When the Detroit Tigers signed Joba Chamberlain to a one-year deal this off-season, they were planning on a reclamation project. Once pegged by the New York Yankees as a front-end starter -- and then the successor to Mariano Rivera and then a starter and then a reliever again -- Chamberlain has struggled in recent years. You probably would too if you were yanked around like that.
What the Tigers were planning on was getting a good arm with a great breaking ball. Someone capable of being a difference maker with a few adjustments and a new place to call home. For the most part this is exactly what they have received.
Unfortunately, what the Tigers were not planning on was having Bruce Rondon tear a ligament in his elbow, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season. They were also not planning on Joe Nathan pitching to a 1.62 WHIP and a 5.36 ERA. They certainly did not plan on Justin Verlander struggling, Anibal Sanchez getting hurt on more than one occasion and the bullpen severely overtaxing themselves as a result. Chamberlain was left having to carry the weight as the most reliable man out of the bullpen.
His early-season successes were cause for celebration. He was borderline dominant at times, with talks of All-Star consideration and fans yelling for him to supplant Joe Nathan as the closer.
On July 23 Chamberlain was called upon to pitch out of a jam that Sanchez had found himself in. With two inherited runners already on, Chamberlain needed one pitch to get Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a double-play to end the inning. At the end of the night, his ERA was a minuscule 2.40.
With the rest of the bullpen struggling, Chamberlain was seen as a type of savior. If a Tigers' starters could just make it through seven innings, fans would only need to worry about Nathan in the ninth, because Joba was as close to a sure-fire bet as you could have.
But then he started to struggle.
Chamberlain's ERA since inducing that double-play on July 23 is 7.84, giving him a season ERA of 3.48. His batting average against in that time is .400, giving up 18 hits in 10.1 innings. He has also walked six batters.
Chamberlain certainly is not as bad as the last month has indicated. The wheels have fallen off for the majority of this Tigers team, and everyone including Chamberlain is trying to find a way to tighten up and move forward.
Regardless of whether this team ends up in the playoffs or not, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski will need to decide if Chamberlain is part of the Tigers' future. I, for one, believe that he is.
With uncertainty surrounding almost every piece of the bullpen, Chamberlain is the only relatively consistent pitchers Brad Ausmus has to run out there. His $2.5 million contract for this year is a steal, and while there is no chance that he will be resigned for anything near that, it's still possible he could be affordable enough for the Tigers. If he were to command somewhere in the $5-$6 million per year range, the Tiger's would be wise to lock him up. Given his late-season struggles, he may have lost a few suitors when the off-season arrives.
How the Tigers finish down the stretch, and what type of team we see on the field in 2015 might be another factor. You can only go all-in so many times.
By all accounts, Chamberlain seems to be very comfortable in Detroit. Detroit also seems to be very comfortable with him.
Personally, I would be more comfortable knowing that he will pitch the eighth for the next few years to come.