Twins, I'd be happy to take Joba off of your hands for you.  Because while you get all up in arms about a couple bad performances in which his defense lets him down, I'm excited about a guy who can strike out 10 batters a game and will throw three grounders for every fly ball in front of Minnesota's excellent infield defense.

  5. D'oh, that should read "three grounders for every two fly balls…"

  6. Bill O'Reilly?   Now those are fightin' words!


    Guess I need to pay more attention to my sources, so I can quote back. When I read things I agree with, I don't think to bookmark or annotate, since anyone who agrees with me is obviously right. (oops – now I do sound like Bill)


    Well – I wish you were in charge of the Twins too then – maybe we could work out a trade, your catcher for our stellar reliever. ;)


    Still, as I recall, with nothing but memory to back me up, a lot of Joba's pitches that snuck thru to be not fielded by the porous defense of the Yankees, just happened to be pitches served nice and juicy fat, to the middle of the plate.  As for the walks- just go back to the last game – one rarely walks a #9 hitter when he's leading off the inning.  At least, I've heard it is better not to do that.


    I was wrong on Javy.  Lord willing, I hope I end up wrong on Joba, and he ends up like he started 3 years ago.  Just ain't holding my breath.

  7. @Jon, Re: walking the #9 hitter who's batting leadoff.


    Yeah, that sucks.  Then again, the #9 hitter has been walked 8671 times this year.  I imagine a lot of those happened later in games with the #9 hitter leading off.  It happens.  It gets magnified when it's so recent and so vivid in your mind though, particularly because it made you angry (as it would me).


    And I'm sure some of the hits off Joba were down the middle and fat.  And those stick in your memory too.  How often a season does Jeter really go into the hole for a ground ball and make that signature play?  But when he does, he confirms our bias that he can do it, and is therefore doing it all the time.

  8. I've gotta put myself somewhere in the middle on this one.  While a .399 BABIP is clearly ridiculously unlucky, I think we have to accept that it's not going to fall down to what we're used to from him until he shapes up a little too.  Some of the difference, though likely a smaller one that we might think, definitely seems to be coming from the fact that a lot of those balls are getting put in play at a hundred miles an hour.  Joba still has great stuff, but it doesn't look like he's really fooling anyone as much as he used to, and as a result we're seeing hitters square up on him more often.  As for his performance with runners on base, it doesn't look much different to me.  Is he maybe throwing to first more or something?  That might explain all this talk of him collapsing under pressure when the numbers show no such thing.

    Anyways, I think we Yankee fans have probably griped about this whole situation more than we should, but that's probably because as far as we're concerned, Joba's the one trying to close out the game.  So long as Mo's around, the other team doesn't really even get an at bat in the 9th.

  9. When a pitcher has a high BABIP and a low "swing and miss" rate/strikeout rate, then I think you can say that he really isn't that unlucky. That just means when hitters swing at his stuff, they do so effectively, and they hit it hard.

    But when a pitcher has a high BABIP and a high swing and miss rate and a high strikeout rate, that leads me to believe he is getting unlucky with balls that hitters put in play.

    Think about it. When a guy swings and misses at a pitch, he has been totally beaten by a pitch. When hitters make weak contact, the kind of contact that produces outs more often than hits, they are only kind of beaten. They have had a more effective swing than than the kind of swings that produce complete swings and misses.  

    So it stands to reason that if a pitcher produces a lot of swings and misses, he has the kind of stuff that hitters have trouble putting good swings on. If this is the case, one would expect that when hitters are able to make contact, it should be weak contact more often than it is good contact. And then the pitcher's BABIP should be low.

    Joba's swing and miss rate is 13.5%. League average is 8.5%. Joba's strike out rate is 9.9/9 innings. League average is 7.02/9 innings. That is a large discrepency. He totally beats hitters way more than the average pitcher and considerably more than even most good pitchers. He has great stuff. Way better than .399 on BABIP stuff.

    He's been incredibly unlucky. Either hitters are getting way more hits against him when making weak contact than they should, or they are absolutely not missing his mistakes. Mistakes are on Joba, and he needs to avoid them more often. But every pitcher makes them in every game. He seems to be going through a stretch where his aren't fouled back, they are hit hard, and often somewhere where the fielders ain't.

    No doubt he has elements of his game he needs to improve, but even if he doesn't, this level of bad luck is simply unsustainable. Even if nothing else changes, his results will improve as his terrible luck evens out.