Joba Chamberlain’s Massive ERA

Naturally, the Yankees were in on the Dan Haren discussions until the very end. Supposedly, the package that they were putting together centered around Joba Chamberlain. Given that the Diamondbacks eventually took the Joe Saunders and prospects package put together by the Angels, one has to assume that Arizona simply wasn’t impressed by Joba Chamberlain. Truly, relievers with a 5.86 ERA typically aren’t centerpieces in trades for aces, but Joba isn’t having a typical season this year.

We can quickly point out that Chamberlain has a 3.02 FIP and a 3.48 xFIP, both very solid numbers out of a relief pitcher, especially given that Chamberlain has entered games in high leverage situations this season: his gmLI (average entrance LI) is 1.31, a typical number for a setup man. He’s not showcasing the ridiculous ability to miss bats that he did when he first came up, but his K-rate is still over a batter per inning, and a walk rate below four is plenty to make a good reliever.

It just hasn’t come together this season, as far as results. Chamberlain is getting killed on contact, as hitters have a .393 BABIP against him. It’s not like hitters are just roping line drives, either – the line drive rate is slightly down this season, and just under half of all batted balls against Chamberlain have been ground balls. If anything, a low IFFB rate of 2.3% would explain some of this success, but not nearly all of it. tERA, which is based on batted balls, still rates Chamberlain highly, at 3.28.

The difference between Joba’s 5.86 ERA and his 3.04 FIP is 13.5 earned runs in his 43 innings pitched so far – and that’s ignoring the fact that a big portion of Chamberlain’s inflated ERA is due to the fact that he would have gotten more outs if his BABIP was closer to average. These 13.5 runs can be largely attributed to two splits.

Runners on 2nd/3rd: 6 PA, 2 1B, 1 2B, 2 BB, 6 runs scored
Bases loaded: 5 PA, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 runs scored

In 43 innings, a few bad pitches with runners on can drastically inflate your ERA. Joba Chamberlain has pitched extremely well this year by almost every metric. He has struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings in high leverage situations. Even if he’s not living up to his original hype, he is still a valuable player. The Diamondbacks shouldn’t have been scared away by his mammoth ERA, nor should the Yankees or their fans worry about Joba’s future, particularly in the bullpen.

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32 Responses to “Joba Chamberlain’s Massive ERA”

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  1. Andrew says:

    Agreed completely. Tell that to Joe Pawlikowski…..

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  2. Disco says:

    This is one of those times where the stats don’t tell the story. When he gets hit, he gets it. It’s not bloopers and infield hits. It’s hard liners and doubles.

    Moreover, he gives up runs in bunches. When he is on, its 1-2-3. But when he is off, he is OFF. Not a 1 run inning, but we’re talking a multiple run inning. He has given up a run in 32% of his appearances! Of those 14 times he’s given up a run in a game, 7 have been 2+ run outings. And of that, 5 have been 3+ runs allowed.

    His longest scoreless streak has been 8 games (April 28-May 14) and since then hasn’t gone more than 3 games without allowing a run.

    He has not been good. And I’m a die hard advanced stat guy.

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    • Earl Weaver says:

      You see what you want to see. Vs the Royals he had an innings start with a Pods 35 ft grounder up the 3rd baseline and a Kendall slow chopper to short. Nothing hit hard and 2 singles.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        You bring up ONE game as if it balances out the multiple instances of giving up crooked numbers.

        I’m not taking a side, only saying that one instances doesn’t trump multiple occurrences.

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      • Disco says:

        No, I don’t see what I want to see. Otherwise I’d say Joba has been good this year.

        Are we really going to say his high BABIP is the reason he’s been giving up runs and not the fact he’s had inconsistent mechanics, among other things?

        I’m not worried about him going forward, but this season he hasn’t been as good as his advanced stats say. Yes, he strikes people out and avoids the long ball. But almost all the runs he’s given up are on him, not luck or defense or other factors that usually skew ERA.

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    • highlander59 says:

      Joba’s has a league average LD% on batted balls and a slightly higher than average double rate per batter faced. His HR rate is below league average.

      Coupled with a great K/9 rate, a very goor K/BB, and a very goor GB/FB rate, it would be expected that he’d get better than average results. His xFIP, SIERA, and every other fielding independent pitching stat attest to this.

      You see lots of line drives and doubles; I see lots of ground balls that elude fielders.

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      • Mike says:

        LD% is a joke, dude. Do people really take those numbers seriously?

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      • Jeffrey Gross says:

        Actually, LD% is just arbitrarily delineated.

