Earlier this year, I defended Joba Chamberlain, saying his poor pitching was just a slump. Something he could work through and that he was due to come out of it soon. I was wrong.
The entirety of the Yankee Universe—including this site— the past few days have been buzzing calling Joba broke, a mess, lost, and that he should be removed from the 8th inning role. They are right.
The Yankees this offseason completely rebuilt their bullpen to the detriment of their team. Gone are Phil Coke, Phil Hughes and Brian Bruney. Throw in the injured Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre and you have a completely new pen. One that, outside of Rivera and occasionally Marte, cannot be relied upon for much.
I mean, replacing Phil Hughes with Chan Ho Park? What was Cashman thinking?
But the main problem, still, is Joba. So what’s wrong? Well according to Fangraphs.com, his fastball velocity has dropped from 2007 when it was at 97.4. Now it sits at 94.3. Also, his slider, which is at the same speed it was in 2007, doesn’t slide nearly as much as it did back then. Neither does his change-up. In essence, Chamberlain doesn’t have the speed he once did, or the movement on his pitches.
Is this permanent? Who knows? But unfortunately, if history is any sort of teacher, Chamberlain, trying to fix his problems in the bright hot lights of Yankee Stadium will need a lot of luck.
So who takes the 8th inning? Well, one candidate is David Robertson. Yes, his era is still high. But after an awful start where it ballooned up to 14.21, his ERA has dropped down to 5.01. In his last 16.1 IP, he has given up 4 runs—all in one terrible game against Toronto—and he hasn’t given up a home run since May 5th, a span of 23.2 IP.
Robertson was lights out last fall for the Yankees, tossing 5.1 innings of shutout ball in the postseason, including coming in the 11th inning against the Twins after Damoso Marte had let the first 2 guys single. He is somebody, if given the chance might be able to grow into the role. He’s not a guarantee, but name a 8th inning man who is. And if last fall is any indication, he can handle the pressure.
Another person could be Jonathan Albaladejo. Scoff if you must, but the guy is dominating at AAA. His ERA is 0.96 ERA—not too shabby. There’s more. From 2009 till today, his WHIP in AAA is about a 0.78. In 82.2 innings, he’s given up 13 earned runs. Again, he’s not a guarantee to do the same up in the Bronx, but he deserves a shot with those numbers.
Some blogs around the net would have the Yankees go out and trade for a reliever, like Kevin Gregg or Kerry Wood (Really?) I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with a move like that, but I would caution those who would think that whoever comes in will be a savior. Pitchers pitching well who come into Yankee Stadium often crumble under the pressure. Ask Randy Johnson.
Still, the real pickle is Chamberlain. The once-heir-apparent to Mariano Rivera now can’t seem to head out to the mound with a black cloud of potential disaster over his head. According to Baseball Reference, Chamberlain is not only one of the worst relievers in the game this year, he is behind guys like Chad Qualls and Juan Gutierrez, and barely ahead of Mister Baseball himself, Randy Choate.
Recent whispers have Chamberlain keeping his 8th inning role in the second half. I may be wrong, but I think this is a mistake. Chamberlain has issues, both mechanical and mental. Figuring both of those out will be nigh impossible up in the Bronx. Sending him to Scranton and having daily up close tutoring might smooth out his mechanics and build his confidence back—which in turn might be what he needs to be successful in the Bronx. Mike Silva of NYBD wrote about this recently and it absolutely the right call—except capping it at 2 weeks might not be enough. I would send Joba down to Scranton until he seems to be somewhat closer to his old self. Seeing Joba come back later this year and pitch well would be a great sight. A nice story to feel good about.
But, for all practical purposes, no matter how well he may pitch, Yankee fans need to realize, the Joba of 2007 is gone. And most likely forever.