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Career Profile: Joba Chamberlain

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Per Reader Request, here is a Career Profile/Not a Rookie for New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain

 

Joba Chamberlain emerged as a top draft prospect by going 10-2, 2.81 with a 130/33 K/BB ratio in 119 innings for the University of Nebraska in 2005, his sophomore season, following his transfer from the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Expected to be a Top 15 pick in 2006 as a hard-throwing dominator, his stock dipped slightly following a bout with sore triceps and a drop in velocity, plus some teams were worried about his weight (his nickname in Nebraska was "Joba the Hutt"). He posted a 3.93 ERA with a 102/34 K/BB in 89 innings, which was enough for him to still go in the supplemental first round, 41st overall. Chamberlain didn't pitch that summer but showed a 97 MPH fastball in the Hawaiian Fall League. I gave him a Grade B in the 2007 book.

Chamberlain began 2007 with Tampa in the Florida State League, going 4-0, 2.03 with a 51/11 K/BB in 40 innings, with just 25 hits allowed. Promoted to Double-A Trenton, he remained effective at the higher level with a 3.35 ERA and a 66/15 K/BB in 40 innings, 32 hits allowed. Following eight shutout innings (with 18 strikeouts) in Triple-A, he was promoted to the New York bullpen for the stretch run, posting a 34/6 K/BB in 24 innings with just 12 hits allowed. It was an amazing season: 2.45 ERA, 135/27 K/BB in 88 innings, 62 hits altogether in the minors. He showed strong command of excellent stuff, and I wrote that he could develop into a number one starter or a superior closer. I gave him a Grade A and ranked him Number Two on my Top 50 pitching list in the 2008 book, with Clay Buchholz being number one.

Yankees fans are quite familiar with Joba's trajectory since 2007. He split 2008 between starting and relief work, posting a 2.60 ERA with a 118/39 K/BB in 100 innings. He developed rotator cuff tendinitis in August, which critics felt was a result of the in-season role switch. A full conversion to starter in 2009 didn't go well; his command slipped and his ERA shot up to 4.75. He moved back to the bullpen last year and posted a 4.40 ERA with a 77/22 K/BB in 72 innings, although his FIP and XFIP were much better at 2.98 and 3.34.  Overall, Chamberlain is 18-13, 3.77, 3.63 FIP, 3.77 XFIP, 119 ERA+, with a 362/143 K/BB in 353 innings, 337 hits allowed, in the majors.

"What do you think about Joba Chamberlain" is one of the most common questions I get via email and on the blog. Should he remain in relief? Should he get another chance to start? He pitched much better last year than the raw ERA indicates, and is still just 25 years old. Although issues of weight and health are concerning, I still think he can be a very good pitcher, although his stuff is not as good as it was pre-injury, as explored in this Fangraphs piece by Dave Allen back in January.

If I were the Yankees, I'd leave him in relief. I might consider a switch to the rotation again in a couple of years, but it would not be in the forefront of my mind and it isn't something I'd even really talk about at this point. Joba doesn't need the distraction. A change of scenery might do him some good, too.

Chamberlain spent just one year in the minors, and it is easy to think that he suffered from being rushed. But I don't think he was; he didn't have anything left to prove in the minors, and I doubt additional minor league time would have prevented the injury. At this point, it doesn't look like he'll fully live up to the Grade A/future star rating, but that doesn't mean he can't be a very good pitcher.