Joba Chamberlain did an admirable job as the Tigers' setup man for most of the 2014 season. He allowed a 2.93 ERA and 2.87 FIP through his first 50 appearances of the year, accumulating 22 holds while blowing just two leads in save situations. He had a 3.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio and was holding opposing batters to a .631 OPS.
However, he faltered down the stretch, allowing a 5.29 ERA and 3.96 FIP from appearance number 51 through the end of the regular season. His strikeout rate fell from 24.9 percent to just 16.7 percent, and opposing batters hit .265 with a .346 on-base percentage against him in 17 innings. His performance in the postseason was even worse, and the Tigers were swept out of the ALDS in just three games. Despite his overall solid numbers, Chamberlain's poor end to the season is probably why he received less guaranteed money from the Tigers than he did in 2014.
That's not what I'm interested in, though. Neither is his beard, or lack thereof. Several hours after Chamberlain appeared at the Tigers' spring training complex in Lakeland, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweeted out details of Joba's contract.
Joba: 1M base, plus 100K for 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 games. (1.5M max). 100K if he becomes 1st middle reliever to win CY Young :)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 24, 2015
A million dollars base salary? Not a bad deal. Small performance incentives based on games finished? Not the best metric, but still a pretty cheap contract for a solid middle reliever. A hundred thousand for WHAT?!
Yes, you read that correctly. Joba will receive a cool $100,000 if he wins the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, though it is unclear if the bonus changes or becomes void if he does so as a closer or starter. It seems funny, and was probably a clause Joba insisted on as a joke. After all, this is the guy that stuck his tongue out at Derek Jeter. And did this.
Could it happen? It would take a historical performance to get him into the conversation.
There were several instances where relievers took home the Cy Young award in the 1970s and 1980s, but the game was much different back then. Mike Marshall, winner of the 1974 National League Cy Young Award, logged 208 1/3 innings in relief and pitched in 106 games that season. It was one of five consecutive seasons in which he pitched at least 100 innings, all in relief.
Tigers fans are very familiar with Willie Hernandez, winner of the 1984 AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards. Hernandez allowed a 1.92 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 140 1/3 innings, and his team blew away its competition with a 104-58 record. Oddly enough, the runner up to Hernandez was Kansas City Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry, who had a 2.64 ERA in 129 1/3 relief innings.
The modern game has changed things a bit. Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics is the last relief pitcher to win the AL Cy Young Award, and he did so in 1992. Eckersley allowed a 1.91 ERA in 80 innings, and led the majors with 51 saves in 54 opportunities. It took Eckersley 69 appearances to total his 80 innings, and only seven of those appearances were shorter than an inning in length.
Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne won the NL Cy Young award in 2003 with a 1.20 ERA and 55 saves in 82 1/3 innings. Gagne's innings came in a more "modern" approach, with fewer multi-inning outings than Eckersley had. Gagne's season came in the midst of a streak of 84 consecutive saved games, still an MLB record.
Former Tiger Fernando Rodney set an MLB record with a 0.60 ERA in 74 2/3 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. He made the AL All-Star team, but finished a distant fifth in the Cy Young voting behind then-teammate (and current Tiger) David Price. Rodney saved 48 games in 50 opportunities that season.
Last season, Kansas City's Wade Davis allowed a 1.00 ERA in 72 innings. He gave up eight earned runs all season long, and had a 55-inning stretch lasting from late April to early September in which he allowed just one run. Davis' spectacular 4.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio and league-leading 33 holds were not enough to boost him into the conversation, though. He finished a distant eighth in Cy Young voting, just ahead of teammate Greg Holland.
Considering the lack of love given to both Rodney and Davis despite some truly remarkable performances, I'm not sure it's possible for Chamberlain to worm his way into the Cy Young voting as a middle reliever. Even if he were to pitch 75 innings without allowing a single run, I think that Joba's lack of saves and innings would ultimately doom him, especially if any starting pitcher has a year like Corey Kluber or Felix Hernandez did in 2014.
What do you think? Is it possible for Joba Chamberlain to win a Cy Young and collect his bonus check?