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No, the Yankees didn’t ruin Joba Chamberlain

Dec 20, 2013, 9:44 AM EDT

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I think the Yankees jerked Joba Chamberlain around a lot early in his career. They meant well. They thought they had a special talent and they wanted to save his arm and as such they used him as a reliever and then babied him as a starter and when that wasn’t working they used him as a reliever again. I think they should’ve just let him start and let him try to figure it out rather than yo-yo him and all of that, but they didn’t. Oh well.

But it’s one thing to say that they made mistakes with Chamberlain and it’s another thing — another silly thing — altogether to lay all the blame for what Joba Chamberlain has become at the Yankees’ feet. Which is what Jason Keidel does in his latest column:

Joba Chamberlain, if anything, was the symbol of their spiritual collapse. He and Phil Hughes were the twin pillars of their (supposedly) pitching-plenty organization, evidence that the Yankees didn’t just flex their wallets every November to find their requisite golden arms.

Then, inexplicably, Chamberlain was fired. Brian Cashman, bitten by the Moneyball bug, snagged by the sabermetricians, decided he would remold the Yankees in his newfound, Geek Squad ethos. No need to waste the prodigy’s talent in the eighth inning when he could stretch the the kid out over 200 innings. Make him a starter. Mess with perfection. And the results were atrocious . . . Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are gone now, footnotes in the endless archive of America’s pastime. But we will always remember them, especially Joba, who had New York City at his fingers, until the Yankees cut them off.

I must’ve forgotten the that time back when the Yankees made Chamberlain fat. And made him have a drinking problem that led to him getting a DUI. And injured him. And caused him to become, seemingly anyway, immune from instruction about how to approach hitters and in-game situations. But they must’ve, right? It’s all the Yankees fault!

Or — and I know this may be shocking — a pitcher with a lot of youthful promise didn’t live up to it for a host of reasons. As happens very, very often. Just because it happened in New York where lazy writers looking for narratives cite “mystique and aura” and things doesn’t make it any bigger a deal or any different a case. Chamberlain crapped out. Lots of pitchers do.

  1. chacochicken - Dec 20, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Sabremetrics killed Joba and made China go Red. Really a shame because pitching prospects have such high rates of success.

    • Old Gator - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      Dr. Yamane has retracted his original findings and concluded that it was sabremetrics, not the Bikini Island hydrogen bomb test, that awakened Godzilla. His revised article will be reprinted in the journal Nature and featured in the next Godzilla rehash, scheduled for this coming April.

      • Gamera the Brave - Dec 20, 2013 at 4:35 PM


        Now my almost-10-year-old son has me working with green screen special effects for his Godzilla flicks. (apparently I need to iron the blue felt…)

        He has little interest in baseball, however.

        I consider this a parenting failure on my part…

      • Old Gator - Dec 20, 2013 at 6:55 PM

        That’s neat. I nearly burned down my house trying to film a claymation Godzilla flick with an 8MM camera in stop action when I was his age. Really ruined an expensive Lionel train setup in the process, too.

        Search out the trailer for the new Godzilla flick on YouTube for him if he hasn’t seen it yet. Ignore the atrocious acting and the unlistenably amateurish voice-over and wait until the “new” Big G appears during the last couple of seconds. Impressive. Looks like they got him right for the first time since the original flick – except that Akira Ifukube’s wonderful honking roar has been replace with something pretty pedestrian.

  2. Professor Longnose - Dec 20, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    Chamberlain as a starter wasn’t atrocious. His line: 12-7, 4.18 ERA, 14.80 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.04 K/BB. That’s something you can work with. And his tOPS+ was 110, meaning he was better as a starter than as a reliever overall.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:06 AM

      That WHIP seems a little high. 😉

      • Professor Longnose - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:21 AM

        It is. And he had a bad second year as a starter. He would have had to improve to be a solid rotation guy. But I would call it more “promising” than “atrocious.”

      • sabatimus - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:00 AM

        Looks like Prof Longnose is missing something here.

