The Tigers went into 2013 with question marks in the bullpen. Benoit and Smyly were good solutions for the eighth innings but when Benoit was promoted to closer, Smyly's role reduced, Rondon struggling at times, and Dotel unable to return, there was a gap. Jose Veras was acquired to plug that hole, and performed acceptably for 25 games. With Veras gone, is Chamberlain the solution or just another question mark?
Jose Veras was having a career year in Houston with a 2.93 ERA and 1.00 WHIP when acquired by Detroit. With the Tigers he continued to exceed his career averages though he regressed to a 3.20 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. His strikeout rate fell to 7.2 per nine innings, the same as Rick Porcello's.
We cannot return to 2013. If Jose Veras were brought back he would not likely repeat his 2013 season. Steamer projects a 3.46 ERA with replacement-level performance. Had he been under team control, it was time to "sell high" as did the Astros.
Joba Chamberlain arrived like a shooting star in 2007 at the tender age of 21. The Yankees called him up for the stretch run and he dominated allowing one earned run in 24 innings. The Yankees turned him into a starter over the next two years without much success. He returned to the bullpen in 2010, regaining his form into 2011 but then needing Tommy John surgery. He returned with 20 innings in 2012 and was very hittable, and had his worst season in 2013 with a WHIP of 1.74 and ERA of 4.93.
Chamberlain throws a fastball, slider, and a curveball. With three pitches it made some sense to try him as a starter, though it blew up. His fastball averages nearly 95 mph and is not falling. He is only 28 years old, while Veras is 33. Chamberlain's command however is a growing problem.
If Joba is penciled in as the setup man, this is a scary move and much riskier than bringing Veras back. If this however is throwing one more arm at the wall to see what sticks, it has value. Chamberlain may not be salvageable, and be gone by August. But he may find his groove and become a dominant bullpen arm again.
Luis Marte was designated for assignment this week. The right-handed bullpen arms currently on the 40 man roster include Al Alburquerque, Melvin Mercedes, Justin Miller, Jose Ortega, Luke Putkonen, Evan Reed, Bruce Rondon, and Jose Valdez. With Joe Nathan closing, Chamberlain will compete for a sport among these pitchers. The $2.5 million may well end up flushed down the toilet. But Chamberlain has a better chance of being a postseason setup man than most of these names.
So my advice to Mr. Chamberlain is this. Start fresh and go by your given name of Justin. Justin is the name of a major league pitcher. Joba is a movie character. Wear your hat straight. You are out of the Big Apple pressure cooker. Relax, focus, and help the Tigers get a ring.