Tag: Joba Chamberlain

The Yankees and the First Round

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Before beginning, a big thanks to Twitter pal and friend of the blog, @AndyinSunnyDB for inspiring this piece with a thread about the Yankees’ drafts.

In 1965, the Yankees made their first ever pick in a June Major League Baseball draft. With the 19th overall pick, they selected Bill Burbach, a right handed pitcher from Wahlert High School in Dickeyville, Wisconsin. A little less than four years later on April 11, 1969, Burbach made his MLB debut against the Tigers. He threw six innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits; he struck out three and walked four. All told, Burbach threw 37 games for the Yankees and totaled 160.2 innings from 1969-1971. He never again pitched in the Majors after 1971 and tallied just -0.9 bWAR in his career. It was an inauspicious career that marked an inauspicious beginning to the Yankees’ success–or lack thereof–in the first round of the draft.

Including Burbach, the Yankees have made 58 picks in the first round, including the supplemental round, up through the 2019 draft when they selected Anthony Volpe, a shortstop from New Jersey. Of those 58 picks, only ten have produced 10 or more bWAR at the Major League level. Of those ten, only three–Thurman Munson, Derek Jeter, and Aaron Judge–have produced that double-digit WAR for the Yankees. 

Primarily, this a reminder–as if we needed one–that evaluating, acquiring, and developing talent is the hardest thing to do in baseball on a team/organizational level. That alone is reason enough for why the Yankees have struggled to be successful in the draft and could apply to any other team. If we add in other reasons, the picture of their draft struggles becomes more complete. 

For most of the draft’s existence, the Yankees have been a good, often great, often elite team. This means lots of drafting in the back end of the first round. Indeed, of their 58 picks, the Yankees have only made five in the top ten and 27 have been at pick number 25 or lower, which gives the Yankees few opportunities to access elite talent. This has become exacerbated with the hard-slotting and spending limits in recent drafts, which have prevented big time talent to slide due to signability concerns. 

Additionally, for a long time, the Yankees eschewed player development in favor of signing big time free agents to long-term deals. They didn’t need to hit big in the draft’s first round because they already had Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera, all of whom–except Jeter–were acquired some other way than the first round of the draft. For the most part, it worked well. The Yankees won lots of games and were successful in trading and developing players from the International Free Agent market. 

But as the dynasty years began to fade, the Yankees shifted their focus and attempted to get better at the draft. Regardless of that intent, however, not much has come to fruition. Aaron Judge has been a runaway success, but no one else has. This comes down to two issues.

The first is making bad picks. Picking Cito Culver and Dante Bichette, Jr. in back-to-back first rounds was a terrible decision. Even at the time, they were considered reaches. Not surprisingly, they didn’t pan out. In hindsight, picks like Slade Heathcott and Ty Hensley were ‘bad,’ but only because neither player could overcome injuries. Still, when the decision making is in a space to pick the likes of Culver and Bichette in the first round, it loses the benefit of the doubt. 

Second, and arguably more egregious, is failure to develop. From a presumably ‘Major League ready” arm like Jacob Lindgren to the massive developmental failures of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, the Yankees did, have done, a horrible job at developing their top picks. 

The Yankees are an intelligent, analytical, and wealthy organization. However, draft success still eludes them and more or less has for the entirety of its existence. While you can be wildly successful when you hit–see Munson, Jeter, and Judge–a hit rate as low as the Yankees’–especially in the 21st century–is not sustainable. They’ve made steps to overhaul or fix or improve or fine tune the organization in myriad other ways, yet this remains a stumbling block. 

The definitive categorization of post-Yankee beards

Love this, minus the uniform. (MLB Gifs)

Matt’s off this week, so in lieu of his Sunday column, here’s my dissertation on Yankee beards.

Since the early days of George Steinbrenner’s tenure as owner of the Yankees, the Bombers have had a strict facial hair policy. Yes to mustaches, absolutely not to beards or excessively long hair.

Would I love to see the Yankees practice the scraggly art of unkempt or even fine-tuned beards? Sure. But the contrast of non-bearded Bombers gives us a chance to study players changing, one follicle at a time.

If someone is drafted by the Yankees out of high school or signs with the team on July 2 as an international free agency, that player is joining the organization well before their prime as a beard grower. Therefore, for much of their adult life, they’re deprived of the ability to grow out fun, lengthy and sometimes hilariously bad facial hair except in the offseason.

When players leave the Yankees, particularly homegrown talents, each player immediately throws away their razor. OK, maybe not literally, but almost everyone grows a beard shortly after leaving the Bronx. Some pull it off well and some … well, they aren’t quite as gifted.

For a breakdown, here’s an unnecessary categorization of Yankee beards.