      • raysfan1 - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:39 AM

        Wait for it…he’s looking at decimal placements…scratching his head…

      • Old Gator - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:41 AM

        “When thou goest in to arbitration, forget not thy WHIP.”
        – Nietzsche

  3. darthicarus - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    So excited for Joel Zumaya ver. 2 in Detroit this year.

    • aiede - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:15 AM

      No, that’s Bruce Rondon.

      • timmmah10 - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:23 AM

        Joel Zumaya was a stud before he got hurt. Unhittable. Too bad though, Zumaya is such a great sports name.

        Joba has never been as good as Zumaya was as a rookie.

      • orangecisco - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:40 AM

        @ timmmah10 lol Joba’s 1st year, albeit only 2 months, he gave up 1 earned run and struck out 34 batters.

      • yahmule - Dec 20, 2013 at 4:24 PM

        Joel Zumaya can blow us all away @ Guitar Hero.

  4. karlkolchak - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    The Joba Ruins.

  5. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    Funny how the writers own article somewhat disproves his thesis. If Chamberlain was only “ruined” by the Yankees bouncing him around, then what was Hughes problem? It is almost as if pitching prospects can fail to live up to their (sometimes irrationally high) expectations, even without team sabotage.

    Chamberlain was actually a pretty good starter. He wasn’t the smartest pitcher (and had Jorge Posada to help him along which was probably not ideal) and he got hurt. Now, lots of starters get hurt, and come back as starters and have long and fruitful careers as starters. I don’t know why Chamberlain’s injuries were considered (starter) career ending, but so be it.

    I was hoping he would sign with a team like the Astros, who could give him one more shot at starting without so much pressure. Perhaps he could work through any hiccups after getting away from New York and the relentless pressure to deliver a championship or be considered a failure.

    At any rate, I wish the guy well and hope he finds success in all but 6 or so of his games this season.

    • stex52 - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:21 AM

      I would have ben on board with that experiment. But right now I think the Astros have soiled the brand such that only guys with local connections seem to be interested in signing with them. I hope that can change over the next couple of years.

    • Professor Longnose - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:24 AM

      He never did seem right after that first injury. It may have screwed up his mechanics enough to ruin him.

      I liked him a lot and wish he had succeeded as a Yankee.

  6. stex52 - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    I am fascinated by the mentality that thinks an eighth inning setup man is more valuable than a starter. Of course if you have a talented young reliever you should give him a spin as a starter. That is not an irreversible process if it doesn’t work.

    And, of course, keeping statistics is the cancer that is destroying all of baseball. But we knew that.

    This guy makes a living as a sportswriter?

    • timmmah10 - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:28 AM

      “More important” is a quite a stretch.

      Chris Sale is a pretty good example at going from Bullpen to the Rotation working out… If it ever happens Aroldis Chapman would be also (such a waste limiting that guy to around 80 innings a year…) But all RPs can’t be moved from the pen. And most struggling SPs wouldn’t be fixed by sending them to the pen.

      • stex52 - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        Two points:

        I said “more valuable.” That is not just semantics. Importance is a more relative concept. 200 quality innings is virtually always going to be more valuable than 60-70.

        I never said that all could be moved. I said you try should try it out if you think he is really that good. That happens all the time. A good pitching coach is probably a necessary part of the experiment. And certainly moving guys to the pen doesn’t fix all of their problems. But if he was good there once, then the imperative is to see if something has changed.

        I was attacking the logic that said that trying out a young pitcher as a starter was some bizarre experiment by the Yankees. It happens all the time.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM

        It is usually about repertoire, from what I understand. Guys with only 2 good pitches are limited to bullpen roles, while guy with 3 or 4 plus pitches should be tried in the rotation. Not an absolute rule, of course, but when dealing with young arms, what is absolute?

      • anxovies - Dec 20, 2013 at 6:37 PM

        In today’s baseball there is an argument for the proposition that a good relief pitcher is more valuable than a good closer. Closers usually enter the game under a very specific situation, at the beginning of the inning when the team is ahead. Relievers typically enter the game under messy conditions where there are men on base and a good hitter is at the plate, often with less than 2 outs or no outs and often when the game could get away. The pressure on the pitcher in both situations is immense. You could argue that it takes more skill and resourcefulness to succeed as a relief pitcher and that keeping the game in hand is just as, if not more, valuable to the team.