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      • waynetolleson says:

        Here’s the problem with looking at strikeout rates and not looking at the actual pitching performances. If you come into a game with a one-run lead, allow a walk, two singles and a double, and then strike-out the side, you haven’t done your job. Oftentimes, Joba will get his strike-outs after he has allowed runs to score.

        Stats are nice and all, but sometimes, you really have to watch a guy pitch. If you’ve watched Joba Chamberlain pitch this year, you can plainly see that he’s not doing a good job out there. He’s falling behind hitters. He’s throwing over to 1B all the time when it’s not necessary. Every inning is a struggle.

        I’m a believer in Joba Chamberlain for the long-term, but he simply has not pitched well most of this season.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      This is a terrible argument for FanGraphs. I mean it sounds good, but how the fuck is anyone supposed to respond to this argument. “I think he looks bad therefore the stats are wrong”.

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      • Jeffrey Gross says:

        Better argument: BIP classification, especially as it pertains to LD/FB, is incredibly arbitrary.

        However, I agree with Moore.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        That argument does nothing to advance the position that Joba is actually pithing worse than his peripherals and that it is a concern going forward. All it does it hint at potential for that argument.

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      • don says:

        His BABIP against on ground balls is .355.

        There’s still some classification error between ground balls and line drives, but that’s very high.

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      • waynetolleson says:

        Who cares if Fangraphs doesn’t like it? Fangraphs isn’t the end all and be all of baseball analysis. I love this site to death, but the fact is that I can still learn just as much from watching a player perform as I can from poring over his statistics. If you’ve watched enough baseball, you can see when a guy is struggling. Joba Chamberlain is struggling mightily right now, irrespective of what FIP or xFIP might say.

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    • bc2208 says:

      Through 193 Plate Appearances: 36 Singles, 11 Doubles, 1 Triple, 3, Home Runs.

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  3. SF 55 for life says:

    Wow the Yankees really fucked up his career. Score one for the good guys!

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  4. highlander59 says:

    Why is LD% a joke?

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    • I wouldn’t call it a joke, but I would say that it can be hard to categorize batted balls into just three categories. The reason I think someone did earlier is because lots of people are involved in defining batted balls and so there is bound to be some (a lot?) of different ways to do it.

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      • highlander59 says:

        LD% is somewhat subjective but not entirely arbitrary.

        The definition of a line drive is not exact – hard hit; reduced angle of trajectory compared to easily fielded fly ball; a particular limit on the height above ground – but the term does have meaning. A panel of baseball fans presented with a series of fly balls, pop ups, and line drives to classify will likely have a high level of agreement as to which is which.

        As Justice Stewart remarked about another difficult-to-define item, “I know it when I see it.”

        I was a scorer for STATS, Inc. a decade ago. As a scorer, one of the items I recorded was batted ball type. As there were several scorers for each game, I could not arbitrarily classify a particular batted ball. If I did so, it is likely that my data would consistently differ from the other scorers and I would be dropped as a scorer.

        Not only did the use of multiple scorers serve as a check against arbitrariness and carelessness, recent studies into the wisdom of crowds suggests that such an approach is more likely to arrive at a correct classification than would even a single, motivated, conscientious observer.

        I assume that methods used to acquire accurate data have improved in the decade since I was involved.

        I believe that studies into the run values of batted ball types, such as reported on in the Hardball Times in 2006 and 2007, were based on after-the-season video reviews of each batted ball by trained observers (AVM Systems, as recorded in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, did this with 10 years of MLB data as early as 1994). As far as I know, there is no substantial difference between post-season review results and those obtained by real-time observers during the season.

        LD% data may less objective than data regarding base hit type (single, double, etc.), yet it has a higher information content regarding the fate of the ball itself rather than that of the hitter.

        The data may not be perfect; that doesn’t mean it has no value. ERA is a flawed stat; that doesn’t mean it has zero value. Prior to a universal video record, computer technology, and a better understanding of the pitcher’s effect on the game, ERA was the best available, reasonably accessible metric for determining pitcher value.

        The “primitive” collection and use of batted ball data, including line drive data, is driving the more advanced collection of the same.

        The Sportvision Hit F/X data will lead to more accurate and consistent batted ball data.

        Those who have used the primitive data, who have designed analyses incorporating this data, have reasonably decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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    • waynetolleson says:

      LD% is a joke because not all line drives are the same. Some line drives are little bloopers to second. Some are dying quails to left. Some are absolute bullets to third.

