Here's the first half of Joba Chamberlain.
4-2, 4.25 ERA, 1.56 WHIP.
17 starts, 89 innings (just over 5 innings per).
78 Ks, 42 Walks.
To give you an idea of just how Meh all of that is, here are just a few of the starting pitchers that Yahoo ranks as being more useful to your fantasy team than Joba, so far in 2009.
Chan Ho Park
Needless to say, these guys are Very Available in your free agent pool. (Yahoo's metrics are a little screwy, in that they also rank guys who haven't pitched at all as being more useful than Joba, but you get the point.)
Now, if you listen to some folks, this is proof that Chamberlain has been horribly misused by the Yanks. If only they had left well enough alone, the 7th and 8th inning dominance that he showed in 2007 would have continued ad infinitum, and the team would have its obvious next closer in waiting. Along with at least five (ten? twenty?) more wins.
This, however, misses four key points.
1) The team needs a good starter more than a set-up man
Which makes them the same as every other team in baseball.
2) Chamberlain was actually quite effective as a starter last year
In a dozen starts last year, he was 3-1 with a sub 3-run ERA, and a 74/25 K/BB rate in 64 innings. Sure, he still wasn't going deep into games, but you can win with a guy getting more than a strikeout an inning and good numbers, even with 5 and 6 inning starts.
3) Young pitchers *always* break your heart
Ask Marlins' fan about how much fun it's been to watch Ricky Nolasco, for the most part, this year. (Or me, since I had him as my Cy Young pick.) Or Mariners' fan if they feel great about that Brandon Morrow uniform purchase. Scott Baker is making Twins Fan break out in hives on a near-weekly basis. David Price has had control issues that makes Rays Fan wonder if they are just looking at an unfortunate Scott Kazmir rerun. There's also, well, Kazmir.
All of these guys are highly similar comparables to Chamberlain; all have disappointed. It's the nature of Pitching, especially Young Pitching, and it's why your fantasy league is routinely not won by the guy that drafted Brandon Webb, Cole Hamels and Johan Santana. There are no real sure things.
(You'd think Yankee Fan would know this by now, having spent much of the decade being disappointed by Sure Thing Free Agent Pitchers. But I guess when your eyes fall in love with a guy, and he pumps his fists after getting outs, that goes out the window.)
And, finally, this...
4) The most unpredictable pitcher on a team, from year to year, is the set-up guy
Naming a guy that has dominated the ninth inning consistently for the past three to five years is relatively easy. Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Jenks, and that's just off the top of my head, and AL only.
Now, the eighth? I can only think of one, Scott Shields, and he's fallen off recently as well. It's a fungible role; your only real hope, as an organization, is to get a steady stream of guys that miss bats, and let them move on when dumber clubs sign them away. (Baltimore, a few years ago, locked up a bunch of established middle inning guys, then watched them all implode. It's like the baseball equivalent of having good kickoff return coverage.)
So when you see Chamberlain nibble, drive big pitch counts, and become a maddening six inning or less pitcher, the answer isn't to just wave the magic wand and make him Mariano II. Especially when, once you do that, you'll wind up turning back to Phil Hughes, who will magically return -- I guarantee it -- to becoming the same guy who has driven you nuts for the past 1.5 years of starts and injuries once they put him back in the rotation. It's just the way of the world: young pitchers break your heart, until they don't, and it's a hell of a lot easier to come into the middle of a game, throw your best gas for 25 pitches or less, and get guys who have been playing for two hours or more out. (Ever notice how often extra innings games go on for a while with no offense? A tired hitter is not a good hitter.)
Oh, and if you want to find someone to blame for Chamberlain's trouubles? Well, I'd note that he now pitches in a bandbox that gives up Coors-esque homer rates, which means that his 4.25 ERA might not be that bad after all. He also works in front of a left side of the infield that's fairly range-less, with outfielders that don't have plus arms. His bullpen has, until recently, been fairly fire-friendly to inherited runners. You'd nibble, too.
Or you could also just blame the guy throwing the ball, too. Or is that too hard, seeing how he pumps his fists when he's happy?