Joba Chamberlain is back with the New York Yankees but he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to be one of manager Joe Girardi's most trusted bullpen arms down the stretch.
Nine hits, four earned runs and two strikeouts in 4.1 innings pitched. That's Joba Chamberlain's run down so far in 2012. Assuming he stays healthy, Chamberlain will be a two month regular season pitcher for the Bombers this year—with hope for one spectacular postseason month of October—as he looks to right the ship in his professional career.
This is not the same man that seemed to emerge in the Bronx from the cornfields of Nebraska overnight in 2007 and delivered a scintillating two month stretch that electrified Yankee Stadium crowds and helped the Yankees rally toward an American League East division crown.
Interestingly enough, five years later, Chamberlain is back for the final two months of this season hoping for redemption and a new beginning.
Chamberlain spent the second-half of 2011 and this winter recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent last year. Chamberlain looked like he was well ahead of schedule until a freak accident occurred while he was having fun jumping on a trampoline with his young son.
Chamberlain dislocated his ankle and this once promising prospect suddenly was staring down an even more gruesome injury that threatened to end his big league career. Chamberlain's strong work ethic and conditioning program helped get him ahead of the curve and back in New York competing this summer.
The Yankees are closing in on another division title as they mount their annual run at a World Series title. They stand a much better chance of reaching the Fall Classic if Joba can regain his past magic and overpower hitters with his fastball and devastating slider. Here are five reasons why Yankees and baseball fans alike should not count out Chamberlain.
Chamberlain is averaging 94.1 miles per hour on his fastball since returning to the Yankees though he's hit 97 on the radar gun multiple times. There are crafty relievers and there are overpowering relievers and Chamberlain has fallen into the latter categorization as a big leaguer.
Joba's hoping his fastball can miss lots of bats over the next couple of months and blow opposing hitters away. Chamberlain carries some extra weight on his physical frame but he's always had a very strong upper and lower body which helps him generate the speed on his No. 1 pitch.
Fastball speed is not a guarantee that you can retire batters. Accuracy and movement on the pitch matters a great deal. But an ability to throw 97 throughout a relief appearance is a highly valued trait. One that sure helps when facing the best hitters in the game.
Joba Chamberlain's fastball was a blur when he first came up in 2007.
Joba is still only 26 years of age—he'll turn 27 in late September—and he's hitting an age where most big league players start to produce their best seasons. The ages between 26-31 are the prime for most pitchers and hitters.
Incredibly, Joba is only one year older than Yankees rookie pitcher, David Phelps, who is giving the Yankees lots of reason to believe he will have a future in the Bronx. Phil Hughes, less than one year younger than Joba, has also hit his stride this season and is enjoying the best overall season of his career.
As Yogi Berra used to say, "It gets late early..." and Joba isn't getting any younger. But he's still just entering his prime as a major league pitcher.
Joba's right arm is feeling much better following Tommy John surgery.
As Tommy John surgery has become more prevalent, the proficiency of the surgery has improved dramatically over time. It's now believed that there is between an 82 and 92 percent success rate on the procedure named after the eponymous former pitching great.
In the past, Tommy John surgery seemed to often spell doom for pitchers. Now, there's every reason to believe that Joba should recover just fine and perhaps be even better than before.
Joba will likely never be the Yankees closer but he is a strikeout pitcher.
Chamberlain's last full season of competition—2010—saw him finish in the top 25 of strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) for relief pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings pitched. Joba will most assuredly not be the future replacement for Mariano Rivera that some thought he would be several years ago.
Joba can strike batters out at an impressive clip which gives manager Joe Girardi confidence to have him enter the game in tight spots and get a much needed out against a power hitter.
The New York crowd loves Joba. And he loves them back.
As the locals will tell you: "Hey, this is New York!" One of those indefinable, je ne sais quoi sayings that seems to suggest that you're in the big city and you should expect big things. Joba Chamberlain is a man that appeared like a figment of the imagination in 2007.
Of all positions on a baseball team, this was a relief pitcher—a rookie relief pitcher!—that energized the team and helped the Yankees finish 32-18 down the stretch that season. He's always been in the spotlight, even with the ridiculous swarm of midges incident during the playoffs in 2007. A tale more reserved for a J.R.R. Tolkien novel.
The Yankees are hoping that Joba can revitalize the team with the same kind of panache and verve that he showed in 2007. The Orioles and red-hot Rays are charging hard at the Bombers. Joba and the Bombers' faithful are hoping his New York magic of old will be new once again.