The Yankees bullpen has blown the team’s lead in three straight games. Two of those three blown leads have resulted in losses. There has been one main culprit of the bullpen’s woes, Joba Chamberlain.

REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine

The burly righty was moved back to the bullpen into during the playoffs last season, a place where he excelled in 2007. In 2007, Joba struck out 34 hitters in only 24 innings while posting a 0.38 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. Fast forward to 2010 and Joba has similiar power numbers (22 K’s in 18 innings), but his ERA has ballooned up to 4.91 and his WHIP is 1.31. Joba has given up seven earned runs in his last an inning and two thirds and batters are hitting .404 against him. So what exactly is wrong with Joba?

#1 Pitch Selection:

While we really can’t take the 2008 or 2009’s number into account since he was starting, his disparity between his 2007 and 2010 relief averages are startling. In 2007, Joba threw his fastball 62% of the time in 2007. Not only was it Joba’s first time through the Major Leagues, but he had average fastball velocity of 97 MPH. The majority of other pitches were sliders (34.4%). His slider clocked in at an average velocity of 86.4 MPH. In terms of actual deception, 35% of Joba’s pitches that were out of the strike zone, were swung on. He was also great at attacking the zone, throwing 59% first pitch strikes.

Compared to prior years, Joba is throwing his fastball more often in 2010. Joba is throwing his fastball 66% of the time and his slider only 29% of the time. His average fastball velocity is three MPH lower than 2007, clocking in at 94. His slider velocity is virtually the same at 86.6 MPH. Joba’s uptick in fastball selection had be directly attributed to throwing only 56% first pitch strikes. Batters are now more disciplined against Joba, swinging at only 32% of balls out of the strike zone.

#2 Location:

So where am I going with this? Well, let’s look at Joba’s splits from the last three games. Joba is throwing first pitch strikes 58% of the time. The most alarming statistic comes in the form of balls swung at that are outside of the strike zone. Batters made contact with only 41% of pitches outside of the strike zone and 92% of pitches that were strikes.

This basically means that Joba has not been deceptive and has begun rather predictable with his pitches. Hitters are keying in on fastball strikes and doing their damage that way. If we compare Joba to Javier Vazquez’s last two appearances (seven total innings, two runs, eight strikeouts), Vazquez has achieved contact on 61% of balls outside of the zone and has thrown 71% first-pitch strikes. Obviously, hitters do way less damage hitting a ball outside of the strike zone rather than inside.

Joba’s key is getting ahead in the count. When he gets ahead with the fastball, he can mix in that filthy slider. When Joba is pitching well, hitters are swinging and missing on that slider out of the zone. Even though Joba’s fastball velocity in last few appearances has been rising(95 MPH), he has to locate his pitches better. When he gets over the fact that he’s not going to overpower every major league hitter with his heater, he’ll get back to normal and fans will have the Joba back that they know and love.