Walkoff Woodward

Concerning Detroit Baseball
March 16, 2014

30 Tigers in 30 Days: #23 — Joba Chamberlain

If you’re thinking these are a bit out of order now, you’d be right. Apologies!

Joba Chamberlain | Pitcher | #44
2014 salary: $2.5 million
2013 statistics: 4.93 ERA, 5.64 FIP, 42.0 IP, 8 HR, 26 BB, 38 K, 5.57 BB/9, 8.14 K/9
Projected role: Bullpen

The arrival of Joba Chamberlain to Detroit continues a recent trend of low to moderate risk/potential high reward power arms being courted and signed by the Tigers. Al Alburquerque, if you recall, was an obscure, oft-injured minor league reliever in the Colorado system when he was snatched up by the Tigers (he’s still oft-injured, but when he’s healthy he’s arguably the Tigers’ best reliever). Even Joaquin Benoit, who received a hefty, much ballyhooed contract when he signed as a free agent after the 2010 season, came with his share of question marks before turning into a reliable eighth inning set-up man/closer for the Tigers. The Tigers have had their share of misses, as well as hits, when it comes to taking flyers on these types of relievers—Eduardo Sanchez, another reliever who struggled with injury will miss considerable time with an elbow fracture—but only time will tell if the gamble pays off.

Chamberlain has had an interesting—and sometimes turbulent—career, thus far. He bounced around quite a bit between the rotation and the bullpen during his years with the Yankees, before finally sticking in the bullpen as a late innings reliever after the 2009 season. He’s also had his career derailed by often devastating injuries; the most recent was an open dislocation of his ankle in 2012. Initial reports indicated that the injury was life-threatening, although Chamberlain disputed that. He came back that August and got into 22 games, throwing 20.2 IP; he also pitched in the postseason, before—you guessed it!—getting injured in the ALDS when he was struck on the elbow by a broken bat.

Ideally, Chamberlain will be a seventh inning bridge from the starter to Bruce Rondon. If he pitches well enough or Rondon loses his grasp on the set-up role, though, Chamberlain could find himself splitting eighth inning duties with Rondon. Chamberlain also brings a veteran presence to the bullpen and while some of us find team chemistry to be a slightly overrated notion, Chamberlain could be someone that young relievers rely on for advice and guidance.

ZIPS doesn’t expect much from Chamberlain this season, projecting him to throw just 37.7 IP, with a 4.77 ERA, 7.88 K/9, and 3.58 BB/9. Chamberlain’s been so unhealthy throughout his career, that it’s hard to guess what he might contribute in 2014. If Chamberlain can give the Tigers a completely healthy season anywhere close to his last completely healthy season as a reliever, I’m sure the Tigers will be more than happy to take that.

The Tigers are putting a lot of faith in a reliever who has not shown himself to be durable in his career. The Tigers are also banking on a change of scenery being beneficial to Chamberlain which, so far, it seems to have been. Chamberlain’s health in 2014 is the key, though.

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