Joba Chamberlain has Quietly Been the Indians Best Reliever
Eddie Kerekes | On 17, May 2016
He leads the Tribe bullpen in ERA (0.71), WHIP (0.55), batting average against (.103), and fWAR (0.3). He has not allowed a home run in 2016, and so far in the month of May, he has eleven strikeouts in only five and two-thirds innings.
He is Joba Chamberlain.
The pitcher many Tribe fans still remember from Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS when, as a member of the New York Yankees, he was swarmed by midges, has pitched extraordinarily well this season. Signed as a non-roster invitee in December, the 30-year-old right-hander has given up only one earned while allowing four hits and three walks in 12 and one-third innings.
Chamberlain credits a new appreciation for the game for his success this year, after spending parts of 2015 in the minors. The ten-year veteran told Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com, “I think it was great for me. I think it gave me a whole new perspective. Sometimes in life, you need that.” He also added that 2015 was “probably my best year ever in my life.”
Pitching coach Mickey Callaway has a different theory. He attributes Chamberlain’s success to an increased emphasis on the fastball. He told Meisel, “He has great breaking stuff, but I feel like he overused it at times.” According to PITCHf/x data, Chamberlain has used his fastball 52.2% of the time, his highest usage since 2013, even though his fastball velocity is the second lowest of his career.
The increased use of the fastball forces hitters to respect all of his pitches, instead of just the breaking pitches, according to Callaway. The hitter doesn’t expect the two-strike slider and Chamberlain has used it effectively, with ten of his 13 Ks ending with sliders.
Despite Chamberlain’s success this year, he has only been used in a mop up role. This explains the Tribe’s 1-11 record in games in which he pitches. According to Baseball Reference data, only eight out of 43 plate appearances (18.6%) against him have been in high or medium leverage situations. All the rest have been low leverage. Only three times has Chamberlain entered a game with the score within one.
With Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen locks in the eighth and ninth innings respectively, and Zach McAllister doing a great job in the seventh (1.93 ERA), it looks like Chamberlain’s role doesn’t have much room to expand. The Indians have used Chamberlain equally against both left-handers and right-handers and, for his career, both have an average around .250 so they can’t use him as a specialist.
However, if Chamberlain continues to pitch as well as he has, the Tribe will certainly be able to find a role for him in their bullpen.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images