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Lost: the Velocity and Command of Joba Chamberlain

October 8, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 9 Comments

I was asked by a few people to diagnose the problems of Joba Chamberlain. I went to the tape and didn’t really see anything that looked like an obvious problem.

Joba’s problems persisted and I saw a Buster Olney blog entry detailing Joba’s velocity decline (Insider-only), so I decided to take another look and I think might have found something.

I’ll also be ignoring the yo-yo act the Yankees have used with Joba. Should he be in the rotation or should he be put in the pen? To use Joba rules or not? I’m sure he’s been mentally all over the place and that’s had something to do with his performance, but for this piece, we’ll ignore that factor.

Now, let’s compare Joba from September this year to Joba back in the middle of last season…

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

2008 Joba is on the left, 2009 Joba is on the right. First thing I notice are the hands…as Joba lifts his knee, the hands in 2009 lift with it while in 2008 they stay steady. That’s why in 2009, at the point the knee starts to drop, Joba’s hands are up by his head and in 2008 they are out in front of his chest. So right off the bat, we see a subtle change that might have an impact on his timing.

Joba actually breaks his hands (when the ball breaks from the glove) a couple frames earlier in 2008 than 2009. In 2009, Joba lowers the hands and then breaks.

In 2008, Joba broke his hands and then they kinda hover there. This is something I detailed last time I looked at Chamberlain. It’s an adjustment I think he made in hopes of improving his timing, which in turn would help his command. The hands hovered as Joba started striding.

In 2009, the hands also hover, but they don’t hover for as long a period. The reason for this is because his hands are higher from the start, so the time it took for them to lower ate into the time that his hands were supposed to hover. Hopefully that make sense.

Now, there are postural, hip turn, and arm action difference. Here are some of those changes…

1. Chamberlain in 2008 is a bit more seated.

2. Take the clip below and watch the front leg…

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

It looks like there is a bigger, more forceful step over move in 2008. That is something that could make an impact from a velocity standpoint.

In fact, just comparing his pitches from his last start, when he would throw in the upper 80′s – low 90′s, there was less of step-over move than when he threw 93 or 94.

3. For the clips below, focus on the arm action…

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

In the 2008 version, as Joba is making that step-over move, watch the arm action really start to load. The elbow goes up with a little bend.

Compare it to 2009…the arm swings back a bit, but it’s still pretty straight and it hasn’t really begun to load. So Joba loads his arm later in the process and this creates a timing problem.

Now, I think a pitcher’s “timing” is subjective. Some regard a problem in timing as just the throwing arm not being vertical prior to the front foot landing. That’s not really true, however.

I’ll keep try to keep this simple because there are a lot of variables here…despite the fact that Joba has always been borderline as to whether he gets the arm up to vertical before the front foot lands, he’s been able to generate pitches of high velocities and command them for the most part. When you’re able to combine high velocities with command, it’s a sign of mechanical efficiency, not a problem in timing. Proper timing for one pitcher may not be proper timing for another.

But what happens when something is altered in a mechanically efficient pitcher? It’s what you’d expect…you see a decline in velocity and a deterioration of command…in Joba’s case, the arm is later in 2009. The timing of each sequence in the kinetic chain is thrown off.

So what advice do I have for Joba? It’s pretty simple…go back to what made you successful. Sit down a little more, keep your hands low, aggressively step-over into foot plant, and the timing should correct itself. The changes themselves won’t be too hard to implement, but Joba has to know what’s wrong first.

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    • Marcus said:

      He started bringing his hands up to his head after getting his start pushed back so he can pitch against the Red Sox. It was coming on the heels of pitching well but also from fixing a hitch in his delivery in which he took the ball out of his glove and paused for a while before getting into his delivery. I think he started lifting his glove higher to keep his hands from breaking with a hitch but overcompensated. It looks like he’s pitching too high, using too much upper body and not really syncing up with his lower body. He was never great at driving with his hands but it’s worse now.

      His delivery has been a mess all season. You should check out his early season hitch, his fix after the all-star break.

    • BigGuy said:

      Great article as always Alex. Thanks

    • John said:

      One question, Wht isn’t the pitching coach picking up on this problem? I say go get Duncan after this season and he’s available.

    • John said:

      One question, Why isn’t the pitching coach picking up on this problem? I say go get Duncan after this season and he’s available.

    • Link Dump: Joba, Posada, Jeter, Oliver, A-Rod | River Avenue Blues said:

      [...] Alex Eisenberg at Baseball Intellect took a look at Joba Chamberlain’s mechanics (with .gif’s!), hoping to find what’s wrong with his command and velocity. He determines that Joba has a bit of a timing issue, and essentially it’s causing his arm to drag a bit. Eisenberg advises Joba to “sit down a little more, keep your hands low, [and] aggressively step-over into foot plant” to solve the problem. What he said. [...]

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      John, I really don’t know. It might be they haven’t looked at any video of his mechanics. Often times, pitching coaches like to see first-hand a pitcher’s mechanics, but eh problem is that the naked high can’t pick up subtle changes to one’s mechanics, which is why the use of video is so important.

    • Sunday Morning Links | The Yankee Universe said:

      [...] -Baseball Intellect asks where Joba’s fastball has gone. [...]

    • What changed for Joba this season? | The Yankee Universe said:

      [...] Eisenberg of Baseball Intellect has some video analysis of Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees’ enigmatic young hurler.  He tries to compare Joba’s [...]

    • Eiland a big part of pitching success | River Avenue Blues said:

      [...] is receptive to Eiland, which could help the pitcher in the future. I’m sure both have noticed this (Eiland is reputedly big on video), and hopefully they can get Chamberlain back on track during [...]