    • jrbdmb - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:31 AM

      Daniel Bard might disagree with you. Lights out setup man, moved to the rotation, was never the same pitcher again as a starter or reliever.

      • stex52 - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:56 AM

        Why? The question that a good coach should ask in that case is “What changed?”

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM

        Of course. But one example does not prove the hypothesis. Bard might have stunk as a setup man the following year. Some guys just fall apart. Knoblauch comes to mind. We will never know with Joba or Bard what might have been, nor do we know exactly why.

        Then we can look at guys who did break in as relievers (sale comes to mind of course) only to develop into front-line starters.

        Who knows why?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 20, 2013 at 3:11 PM

        Daniel Bard might disagree with you. Lights out setup man, moved to the rotation, was never the same pitcher again as a starter or reliever.

        The two aren’t really similar though. Chamberlain was a starter in college, and a very successful starter in his short time in the minors (88.1 IP, 2.45 ERA; 135K/27 BB). He was moved to the bullpen in ’07 because he had reached his innings limit, but the plan was always to keep him as a starter.

        Bard failed miserably his first year in the minors as a starter (75.0 IP, 7.05 ERA; 47K/78 BB – same year as Joba actually). He was moved to the bullpen permanently. However, he had a problem getting lefties out which you can hide as a reliever, but not as a starter. Then everything fell apart.

      • Jack Marshall - Dec 20, 2013 at 6:54 PM

        Bard had, it seems, already lost it before he tried to convert. He was hopeless in September 2011. In retrospect, it would seem to have been wise to straighten him out in familiar territory before allowing him to transition to starting.

  7. tfbuckfutter - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    The Yankees haven’t been able to develop any of their “prodigy” pitchers.

    So in a sense, they have ruined all of them either by failing to properly develop their talents, or by wildly overrating their talents and creating expected potential they could never achieve.

    • stex52 - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:57 AM

      Can’t say for sure in these cases, but (b.) happens an awful lot.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:44 AM

      How many teams are “good at” developing prodigy pitchers?

      Certainly the Cards and Braves come to mind. I can’t think of any other team to develop more than one or two in the last decade. Most teams have fewer than that.

      I am sure that pitcher development is a skill, but there is so much more that goes into it (scouting, assessment, individual teachability, health, luck, luck, luck) that it is tough to assess a team’s level of proficiency.

      • tved12 - Dec 20, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        Don’t forget the Athletics! I’m a Cardinals fan and I agree with you, but I have to believe that Oakland is the model franchise for developing young arms!

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 1:54 PM

        Sure, and I suppose you could throw Tampa in there too (though they have had some more mixed results lately). That is still 4 teams out of 30 who could reasonably claim to be good at developing excellent young pitching.

      • tfbuckfutter - Dec 20, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        There’s an entire sea between the 4 teams that are exceptional at it and the teams that are incredibly miserable failures at it.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 20, 2013 at 3:48 PM

        It’s also possible that the Yankees don’t have the same patience with young starters that the other teams do. Here’s four relatively young pitchers, two with the Sox and two former Yanks. Let’s look at their stats through, roughly, their first 30 starts:

        JC – 41 G, 41 GS*; 215 IP, 4.18 ERA [ERA+ ?]; 8.3 K/9, 4.19 BB/9, 1.98 K/BB
        PH – 28 G, 28 GS, 144.1 IP, 5.22 ERA, [bad ERA+]; 7.1 K/9, 3.76 BB/9, 1.89 K/BB
        JL – 27 G, 26 GS, 144.1 IP; 4.68 ERA, 102 ERA+; 6.9 K/9, 4.6 BB/9, 1.49 K/BB
        CB – 36 G, 34 GS, 190 IP; 4.91 ERA, 95 ERA+; 7.6 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.86 K/BB

        Now Lester and Buccholz turned it around and became good starters. However, Chamberlain was done after those 41 starts when he injured his shoulder. And the rigged “competition” in ’10 meant he never again would be, at least for the Yanks. Hughes got converted to a reliever for the rest of ’09, then went back to a starter in ’10 where he put up a 4.65 ERA for the next four years (91 ERA+).

