10 Reasons Joba Chamberlain Could Be New York Yankees' 2012 X-Factor
In the midst of the search for a No. 2 pitcher, New York Yankee fans have seemed to forgotten about Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain underwent Tommy John surgery last year and is on track to come back this upcoming season.
Everyone remembers his dominance out of the bullpen his rookie season with his 0.38 ERA and 34 SO in 24 innings. Then he showed flashes of it last season before the injury with his 2.83 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 24 SO in 28.2 innings.
If Joba Chamberlain can return to form, he'll mean big things for the Yankees in more ways than one.
His Fastball, Slider Combo
Technically speaking, these are two reasons, but they compliment each other so well I put them under one. And while we're technically speaking, might as well throw out that I'm looking at Joba Chamberlain at a technical level first.
Everyone knows Chamberlain can hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball. Everyone also knows he'll stay in the upper-90s with his fastball (that is, as long as he knows he's pitching an inning or less). And finally, everyone knows that his sliders are a hitter's Kryptonite.
Put those two together and it's easy to see why Chamberlain was so dominant as a reliever.
Tommy John surgery takes time to come back from. Some players don't even come back at all. If Chamberlain can get back to form, however, the Yankees will have an incredible asset on their team.
All the Swing-and-Misses
Joba Chamberlain is known for his high strikeout numbers and tendencies. I remember watching him when he first came up—it seemed like every at-bat was going to end in a strikeout.
That gives him confidence to go after hitters. It also strikes fear into the opposing batter's heart.
If the batter goes up thinking about a strikeout, chances are he'll be too worried to do anything other than strikeout. Chamberlain, when he's at his best, has the potential to mow down batter after batter. Every player, manager and GM knows that.
Fans have the ability to sense a strikeout. They'll stand up, clap, stomp and cheer as the batter reaches two strikes and their pitcher is about to throw that final pitch. Only the best hitters can tune out that noise, that electricity in the air when the stadium senses a strikeout.
Chamberlain's skills and pitches creates that situation just about every time he pitches. That's enough times to unnerve most hitters even before they step up to bat.
The Bridge to Mo
Before going down and requiring surgery, Joba Chamberlain was the setup man for the New York Yankees. The pairing of him and closer Mariano Rivera was arguably one of the best, if not the best, in baseball.
As of right now, the setup job belongs to David Robertson, who's been doing a fine job. However, I still think Joba Chamberlain, when he's at his best, would be the more dominant pitcher out of the two.
A Chamberlain close to his rookie form would be the perfect setup for Rivera. With him at his best, the combination of Chamberlain and Rivera at the back of the bullpen would spell certain victory for the Yankees if those two were used in a game.
A Better Bullpen
I touched on this with the last slide, but I'll go into it more here.
Last season, the New York Yankees had one of the better bullpens in baseball despite the injuries.
David Robertson emerged as the setup man to replace Joba Chamberlain. Rafael Soriano began earning his money by returning to his Tampa Bay Rays form towards the end of the season.
Of course, there was Mariano Rivera and his fountain of youth, as he continues to pitch well year after year.
Then there were some surprise contributions from Cory Wade and Luis Ayala to give the Yankees a really solid bullpen.
Having Chamberlain join that group would make the bullpen even better should he come back close to his rookie form. Now, I don't expect him to be dominant right away. It'll take time, but if he ever captures the 2007 version of himself, then the Yankees will have the best bullpen in baseball.
A Weakened AL East Bullpen
Games in the AL East are often very close and tight, meaning it often comes down to the bullpen.
However, in 2012, the rest of the AL East teams have a weaker bullpen than before.
The Boston Red Sox lost Jonathan Papelbon and replaced him with Andrew Bailey. When Bailey's healthy, he's one of the best closers in baseball. However, injuries have plagued his short career, so it remains to be seen if he can still be the dominant closer he was before.
Bailey is an improvement over Papelbon, but the rest of the Boston bullpen has questions. A bunch of them.
The Red Sox don't have another truly reliable reliever other than Daniel Bard and Bailey. Alfredo Aceves serves as their long man and part-time starter, but there are times when he's shaky. The rest of their guys are just OK at best.
