Since the rumor is floating around out there that the Tigers have been showing some interest in signing Joba Chamberlain, the former Yankee right-handed reliever, it’s time for us to discuss how we might feel about that. Chances are the Tigers are just kicking the tires and trying to get a feel for agents’ demands right now, but still…
The first thing to mention is that Chamberlain’s 2013 was bad. Bad, bad, bad. He allowed too many line drives and too many home runs and the results were exactly what you would expect from a guy that gives up too many line drives and too many home runs. The ERA was ugly and it would appear that New York has little if any interest in giving the guy a shot. However, he does throw hard and as we know there seems to be little that Dave Dombrowski values more in a relief pitcher (or any pitcher, for that matter). Relative to your typical free agent, Chamberlain is young and doesn’t appear to be on any pronounced downward trajectory as far as stuff is concerned. He’s also going to be a lot cheaper coming off a poor year than a guy like Grant Balfour would, coming off a season that was objectively far better.
We imagine that the Tigers aren’t exactly done with their bullpen yet, but that they are likely to be waiting until later in the offseason when the music has stopped on the game of musical closers to start fishing around for a quality setup man. It’s possible, though, that they could decide to buy low on Chamberlain now (since clearly Chamberlain will be unaffected by said game of musical closers) and then stand pat or, potentially, continue to fish for an 8th inning guy.
If Chamberlain’s 2014 results look like his 2013 results (4.93 ERA, -0.6 WAR) he’s not just not worth whatever money he’s going to cost he’s probably not worth a roster spot in any but the worst bullpens of the league. So…. are there reasons to hope for better?
If you just go by his career averages, yes. Though the stuff was fine last season, the command was not – if you sign Chamberlain you are making a clear bet that his command will bounce back and that his 2013 was at least something of an aberration. You could be wrong… If he does “bounce back” and become simply Joba Chamberlain instead of some pale shade of Joba Chamberlain there are reasons to expect success. On his career, as a reliever Chamberlain has a 3.51 ERA, .681 OPS against and 9.7 strikeouts per 9 innings. Those are fine numbers. He also has trivially small L-R splits, suggesting he’s fairly well cut out for a defined inning rather than matchup role in the ‘pen. He has pitched significantly worse in New York (4.42 ERA) than on the road (3.20 ERA) – though the problem seems to be walking too many guys at home rather than what you would expect (HR flying out in Yankee Stadium). I suppose I should qualify that: he was pretty good in OLD Yankee Stadium, where he has been terrible (5.23 ERA, loads of home runs) has been in NEW Yankee Stadium. At Comerica Park, though the sample size is small, his numbers are fantastic: a 1.76 ERA with a .479 OPS against in 9 games.
In short, he’d look like a pretty good guy for the Tigers to pursue – maybe the kind you offer $13 million over 3 years to – had he been coming off of a “typical” Joba Chamberlain season. Since he most definitely is not, he is little more than an intriguing buy-low candidate but one you’d figure as a good fit for where the Tigers play and the role that the Tigers need to fill should he bounce back. Since Dave Dombrowski has already decided that Phil Coke – a roughly equivalent buy-low candidate with a comparably awful 2013 – is worth a $2 million flyer, I’d imagine that at the least he’d be willing to offer the same sort of terms to a right-handed Coke. If you are a little confused as to why a GM fed up with combustible bullpens would want one Coke much less many, I completely understand.