The Standard Offseason Beard aka the CC

The most common beard you see from a Yankees player is the offseason beard. Without responsibilities to the team, players can go wild from November to February with hirsute appearances.

There is one undisputed champion in this category; CC Sabathia leads the Yankees in Offseason Beards Above Replacement. As he talked about on R2C2, he’s even mastered the in-season beard after learning at the feet of the master, Andy Pettitte, by finding ways to let some growth come up in-between starts. Since he’s now retired, he was quick to start the process back up.

Let’s check out this offseason work from 2014:

That, my friends, is a master at work. CC tested, LeBron approved.

Sabathia hasn’t always had the best beards, but he’s always courtside at basketball games ready to show off the new look. Salute.

The In-Uniform Offseason Beard aka The Bernie

Bernie Williams takes the cake here. First up, his appearance on Seinfeld:

You know that the Yankees are either in a stetch of off-days or the offseason, as Bernie is rocking the goatee. Considering the show aired in November, it’s likely the latter.

Yet Williams was not done. Six years later, he took part in MLB’s trip to Japan and played against Koji Uehara, among others. Most notably, he sported a devilish goatee again, this time in full Yankee pinstripes. We must bow down to this flagrant display of whiskers.

The Average Post-Yankee Beard aka The Hughes

For most players, this is a right of passage. You play for the Yankees for a while and shave every day. Once you leave the Bronx, you want to see what you can do. Most players don’t abuse this newfound power and put together a fine look.

Example: Phil Hughes

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It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong effort from the baby-faced Hughes to blend into the adult world of Minneapolis. I dare say he pulls it off.

Example II: David Robertson and Melky Cabrera

This … This is the Bad Place! I didn’t want to see David Robertson with a beard, so now you have to as well. He put in the effort, but he was meant to be clean-shaven. (Melky’s beard fits him. Don’t @ me.)

Robertson has since tried to hide all evidence of his bearded days with his glove.

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Example III: Ian Kennedy

Kennedy shows up in a later (and lesser) category, but after years of trying, he’s mastered the post-Yankee beard. We salute you, IPK. Save the Big Three. 10/10

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The Cano

Sometimes, there are visionaries in a field. Someone who knows instantly their true calling and makes strides that others simply cannot. That is Robinson Cano and the mustache-less beard. He brought it out at his introductory press conference. That’s how much confidence he had in it.

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Years later, it was still there. He’s since gone in new and innovative hair directions (Check his Instagram), but he’s a unique player in the post-Yankee beard space. No one else is pulling this off.

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Going Too Hard aka The Joba

All of the energy Joba put into expressive fistpumps early in his career went into hiding his chin and neck with hair later on.

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Look, Joba was great. He’s a World Series champion and was just about as fun a middle reliever as one could watch. That being said, he made a follicle folly. Chamberlain appears to have spent 10 years at sea on a crab-fishing expedition and barely lived to tell the tale. This took the post-Yankee beard past the line.

As promised, here’s Kennedy doing the same in San Diego.

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Once a Yankee, Always a Yankee (The Tino)

Almost everyone grows out the Yankee beard. Not Tino Martinez. Never Tino.

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Perhaps he couldn’t pull it off. Maybe he knew not to mess with his good looks, even while wearing a Cardinals or Devil Rays uniform.

Joe Girardi remained steadfast in his clean-shaven look as well. It’s What You Want.

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Extra: The Pre-Yankee Beard!

There are a few players who went hard on a beard before coming to the Bronx. The most famous, of course, is Johnny Damon. As a member of the ’04 Red Sox, he had long hair on every inch of his head.

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He never really grew it out again after leaving the Yankees, only sporting the occasionally average beard of a normal human.

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However, let’s check on the work of one Jonathan Holder. He was drafted by the Yankees but out of college. While at Mississippi State, Holder, aka Kenny Powers, clearly saw grooming as an optional pursuit meant for everyone else.

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Here’s an even better look. If Holder had gone to another organization, he’d have had a chance to shine as a cult hero for his shaggy hair. In the Bronx, he’s just like everyone else.

What Joba Chamberlain can teach us about Deivi Garcia’s pending debut

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The Yankees, with just over a month to go in the season, seem poised to call up their top pitching prospect as a reliever for the stretch run. No, this isn’t 2007 again, but in some ways, it may as well be.

In 2019, the pitching prospect who shot up the Yankees’ system is Deivi Garcia, a 20-year-old wunderkind with a heap of talent packed into a 5-foot-9 frame. Twelve years ago, it was Joba Chamberlain who captivated the imagination of entire fanbase.

So what can we learn from Chamberlain’s debut a dozen years ago? And how do his similarities and differences apply to Garcia? Those are the questions I hope to answer here, beginning with a look back at Joba’s circumstances.

