Much has been made this year of Joba Chamberlain’s diminished fastball. Many have speculated that he hasn’t been the same since he hurt his shoulder, while others say it’s not unusual for young pitchers to be up and down a tick or two from one year to the next.
First, let’s get the facts on the table as we know them. Fangraphs has the data on Joba’s fastball as follows:
|2007||91.7||84.0||76.9||82.4||89.1||71.7||84.2||- – -|
|2008||91.5||83.9||76.7||82.5||89.3||71.2||83.9||- – -|
|2009||91.8||83.8||77.4||82.8||90.3||71.1||84.6||- – -|
Clearly, the velocity on his fastball has declined since breaking into the bigs. It’s important to note that he came up as a Reliever, and he even split 2008 between starting and relieving which could skew the 08 numbers upward. In 2007 he was exclusively a reliever, in 2009 he has been exclusively a starter.
Next, I wanted to dig up some of the old scouting reports we had on Joba when we drafted him as a starting pitcher to see where his fastball was when he was exclusively a starting pitcher in college. I didn’t want to use the more recent ones, since they all included info on him as a relief pitcher and had reports that reflected his velocity as a relief pitcher. (h/t to Mike A of River Ave for help digging these up)
Here’s what BA said about Joba’s fastball before the draft:
Slowed by triceps tendinitis that caused him to miss a couple of starts early this spring, he has been more inconsistent than he was as a sophomore. But he’s rounding back into peak form, which for Chamberlain means throwing a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 97 and a devastating slider. He also has a curveball and feel for a changeup. Once he turns pro his fastball should chew up wood bats.
ESPN’s Keith Law:
Chamberlain then came out throwing bullets in the early going, pitching consistently in the 91-94 range and touching 98, along with two breaking balls and the beginnings of a changeup. Despite missing two starts in mid-March due to what was called “biceps tendinitis,” Chamberlain made starts in each of the season’s last 10 weekends. Still, one executive told me that his club had high medical flags on Chamberlain, both due to the tendinitis and due to another, more serious arm problem.
I’m not worried about him being hurt or anything, the velocity is more than enough at 92-93, which is what he’s averaging.
So it turns out the fastball velocity was almost identical in College as a full time starter to what were seeing today. Also, Joe Girardi has stated on his weekly YES show that the Yanks have him throwing more 2-seamers, to try to get him to be more efficient in getting quick outs, so that will contribute to lower readings as well.
In concluding, I don’t think there’s anything unusual going on here. I don’t believe he’s hurt, because if he was the Yanks would be crazy to send him out there every 5 days. That’s simply not credible, given we all know how uber-cautious the Yanks are with injuries. Chien Ming Wang was pulled out of a game after Posada saw him throw one unusually bad pitch. You may recall we were having this same discussion about Phil Hughes’ fastball last year, and since moving to the bullpen he’s never thrown the ball any better. I suspect our expectations have been skewed by the readings we saw when he came up as a relief pitcher, but it’s unreasonable to expect him to maintain that as a member of the starting rotation.
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