      There’s a world of difference between, say, Ichiro floating a nice little liner to left for a single and Joe Mauer scalding a line-drive single to right.

      For these reasons, LD% doesn’t necessarily tell you all that much.

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  5. awayish says:

    what’s his average flyball distance stat

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  6. Fubba says:

    When you actually watch the games Joba’s in (and not just review them in summary), I think it’s easy to see where he can improve. Sometimes he’ll be up, say, 1-2 on a batter, at which time everybody in the ballpark knows that sucker slider is coming. Often, it’s in the dirt, so few batters are fooled, and now it’s 2-2. Then, he throws a 97 m.p.h.sucker fastball, about a foot outside and head high. Uh-oh. “Gee – guess I better get this one over, huh?” Next is a solid hit ball somewhere… Joba’s a “stuff” pitcher who can’t yet, and may never have the command to hit corners. The Yankees should have ignored his “K-Rod”-like antics on the mound because his sharpest and hardest stuff needs all that bravura and adrenalin to generate it.

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  7. vivalapiazza says:

    You’re honestly going to just ‘explain away’ 13.5 earned runs in 43 innings as if it’s all bad luck? Take away 2 earned runs from each of (name mediocre starting pitcher)’s starts and suddenly he’ll win the CY Young!

    I don’t want him pitch, but others have mentioned his mechanics. Logically, a great ‘stuff’ pitcher with inconsistent mechanics should have results that are inferior to performance. FIP and xFIP rely on consistency. If you give up 3 hits in 3 innings, they assume you give up 1 hit each inning. Someone with great stuff and no consistency is more likely to pitch 2 lights out innings and give up 3 straight hits when he’s off.

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  8. pft says:

    Hard to commit to a guy with an ERA over 8, and a WHIP of 2, with a LD rate of 22% since May 16. LHB are killing him. He needs another pitch, a changeup or a splitter. Wildly inconsistent, especially at home.

    I suspect off field and substance abuse issues, conditioning, preparation, etc all play a role as well .

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    • pete says:

      “off the field substance abuse issues”? are you serious? want to substantiate that?

      I agree about conditioning, though. While there’s zero guarantee that it would help significantly, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

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  9. pete says:

    I’ve watched Joba all season, and I have to say I can only agree in part with this article. I’m not overly worried about Joba long-term. In fact, I still believe he can be a good starter. I think that Joba has been under-developed, however, and his injury in ’08 only set him back further.

    Joba’s problem this year has been command, and I think Fubba described the situation perfectly. It’s not that he’s throwing nothing but meatballs down the middle – in fact, he’s throwing proportionally very few. But he has been unable to execute his strikeout pitches with the perfection he had in ’07-’08 (kind of a ridiculous standard to expect a 24 year old pitcher to live up to anyway, even if he is the same guy), causing him to fall behind batters he was originally up on. Over the past two years he has been extraordinarily predictable with his pitch selection, and batters have figured out when the slider (which doesn’t have the same bite, at least not consistently, as it used to) is coming, and lay off of it, which eventually forces him to come back with a 93mph fastball down the middle and thigh high.

    What the numbers suggest is that the degree to which Joba has been hit hard, and more importantly, how he has been hit relative to game situations, has been unsustainably high. This I disagree with. It’s not and irreversible problem, which is why I’m not particularly concerned about his long-term future. But it’s not a purely luck-based problem. Joba’s predictability leads to hitters having a much better idea of what’s coming than they typically do, making pitches out of the zone easier to lay off of and pitches in the zone easier to hit.

    I think the command will come slowly, but using his curve and his changeup more would go a LONG way towards improving his overall #s.

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  10. Cidron says:

    So, How’d those “Joba Rules” work out for ya big fella (the yanks) ?

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    • waynetolleson says:

      Well, he’s not hurt. Joba’s problems appear to be mostly mental. He’s now back to throwing as hard as ever.

      NY can be death on young pitchers, and I think Joba Chamberlain is a victim of this. In another city, he would have stayed in the minor leagues until the middle of 2008 or so. Then, he would have been mixed into the fold in the major league rotation. And then, if he had a could 9-14 seasons with a 4.60 ERA, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

      Any time you lose a game, it’s the end of the world in NYC. He was rushed to the majors before he was ready, plucked from a starting role, made a reliever, a starter, a reliever, a starter, and now a reliever again.

      Joba still has talent. He just hasn’t been able to maximize or refine that talent, yet. There’s still time for that to happen, though. The major concern remains not damaging his arm.

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