        Who knows what happens to Chamberlain if he doesn’t injure his shoulder, or the Yanks don’t insist that he can’t be a starter? Maybe we would have seen more of this?

        [mlbvideo id="4439255" width="400" height="224" /]

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 20, 2013 at 3:48 PM

        Ugh embed didn’t work, try this:

  8. largebill - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Just about every young pitcher gets “jerked around” somewhat. That is to be expected. They are competing with other major leaguers for roster spots.

    • blynch67 - Dec 20, 2013 at 7:09 PM

      I believe Mariano Rivera was a somewhat failed starter, at one time. It’s all about finding your best fit.

  9. nymets4ever - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    One DUI = a “drinking problem”? Talk about creating BS narratives. Haha

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      Well, if you kill one guy you are branded a murderer. Some decisions are defining.

    • Francisco (FC) - Dec 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM

      Thought: Do you think that one DUI is the ONLY time the guy was driving under the influence? The DUI is the only time he was caught, it doesn’t tell us how often he drove in that condition and got away with it.

  10. mreezybreezy - Dec 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    “Mystique” and “aura” are stripper names

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 20, 2013 at 1:18 PM

      They certainly are not video game characters

  11. pmbryant - Dec 20, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    It all fell apart after those midges came out in Cleveland. Sounds silly, but he’s never been the same since.

    • aceshigh11 - Dec 20, 2013 at 12:31 PM

      Oh man, I remember that game. Watching with my girlfriend at the time who was a HUGE Yankees fan (and I’m a Red Sox fan).

      She was FREAKING OUT about those midges. It was actually really funny. That whole incident really blew the series for them.

    • dluxxx - Dec 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      “They were everywhere man! I see em in my sleep!”

  12. ningenito78 - Dec 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    True. But a DUI isn’t one of them.

  13. indaburg - Dec 20, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Maybe Joba was so upset over the way the Yankees were handling him, he turned to food and alcohol to console himself. I know that’s how I console myself. Chocolate bon-bons, pizza, and wine.

  14. jolink653 - Dec 20, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    The problem with Joba is that the front office had no idea what they wanted him to be. He was a setup man and the guy who would inherit Mariano’s spot as closer, then he was turned into a supposed developing-ace-of-the-staff kind of guy, then relegated back to the bullpen, back into the rotation, and finally back to the bullpen. He threw his shoulder out trying to replicate his eighth inning style through five-plus innings. I always thought they should have left him in the eighth inning role because he had such electric stuff and was so successful as a reliever, but they didn’t and as a result he got hurt. No way to definitively determine that, but I and a lot of other Yankees fans believe it

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 20, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      He was a setup man and the guy who would inherit Mariano’s spot as closer, then he was turned into a supposed developing-ace-of-the-staff kind of guy,

      No, no no. He was a starter, and always was supposed to be a starter. Come on people, there’s websites to track this stuff.

  15. chip56 - Dec 20, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Joba’s problem, at least part of it, is that he got caught up in his own storyline. The Joba Rules, the fist pump…he was granted instant celebrity and then when he had to work for it he didn’t want to.

    The other part of it is that he’s a giant child. After dealing with injuries all of 2012 he came back and the first thing I read about him last spring was him jumping naked into a laundry cart asking Boone Logan to push him around the clubhouse.

    He was very talented, immature and given instant stardom…a bad combination.

    That said, the Yankees did hurt his development a) by jerking him around and b) by indulging his behavior.

