Waiting Out Joba

By Bloomberg Sports //

On July 10, Joba Chamberlain‘s shaky season took a turn for the worse, when he surrendered an eighth-inning grand slam to Seattle’s Jose Lopez en route to a 4-1 Yankees loss. The poor performance reawakened calls for the Yankees and fantasy owners to consider exploring other options.

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On the surface, it isn’t hard to see why both Yankees fans and fantasy owners have found Chamberlain frustrating in 2010. The big right-hander’s ERA stands at 5.77, his WHIP’s at 1.51, with opponents now hitting a robust .290 against him. He has not had more than three consecutive scoreless appearances since the middle of May. Of the 11 appearances in which he has allowed a run this year, he has allowed either 3 or 4 runs in five of them, a trend that makes it all but impossible for him to consistently lower his ERA.

In reality, Chamberlain’s luck has been the biggest difference this year from years past. Chamberlain’s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching–a version of ERA that strips away all luck-related variables) stands at 2.66, more than three runs lower than his ERA. He is not walking his way into trouble, as his 3.23 walk rate is his lowest since 2007 and about league-average. His live drive rate is up a little bit, but a 21.7% line drive rate–compared to a career rate of 19.4%–doesn’t account for more than three runs of difference between ERA and FIP.

Chamberlain’s sky-high .391 BABIP (Career: .327) and microscopic 58.7% strand rate (Career: 73.1%) are the main reasons for his struggles. One minor change, a decrease in pop-ups (2.9%, Career: 9.6%), hasn’t helped. But the rest of his profile’s mostly unchanged.

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In 2007, Chamberlain burst on the scene with just 1 earned run allowed in 24 innings pitched, is hardly a distant memory for Yankee fans. When it was announced in March that he would return to the bullpen, there was anticipation of an immediate return to his lights-out form from three years ago. This has yet to happen, but the inevitable regression away from the abysmal luck Chamberlain has experienced so far this season could go a long way toward bringing back the Yankees’ shut-down 8th-inning man.

With the increased heat on Chamberlain’s fastball–which is once again consistently in the upper-90s–to consider, along with his past success in the eighth inning, an improvement should come sooner rather than later. If you own Joba in a deep fantasy league, especially one that counts holds, he is certainly worth your patience.

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(chart and statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com)

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