Looks like 2007 Joba is back.
After losing the fifth starter competition to Phil Hughes in Spring Training, Joba Chamberlain quickly “earned’ the 8th inning role. I say “earned” because to me there was never much doubt that the Yankees wanted to use him as the setup man to Mariano. Early on in the year, Joba struggled and his velocity was a bit unimpressive. His fastball was coming in around 92-93 mph, closer to where it normally would sit when he was a starter. There’s no reason why Joba couldn’t succeed at that level, but some wondered if he would regain his plus-velocity as the year progressed.
Whether Joba was simply warming up, working out some mechanical issues, or settling into his role in the bullpen, I can’t say. However, he is quickly becoming a shutdown force. On the year, Joba has thrown 16.2 IP, allowed 12 hits, 4 ER, walked 5 and struck out 21. His 11.34 K/9 is second only on the team to David Robertson (12.54) and represents his highest mark since his 2007 campaign. He’s also limiting the walks, to the tune of 2.70 BB/9, which leaves him with a splendid 4.20 K/BB ratio.
From a peripheral standpoint, Joba’s BABIP is a bit lower than his career average (.297 v. .318), but his FIP isn’t drastically out of line with his ERA, which suggests that Chamberlain hasn’t benefited from an unusual amount of luck. His strand rate is a bit high (83% in 2010 vs. a career average of 75.6%), but this is mostly nitpicking. The fact is that Chamberlain has been exceptionally good in 2010, and even better as of late. In his last eight outings, he has pitched 7.1 innings, giving up 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks and striking out 11. In short, Joba is dominating.
Last night he was brought into the eighth inning and performed about as well as you could ask, striking out the side on 14 pitches and employing his old nasty slider. According to Brooks Baseball, Chamberlain averaged 94.8 mph on his fastball and maxed out at 96.1 mph, and threw his slider at 87 mph. As you can see here, he saved his hardest fastball for the end of the inning, using it to set up his last strikeout, on a slider.
It’s early in the year, but it looks like Joba Chamberlain is back to his dominant ways out of the bullpen. I’d certainly prefer it if he were a starter, racking up innings and getting comfortable in the role, but the organization appears to prefer him in the bullpen, at least for 2010. If that’s going to be the case, it’s good to see that he is thriving in the role. With Mariano manning the ninth, opponents are going to find that it gets late awful early against the Yankees.
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