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Could the Tigers bring back Joba Chamberlain?

Joba Chamberlain was a low risk, high reward signing last season. Could the Tigers give him another try in 2015?

Patrick Smith

Joba Chamberlain exceeded all expectations during the first half of the 2014 season. As a buy low, potentially high upside gamble on a one year contract for $2.5 million plus incentives, Chamberlain was looking like a grand bargain for most of the season. In fact, he earned all of those incentives, worth $500,000 total, when he pitched in his 55th game during the season.

Through the first half of the season, Chamberlain posted an ERA of 2.63, a FIP of 2.46, and a WHIP of 1.14.  He struck out 9.56 batters-per-nine innings, walking 2.87 batters-per-nine, and allowed just one home run through the All Star break. He was easily the most effective, and sometimes the only effective pitcher in the Tigers’ bullpen for the first half of the season.

The second half of the season was a different story. His ERA swelled to 4.97 with a WHIP of 1.50. His batting line ballooned to .263/.351/.375, his K/9 rate dropped to 6.75 and his BB/9 rate jumped to 4.27. He had become one of the least effective pitchers, posting a negative 0.1 fWAR after the All Star break.

But on the whole, Chamberlain was arguably the most effective Tigers' reliever for the 2014 season. He led the Tigers' bullpen in fWAR, FIP, and innings pitched. He filled a big role in the eighth inning for much of the season. But oh, that second half was not good. 

It could be argued that Chamberlain struggled since he was in his first full season back since having Tommy John surgery, but that surgery was done in June of 2011. His return was delayed when he dislocated his ankle on a trampoline. He missed part of the 2013 season with a strained oblique, and was a free agent after that season.

The Tigers hadn’t figured on Chamberlain being their primary set-up man. Bruce Rondon was anointed the set-up guy, but he was lost for the season in the spring. Chamberlain was plugged into the role, where manager Brad Ausmus refused to remove him, no matter how poorly he pitched, against all reason.

Maybe the workload was too much for Chamberlain to handle in his first full season back. Maybe he’ll come back stronger next season and pitch a full season like he did during the first half of 2014. But if he does, it will be his first full season of success in the major leagues. Between injuries, growing pains, and being shifted by the Yankees from the bullpen to the rotation and back again, he has never managed to put together a full season that was expected from one of the games most well-known prospects in the Yankees organization.

Chances are there will be a club willing to roll the dice on Chamberlain with a two or three-year contract, but I wouldn’t. Chamberlain himself may want to put a good full season on the board, which he appeared to be doing in Detroit, until he fell apart in the second half of the season. It might be worth noting that he was somewhat better in September than he was in August.

The Tigers, it would seem, have Joakim Soria to fill the set-up role for the 2015 season, with Joe Nathan back as the closer, at least to start the season. Al Alburquerque looks to be a better bet to pitch late innings, and the Tigers will need at least one more pitcher to shore up a bullpen that was a complete dumpster fire for the entire 2014 season. Bruce Rondon is not likely to be ready in his first season back from surgery, so another acquisition will be needed.

It wasn’t a bad idea to roll the dice on Chamberlain, and it almost worked, for a while. Having had a good half season, his price is likely to be higher next year. This time around, the Tigers should get themselves a pitcher who has had a good couple of seasons recently.

What do you think?