I want to compare the numbers of two pitchers to illustrate a point.
Both are Yankee relievers in different seasons. One pitcher lit the world on fire while the other quietly equaled his performance. Anyone want to venture a guess?
Pitcher A is 2007 Joba Chamberlain, Pitcher B is 2010 Kerry Wood. Both had terrific performances that built the bridge to Mariano in their respective seasons. But where was all the hype for Wood? Why aren’t fans printing up the equivalent of the ‘Joba Rules’ T-shirts (‘Got Wood?’) and wearing them all over the stadium? The answers are obvious and simple, but they illustrate how much of what fans get caught up in is fluff and narrative, or unimportant in evaluating pitchers. Kerry Wood is an aging power pitcher whose best days are behind him. He was picked up in a uninspiring mid-season deal for a PTBNL. The oft-injured Wood was coming off yet another DL stint when the Yanks acquired him. No fanfare, no excitement, just another aging relief pitcher who the Yanks took a flyer on.
07 Joba was as new as can be, having spent just one season in the Yankee farm system blowing through 3 levels. He lit up radar guns, throwing the ball 100 MPH and making hitters look silly on a devastating high-80′s slider. A phenom with a big fastball and a catchy nickname, no 9 year old kid can resist that. His wheelchair-bound Dad comes to watch him play. Throw in some fist pumps and we have as good a story as you’ll find.
What does any of this have to do with on the field Baseball? Not much. It was Joba’s first time through the league, and many pitchers without big fastballs will blow away superior competition simply based on unfamiliarity alone. He was called up in early August, so he was facing teams in the dog days of the season followed by expanded rosters in September. The ‘Joba Rules’ assured he would avoid fatigue, getting regular rest built in to his work. So each and every time he came in he was strong and had his best stuff. Joba himself was in mid-season form, having built up his arm to be a starter in the minors. It’s much easier to go from starting to bullpen duty, so Joba could just get loose and let it fly. All the stars were lined up for Joba to be successful.
But 2010 Kerry Wood shows that 07 Joba-like performances happen more often than we notice, just without all the fanfare. How many times have you seen a pregame stat saying Pitcher X has given up just 1 run over his past 3 starts? The 24 innings that Joba threw in 2007 is roughly 3 starts worth of work. But when a starting pitcher does the same thing there’s no dramatic entrance, no theme music, no swashbuckling hero saving the day with men on base in a late game situation. Just a pitcher getting hitters out. The league never got a chance to adjust to Joba in 07. It took advance scouts some time to notice how spotty his control was, how straight his fastball often is, and how inconsistent his command can be. Fans still hold onto the dream of 2007, as if it’s something Joba still has within him. He might, but if he does it will likely come in a short burst and fade just as quickly. 07 Joba is a lesson in small sample size, one that happens more often than we think.
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