On Saturday, the Indians announced that veteran reliever Joba Chamberlain made the Opening Day roster, a move which comes a surprise given the strength of the Tribe’s pen in recent years.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) March 26, 2016
Obviously we remember Joba from the 2007 playoffs when he melted down with the help of the midges. But now we’ll be rooting for the insects to stay away as he hopefully emerges as a key middle reliever.
So let’s take a look at Joba’s repertoire and what he brings to the table.
Like many relievers, Chamberlain essentially has a two-pitch repertoire, but which two pitches he uses depends on the batter.
Chamberlain actually has three pitches which he uses regularly—four-seam fastball, slider, curveball—but the offspeed pitch usage alternates with righties and lefties.
Versus righties, Chamberlain relies heavily on the slider (48 percent of all pitches), throwing it at higher rate this his fastball.
Against lefties, Chamberlain uses the fastball more frequently (57 percent) but opts for the curveball as his primary off-speed pitch.
And to keep hitters off balance, he’ll even throw in a rare changeup.
The New Joba
Early in his career, Chamberlain flashed potential as a dominant power arm in the back of the bullpen. But as he’s aged (mostly due to injuries) he’s been unable to maintain the same approach.
In 2010, his first full season as a reliever, Chamberlain used his fastball in 44 percent of his two-strike pitches to righties. By 2015, that rate plummeted to 34 percent.
To combat his inability to throw the ball by hitters, Chamberlain is learning to pitch outside the zone.
Take a look at his pitch frequency charts to right-handed batters from 2010 and 2015.
If you’re looking for a reason to optimistic about Joba, this new approach is it.
It wasn’t until 2014 that he really appeared to give in to his diminished velocity and become a more finesse pitcher.
That may sound like he was being stubborn (perhaps he was) but remember, he’s only 30 years old. It has to be tough for a 27 or 28-year-old former phenom who should still be in his prime to admit that he needs to rework his approach.
Regardless of whether or not Joba should have changed his approach earlier, he eventually did. And it might be working.
During the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Chamberlain allowed a well-hit average of just .153—an indication that he’s generating more weak contact, exactly the goal of throwing more pitches outside the zone.
From 2010 through 2013, his first four full seasons in the bullpen, Chamberlain allowed a well-hit average of .209.
There are still some issues—his home run rate was horrific last season—but hopefully pitching coach Mickey Callaway and Joba have continued to work on his transformation, and he can become a key cog in the Tribe’s pen this season.