  16. bh0673 - Dec 20, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    Craig, you are wrong on this one. Hank Steinbrenner forcing Joba into a starting role did him in. I was at his first start and he was lights out for about two innings before getting hit like he was pitching batting practice. He through too hard out of the gate and didn’t pace himself and every start after he would struggle. He should have been groomed to close or kept in a set up role but he never should have been a starter. I hope he does well in Detroit it will prove the Yankees ruined him

    • oasiserfede - Dec 20, 2013 at 3:12 PM

      What do you mean by *forced into a starting role*? Before he was called up in ’07, he was starting in the minors. Every scout said he had ace-stuff. Then he was called up and sensibly placed in the bullpen, just to get his feet wet and he happened to come roaring out of the gates. And then people talking about Joba being the perfect replacement for Mo. It was nonsense then and it is nonsense now.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 20, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      I was at his first start and he was lights out for about two innings before getting hit like he was pitching batting practice

      Yeah that’s not what happened at all. His first start he gave up 1H. He’s second start he gave up 5 H over 4.1 IP and only 2 ER. In fact, he didn’t give up 3 ER until his 7th start (first six starts he had a 2.17 ERA). He didn’t give up more than 3 ER until his last start against TX (5ER) where he got hurt, which was his 12th start of the season (2.23 ERA going into that start).

  17. cackalackyank - Dec 20, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    There are two narratives that play for Joba. The Yankees ruined him, or he is an immature jerk that screwed himself up personally. Somewhere in between the two lies the truth. Let’s not forget Joba came from, shall we say, an “interesting” family. Then he burst on the scene with phenomenal results, had an epic melt down on national TV, and was bounced from bullpen, to rotation, and back. Add some injuries and some personal miss steps and here we are. Obviously history is littered with the corpses of promising pitching careers lost, so Joba is not unique. I think the reason Joba gets the attention he does, and the Yankees tagged with “ruining” him really is just a feature of the Yankees having over rated and over hyped their “pitching prospects” for the last 5-7 years. Remember the Killer B’s? Joba, Kennedy, and Hughes? Yeah.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 20, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      Remember the Killer B’s? Joba, Kennedy, and Hughes? Yeah.

      The “killer B’s” were Brackman, Banuelos and Betances. Brackman was always the odd one of that group, and by far the long shot. Betances has pitched well since being converted to a reliever full time, and Banuelos is only 22 years old.

  18. spursareold - Dec 20, 2013 at 5:48 PM

    You will take me to Joba now…….

  19. Jack Marshall - Dec 20, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    It’s just bad luck. Look at all the bumps the Red Sox equivalent duo, Lester and Buchholtz have had—off years, injuries, terrible slumps, confidence collapse, head problems, even cancer. They look like they may live up to their promise, but it hasn’t been easy.

  20. blynch67 - Dec 20, 2013 at 7:03 PM

    I remember when came on the scene in 2007. He was astounding as a reliever. He had the perfect make up to shut the 8th inning door. He was a starter in college and his 1.5 years in the minors. I can see why the Yanks wanted to use him as a starter, but like most folks, I wish they hadn’t tried (for a few years).

    Yes, the Yanks moving him back and forth didn’t help the situation at all. But let’s not forget that Joba’s total lack of maturity contributed to his own demise. The team did a lot to give him the coaching and mentoring needed to become a successful major league pitcher. The team realized last year that he wasn’t going to be a reliable member of the team.

    I’m sorry it didn’t work out for Joba because he had a lot of talent. But I’m not at all sad to see him leave the Yankees.

  21. blynch67 - Dec 20, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    “I am fascinated by the mentality that thinks an eighth inning setup man is more valuable than a starter. Of course if you have a talented young reliever you should give him a spin as a starter. That is not an irreversible process if it doesn’t work.”

    Over the course of a season, 200 quality innings seems more valuable than just 60 -70 quality innings. I think the Yankee mindset is to get 6 innings out of a starter, and then go to a 7th guy, then the 8th guy and the closer. The Yanks were thinking in terms of winning today’s game rather than a season’s stat. In that perspective, 60-70 innings of near-shutdown 8th inning work is equal to a whole lot of ‘quality starts’ (3 er or less).

  22. haaseline - Dec 21, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Or just the fact he is just one of these disrespectful kids that floods the planet…. thinks he is worthy of something more than the rest of us. Buy for what he’s worth and sell for what he thinks he’s worth ..and no need to play lotto anymore. Our Entitlement society at it’s best… NO MORE ( BUT MO ) ATTITUDES in Pinstripes …please!!!

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