Goodbyes are never easy. (Credit: John Munson/The Star Ledger via US Presswire)

Time to Say Goodbye to Joba

Joba Chamberlain made his mark on the Yankees in spectacular fashion during the 2007 season.  “Jobamania” was in full-force that season in the Bronx, as fans fell in love with the first, highly-touted pitching prospect to materialize before their eyes since Andy Pettitte in 1995. Touching in the high-90’s on the radar gun, Joba was poised to be the future ace of the rotation, a testament to Brian Cashman’s re-development of the farm system after years of expensive free-agent pitching busts.  That was a long time ago, and the fact of the matter is, that pitcher doesn’t exist anymore. It is time to part ways with Joba Chamberlain.

Flash-forward five years, a midges attack and three separate horrific health episodes – Tommy John surgery, an appendectomy, and an open-dislocation of the ankle — to the Joba we currently see. After nine appearances following a much-heralded return, the velocity that made is a sensation is there; sadly, the results are not. Through August 21, 2012, in nine appearances, Joba has an 8.59 ERA. In 7.1 IP, he has surrendered 16 hits, including two home runs, while striking out five, walking four, and hitting two batters. He has a ghastly WHIP of 2.27 — not so good for any player, let alone a one-inning reliever. Even Joe Girardi, a staunch support of his players, has admitted concern, and Joba has been demoted, being used in low-leverage situations only.

With all due respect, doesn’t a high-leverage situation for the Yankees as September and October loom? Take a look at the standings. Injuries have plagued the Yankees and that 10-game cushion they had going in late June? Gone, now two games after last night’s defeat to second-place Baltimore. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Pettitte, David Robertson, Nick Swisher and Ivan Nova are all or have suffered from injury. Phil Hughes has been inconsistent. Eric Chavez is fragile. Russell Martin is hitting below .200. Curtis Granderson has been in a heinous slump. The rest of the team must step up to stave off the Orioles (seriously, what kind of magic is Buck doing down there?) and Rays to claim the division. This is more important than ever, as the new playoff system institutes a one-game playoff for the two wildcard teams. The calendar has turned to September and just ask the 2011 Red Sox—crazy things happen in baseball’s final month. It’s not going to get any easier for the Yankees, and the playoffs, by their very definition, are high-leverage. If a player cannot be used in such a situation, how can a roster spot be justified?

Yes, it can be said that there is an incredibly small sample size for Joba’s 2012 season that is being used here. True, he was probably rushed back a bit too quickly when injuries forced the Yankees to promote him sooner for bullpen help and a roster spot cleared by trading Chad Qualls. Yes, he was serviceable last year in the ‘pen before Tommy John surgery (28 IP, 2.83 ERA, 24 K, 7 BB, 1.047 WHIP). Yes, the radar gun readings of 96 mph are impressive. And finally, yes, I agree that part of the problem may be the constant bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen early in his career. All of these are valid points that could be used to urge patience when dealing with Joba.

But the results are simply not there. And that is the point. With arbitration looming, keeping Joba around will cost increasingly more, with questionable results and an increasingly diminishing role- heir-to-the-closer, 8th inning guy, 7th inning guy, low-leverage guy. The Yankees cannot afford such a player holding up a roster spot.

Above anything else, the Yankees are a results-oriented entity. They have an edict to win, each and every year.  We saw it last year; a highly successful, 95+ win season is a “failure” (or so says Hal Steinbrenner) when the result the team is built for, winning a World Series, doesn’t happen. We can sit around and debate all day whether or not that is realistic (no, it’s not), but the fact of the matter is, that’s the focal point of every season. And it’s the front-office’s obligation to assemble the best team to do that. So while the Yankees are bound to several players by huge contracts, they can change the supporting cast. It’s time to make this change: it’s time to move on from Joba Chamberlain.

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  • Jimmy Kraft

    Great article, Alex. I know the Yankees don’t practice much patience, it’s just not their modus operandi, but I think they should give a little leeway with Joba. As fans, I believe, we are too hung up on immediate results. I think we’ll see a new Joba in 2013, as between TJ surgery and the ankle, 2012 was just too soon for his return. It’s too late for the Yanks to send him down for any meaningful extended innings because the playoffs will be going on in the minors (I guess they could be considered “meaningful”).

    But, alas, I think Joba’s development was botched all around by the Yankees brass and it’s difficult seeing a Yankees farm hand with so much promise fall flat because the front office couldn’t find him a permanent place on the pitching staff…Call me a sucker for a good comeback story

    • Alex Pugliese

      Thanks, Jimmy! I agree, I think he was rushed back a bit due to injury and the need for middle relievers in the ‘pen. After Tommy John, location is usually the last thing to come back. I would say though, that Joba did struggle in 2010 in relief- his WHIP was great, but the walk numbers (22), hits (71) and runs (10 ER, 4.40 ERA) weren’t terrific before the injury in 2010 either. It’s a small sample size this year and last, but overall, the numbers aren’t awesome.

      I think it’s fair to criticize the way Joba and even Hughes were managed early on, but he hasn’t responded to the new role, either. I love a good story– no one is cheering harder for Hughes than me!- but I don’t know if I see it.

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