Mood music - I Want You by The Beatles
[Took a short break from the "Rival Staffs" thing, but don't worry, they're still going to get finished]
Do you know what's been missing from Pinstripe Alley? Some nice discussion about Joba Chamberlain. With his role established pretty firmly in the bullpen for the 2010 season, there has been a serious lack of Joba talk (other than when the occasional WTF! DFA! after an 8th inning implosion), but luckily for the community, I am here to meet the demand!
Firstly, Joba is not as bad as his 1-3 record or 5.52 ERA would suggest, as supported by his 2.25 FIP, 10.13 K/9, and 2.76 BB/9 on top of a .384 BABIP against, and a 55.6 LOB%, which just scream positive regression. However, there is no point denying that his performance up to this point in the season has been a disappointment (especially in comparison to his past bullpen dominance), so I was interested in looking a little deeper into Joba's performance, and more specifically his pitch selection.
Maybe this is only me, but it seemed like against every batter that Joba has faced this year, he would throw all fastballs early in the count, and then if he reached two strikes, would throw almost exclusively breaking balls in the dirt, hoping for a swing and miss. In a seemingly frustratingly large amount of cases, the hitter simply lays off the slider, and works the count back in their favor.
And if I can pick up on a serious pattern by watching a few games on TV and listening to John Sterling's accurate account of the games, then you'd have to think that opposing batters and hitting coaches with tons of film at their disposal would be all over it.
I there anything to those claims?
We find out after the jump with a large, colorful, graph!
So, uhh, yeah, there is kind of a pattern there isn't there? Early in the count, and when he is behind in the count, Joba is extremely fastball happy, but deep in the count (2-2, 3-2 especially) he close to abandons it in favor of the slider. I think there are a few reasons why he does this. Firstly, Joba is considerably more effective when working from ahead in the count. Proof:
Hitters when Joba throws a 1st Pitch Strike: .188 BA, 24 K, 2 BB
Hitters when Joba throws a 1st Pitch Ball: .310 BA, 9K, 7BB
So, you can understand Joba making a conscious effort to get ahead early in the count by throwing the pitch he is most likely to put through for a strike, but that also means that he's probably giving up a lot of hittable pitches early in the count now that his fastball is 94 MPH and not 98 MPH and he's getting fewer batters to swing and miss, and fewer batters to expand the zone. And in fact, hitters are 7 for 11 (.636) on first pitches so far this year. Very small sample size, but I think the point still stands that he's vulnerable on that first pitch fastball that he throws to about 3 out of every 4 batters he faces.
My Solution: More Curveballs, Less Sliders. Looking back up at his pitch selection chart, Joba doesn't really view his curveball as a "put away" pitch, as he rarely throws it with 2 strikes, but it is a pitch he is confident he can throw for a stirke, as he does throw it earlier in the count. Joba needs a pitch other than the fastball that he can get in the strike zone, and I think that the curve is the perfect pitch for that. And if he doesn't have to show the slider until he already has two strikes on a batter, it will be even harder to distinguish from the fastball.
There is the idea that moving Joba to the bullpen turned him back into a "two pitch pitcher" and unfortunately, his curveball has been a casualty of that transition. However, I think that reintroducing the curve as a way to break up his "fastball early-slider late" formula could really help Joba round back into shape in the 8th inning.
Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Post Graph Stress?