There has been no young pitcher in the last few years that has had a higher “attention paid to on field success ratio” than Joba Chamberlain. There is some good reason for this – he has some very good stuff and pitched, over a stretch of time, lights out. In limited time in 2007 and 2008, he amassed 152 Ks and only 45 BBs in only 124 1/3 IP, with a 2.17 ERA. Most of this was in relief, only 12 starts, but you still can’t deny the 11.0 K/9 to go along with the 3.38 K/BB.
Since then he hasn’t been great. He was a slightly worse than league average starter in 2009 (97 ERA+), starting 31 games, and this past season he spent the entire year in the bullpen, finishing with an unimpressive 4.40 ERA. But the 77 K to only 22 BB in 71 2/3 IP still look pretty good, so many it was just a stretch of bad luck. In fact, that is exactly what Jay Jaffe wrote in the Pinstriped Bible:
Even the most cursory look at his peripherals will tell you it’s not a true indication that he pitched poorly. He struck out well over a batter per inning (9.7 per nine), walked less than three batters per nine (2.8) and yielded less than one homer per nine (0.8).
The most basic ERA estimator, Fielding Independent Pitching, suggests Chamberlain’s ERA should have been 2.98, almost 50 percent lower than it actually was. Baseball Prospectus’ SIERA (Skill Independent ERA), which accounts for the complex interrelationship between batted ball types, pegs him at 3.16, right in the same ballpark. BP’s Fair Run Average, which accounts for baserunners inherited and bequeathed, and ignores the differentiation between earned and unearned runs, puts him at 4.01.
Jaffe goes on to explain the role of luck in his season – something that often curses relievers who tend to pitch less than 100 innings per season, or bless them with undeserved contracts. He had poor luck on fielding, the team did a worse job fielding for him than for other pitchers, he basically “got a raw deal from his fielders.” I won’t dive into all the details, but I recommend going to look at the article for the education it provides. In summation, despite a less-than-stellar recent history, he is still quite a talented young (24 years old right now) pitcher.
Why Should The Nats Care About This?
The reason that the Nats should be interested in this has to do with what Jaffe says at the begging of the article:
Perhaps the most dispiriting piece of news to come out of Monday’s postmortem press conference with Joe Girardi pertained to the fate of Joba Chamberlain. Said the Yankee manager, “We consider him a bullpen guy in the back half of the bullpen.”
That suggests that, to the Yankees, Joba’s trade value has declined. A young starting pitcher gets more trade return than a young reliever. Jaffe, being the person who brought this up, doesn’t think his trade value is so low, suggesting if they aren’t going to start him, they should get a blue chip SS prospect to replace Jeter some day in exchange, or something of the like. But Jaffe also thinks Joba should be in the mix as a potential starter going in to next year. So the Yankees probably don’t see Chamberlain as something quite so valuable.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, in general, pitchers tend to improve when moving from AL, especially the AL East, to the NL. Mike Rizzo should look into this overhyped reliever and see if he can’t work out a deal for him. In exchange for something less than an absolute top prospect, the might be able to him from an overhyped reliever into a solid mid-rotation starter.