Though the Yankees have called up pitching prospects late in the season in recent years, Chamberlain may be the closest pinstriped comparison for Garcia. Luis Severino, in 2015, was called up to start and bolster the rotation. Justus Sheffield didn’t appear to get serious consideration for a postseason spot in his three-game audition last year, and he didn’t debut until Sept. 19.

Garcia, meanwhile, recently converted to relief after starting the year in High-A Tampa and moving all the way up to Triple-A Scranton. That’s just about the same trajectory as Joba in 2007, when he was a 21-year-old in his first year out of college. The 6-foot-3 Chamberlain came with a different body type and background but a similar buzz.

Chamberlain pitched to a 0.38 ERA in 24 innings the rest of the season after debuting on Aug. 7, 2007. The Yankees had struggled to find a bridge to Mariano Rivera and were in the thick of a wild card race in addition to fraying hopes of chasing down the Red Sox. Though inexperienced, Chamberlain possessed upper-90s heat and a dynamite slider, a two-pitch mix that fit perfectly into the bullpen.

Chamberlain’s health was a priority; That’s how he fell to the Yankees in the 2006 draft because he was an injury risk coming out of Nebraska. You likely recall the steadfast guidelines applied to him a.k.a. The Joba Rules. Every time he pitched one inning in relief, he got a day off afterward. If he pitched two innings, he got two days off. The media made a big deal out of the Yankees’ strict approach, and Joe Torre didn’t have him pitch in back-to-back games until Sept. 26-27.

As a younger player in a smaller frame, Garcia will likely have training wheels as well. He’s pitched twice since joining the bullpen at Triple-A. After throwing two innings his first time around, he got three days off and then recorded five outs in his second appearance.

Unlike in 2007, the Yankees don’t have an urgent need for Garcia. Otherwise, they may have moved him to the bullpen quicker and had him up before Sept. 1. Though the team surely would like to see him earn a postseason roster spot, he’ll have to do just that: Earn it. He’s allowed a run in each of his two relief appearances in Scranton and hasn’t been as dominant as Joba consistently was.

The right-hander simply might not be ready for the Majors yet. Garcia has given up more home runs in Triple-A, including one in his last relief outing, and he’s on the back-end of his innings limit. The 20-year-old had already begun practicing with the MLB ball in Double-A, but actually using it in games is another task entirely.

That’s OK; Garcia doesn’t need to electrify fans right away. He’s 20. Still, he could provide the Yankees with a new multi-inning option and has four plus-potential pitches to confound Major League hitters.

Deivi won’t have the pressure placed upon his predecessor. It took all of three outings before Chamberlain got tossed into a high-leverage, late-inning spot. After a scoreless first month, he had more high-leverage spots than not and was the Yankees’ setup man. Garcia isn’t going to unseat the Yankees’ top five relievers — or top 6-7 depending on Luis Severino and Dellin Betances.

Twelve years after Chamberlain, we’re in an era where more relief innings are up for grabs, particularly if the Yankees choose to skip a Domingo German start or two down the stretch. Like Stephen Tarpley last year, Garcia might get a chance to get a back-end postseason spot with a stellar month.

The other key factor is the Joba phenomenon that took over the Bronx. He became the show, the main attraction, a fist-pumping act that captivated and delighted or disgusted everyone. There was no lukewarm enjoyment of his game, just pure love or hate as he brought emotion to the mound every other night.

Garcia has less of a runway to create that kind of buzz, though his debut would carry considerable weight. In the past 12 years, prospect coverage has only grown and we’re also talking about the Yankees Minor League Player of the Year, a strikeout machine. He’s been hailed for his poise and probably won’t bring the personality Joba did. That doesn’t mean fans won’t embrace him if he can get big outs.

If Garcia does debut next month and struggles, no problem. It’s an important taste of the Major Leagues and he can go back to starting pitching next spring with an eye towards breaking through by Summer 2020. If he excels, he still shouldn’t find himself in the extremes of October, both in terms of pressure and midges.

But Garcia’s excellence would bring questions about whether to keep him in relief. That question would only amplify if Betances and Aroldis Chapman skip town in free agency. The Yankees as an organization are in a place where they can prioritize development and push Garcia back to the Minor Leagues if they need to. Ideally, his future means heading the starting rotation, and one month in the Majors shouldn’t change that.

Any top Yankees prospect brings enormous expectations to their debut. Chamberlain was an exception, a bright-burning star who had a nearly unparalleled two months of excellence. Garcia doesn’t need to replicate that and the Yankees have the luxury to bring him along in a slower fashion, allowing him to sustain any success he achieves.

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