Then there are the Tampa Bay Rays, who somehow manage to piece together a bullpen each season, but they can't do that forever. Their individual pieces are solid but together as a bullpen, they'll make you wonder how they win so many games.
The Tampa Bay Rays' luck will have to run out eventually, at least until they get a real closer. The Red Sox have to come back from that collapse. When a healthy Joba Chamberlain returns, the New York Yankees will unquestionably have the best bullpen in the AL East.
A Potential Starter
Now, I hope to God that Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman and whoever else is involved with decisions like these stick (and keep) Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen.
We've all seen how Joba Chamberlain the starter experiment went, and hopefully they've learned that he's better off as a reliever.
However, the New York Yankees could use some starting pitching depth and if the situation calls for it, Chamberlain might fill that role once again.
Sure, he's better off as a reliever, but he was a starter in the minors, and that's how he got fast-tracked to pitch in the big leagues. Look at the stats: 18 games pitched, 15 started, nine wins, 88.1 innings pitched, 2.45 ERA, 1.008 WHIP, 5.00 SO/BB, 13.8 SO/9.
Just throwing this out there, but he was a pretty good pitcher in the minors. If he can recapture that and bring it to the major league level, then the Yankees will finally have that No. 2 pitcher they've been searching for.
No matter what the New York Yankees decide to do with Joba Chamberlain or where they put him, his return means they'll have just a little more pitching depth.
All signs point to his return to the bullpen (and I hope those signs better be right), giving the Yankees one of the deepest and best bullpens in the majors.
Should the Yankees decide to have another go at Joba the starter experiment (and they better not), he'll give the Yankees some depth there whether or not he ends up reclaiming the dominance he possessed as a starter in the minors.
Either way, the Yankees won't need to rush their pitching prospects, most notably Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Those two can spend another year in the minors honing their skills until the Yankees feel they're really ready for the majors and not just call them up because of limited depth.
Bringing Back the Fist Pump
One of the things I missed about seeing Joba Chamberlain on the mound was his fist pump after a big strikeout. It was energizing, fun and gave the New York Yankees some character.
Chamberlain's strikeouts and subsequent fist pumps would energize the crowd and the team. The New York Yankees are usually known as being stoic professionals, especially during the Joe Torre run, where soft-spoken players such as Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams led the team.
But here was this rookie firing up the team and the stadium with his electrifying strikeouts and fist pumps. It was a rare change of pace for the Yankees.
There were times when it seemed that the Yankees lacked that energy last season. Sure, they were winning games, more than most people expected, but they didn't have the same vibe as from their championship year.
Joba Chamberlain's return could change that and energize the team, making them more exciting to watch in 2012.
It's a New Year
By the time Joba Chamberlain is ready to step onto a big league mound in a game, about a year will have passed since the last time he did so.
Within that year, players have retired, been promoted, changed teams and leagues. That means there will be fresh pairs of eyes facing him who've never seen him before.
Also, players who have faced him will need to get used to his pitches once again.
There's a major difference between seeing a player pitch through tape and seeing him pitch live. There are certain nuances that video can't capture. Not to mention seeing a 100 mph fastball come at you in real life is different than watching it on a tape.
So when Chamberlain comes back, he might be able to have that grace period where hitters are getting used to facing him. He'll have an edge then and could use that to his advantage to hone his pitches and boost his confidence.
As is usually the case with the New York Yankees and their players, trade rumors will circulate Joba Chamberlain if he can return to his 2007 form.
A package around Chamberlain and Jesus Montero will surely get the Yankees that second ace they've been looking for to give CC Sabathia support.
Teams in need of relief or hitting help will have to look at that offer closely and make some tough decisions. I can imagine the GM of a team such as the Seattle Mariners or San Francisco Giants telling Brian Cashman that he'll have to think about that offer a bit more.
As much as I would love to have Joba Chamberlain setting up Mariano Rivera and Montero hitting home runs for the Yankees for the next decade, a rotation with Sabathia and Felix Hernandez/Tim Lincecum at the top would be hard to beat and could lead to a new dynasty.