Google “Joba Chamberlain” and “velocity” and you’ll find a whole slew of articles pontificating where and why did Joba’s velocity go? One recent one from theYankeeU.com states that it could be poor mechanics or rotator cuff problems and admits, “Some may think that I might be overreacting to one disappointing outing, but, to be clear, Joba’s velocity has been an ongoing issue.”
Well, to anyone watching last night’s game, Joba Chamberlain, and his velocity, are just fine.
Hitting 98 mph on the radar gun last night, Chamberlain struck out the side in the 9th on 14 pitches, 10 of them strikes. He pounded the zone and seemed to just dial it up and chuck.
And the results speak for themselves. Chamberlain, far more comfortable on the mound as when compared to last year, has got his velocity and his killer instinct back. Despite what the Yankees and some feel, it seems Joba was made for the gun slinging closer role.
According to Fangraphs, Chamberlain was throwing his fastball (two- and four-seam), and especially his slider—his best pitch —much more this year than last year and to better effect. As a starter last year, Chamberlain threw his curve and change—not his best pitches—more and the result wasn’t what he or the Yankees wanted. His arm velocity dropped as a starter and he seemed tentative on the mound—thinking instead of chucking. This year, without a pitch count, without the burden of mixing up his pitches and showing batters different looks, Joba is free to do what he was born to do; throw really, really hard. And he has, with great success. All of his stats have reverted back to the pre-starter experiment, and he looks like a legitimate closer, right now.
The White Sox, in 1976 tried to make a starter out of Goose Gossage—his ERA jumped over 2 points, and, in 80 more IP than the previous year, Goose only struck out 5 more batters. John Wetteland was a terrible starter, but became one of the better relievers in the 90s. Same for Eric Gagne and Joba’s mentor, Mariano Rivera. In the minors, Lee Smith was a starter and a fairly terrible one at that. However, when he came to the majors, he was converted to a reliever and to everybody’s common sense, they left him there.
The point is, trying to turn Joba into a starter is like trying to turn a donkey into a unicorn. It’s just not who he is and you won’t get the best out of him. Watching Joba last night, you could see that he was in his element and that he was tapped into all of his talent. The Yankees might be able to convert Chamberlain into a starter...eventually. But really, would that be the best use of him? Which would you take: A slower-armed, self-doubting, commonplace starter, or a dominant lights-out reliever?
After watching him last night. I would go with the dominant reliever.