The 2011 New York Yankees were seemingly written off by most, including myself, before the season began. We all thought the Rays would be back in the basement with the Orioles, the Red Sox would have already clinched a spot in the playoffs and the Jays and Yankees would battle it out for No. 2.
It seems that many of us were wrong…so far.
The Rays, who lost nearly all of their bullpen, star pupil Carl Crawford, workhorse Matt Garza and slugging first baseman Carlos Pena, are in a three-way tie with the Yankees and the Sox. The Jays are hanging around in fourth with the Orioles holding down the fort in fifth.
Considering all the hoopla surrounding Derek Jeter in the offseason, the lack of a true No. 2 starter and aging veterans surrounding the locker room, this year’s version of the Bronx Bombers are doing okay.
The Yankee bullpen is ranked fourth in the AL with a 3.18 ERA and has allowed a paltry seven home runs in 133 innings.
Since the reliever-turned-starter experiment failed, Joba Chamberlain hasn’t been the same dominant middle relief guy like he was when he first broke on the scene in 2007, but Chamberlain is slowly but surely becoming someone can who can be relied upon in the late innings.
Aside from Mariano Rivera closing the ninth, it's been a revolving door of relievers the past few years.
What used to be Jeff Nelson-to-Ramiro Mendoza-to-Mariano Rivera, has seen the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, Brian Bruney, LaTroy Hawkins and Jonathan Albaladejo, among many others, trying to fill that gap to get to Rivera.
Now David Robertson and Chamberlain are really stepping up to the plate to make sure things move smoothly into the hands of baseball’s best closer.
In his fifth major league season, it appears Chamberlain has finally embraced his role, and the numbers are definitely on his side.
Through 43 games, Chamberlain is a different pitcher than what we have seen in the past. He can still gas it up into the mid 90s if he has to, except, does not have to blow hitters away when you hit your spots.
Not surprising, Chamberlain is hitting a career low in strikeouts per nine innings (7.66) and also a career low in walks per nine innings (1.61). The opposition is batting an unproductive .222, leaving Joba with a WHIP under 1.00 (.99).
Sometimes it just clicks for some players: “Let my defense do the work for me.”
When a pitcher gets ground balls, it makes life very easy for everyone involved. If pitches aren’t hit in the air, it doesn’t leave the yard. Case in point, Chamberlain’s ground ball ratio of 62.3 percent, is almost 20 percent higher than in 2010, and his ground ball to fly ball ratio (2.53) is more than double to what is was last year.
If the Yankees are to be successful, they need their former first-round pick to lead this team into an era that will eventually lose Rivera. Chamberlain, who was once thought to be the closer of the future, is now the stopper they have been waiting for.
Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective and is an Associate member of The Professional Writers Association of Canada.
Devon is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies, and is now an independent scout.
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