The 2014 Detroit Tigers Bullpen Enigma: Joba Chamberlain


Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s March 31 at Comerica Park and the Tigers are taking a one run lead into the top of the 7th inning. The starter is done and it’s time for the first appearance of the season for the Tigers bullpen. Who’s getting the call?

At this point in the offseason, it’s arguable that the Tigers have greatly improved the arms in the bullpen. The signing of Joe Nathan was well received by media and fans, and it seems as if the return of a healthy, improved Bruce Rondon is, and should be, expected. But while Nathan may be a known commodity and hope is high for Rondon, the rest of the Tigers bullpen looks like a crapshoot any way you roll the dice.

When looking at the statistics for the players that will at the very least be fighting for a spot in the 2014 bullpen, there is a lot to be excited about, but there is also a lot to fear. Joba Chamberlain has the possibility and the opportunity to be a lynchpin for the Tigers in the late innings, if he can handle his baggage and all that comes with it.

The out of nowhere signing of Chamberlain shocked a lot of Tigers fans, me included. My first instinct was to doubt the call, it was just too strange and seemed to be way too much of a gamble. A glance at Chamberlain’s 2013 numbers didn’t incite loads of confidence in Dombrowski’s decision to add him to the club; however, my knowledge of and faith in Dave Dombrowski led me to take a closer look.

While Chamberlain has definitely been on the decline, it seems to me like it could be a mental block as opposed to a physical problem. Chamberlain is known to be a bit of an odd bird and it’s also reported that he was unhappy with not only the atmosphere playing in New York, but new Yankee Stadium as his home ballpark. I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, or to know  Joba Chamberlain or his feelings, but I do know athletes from my cumulative experience being an overly invested fan. And even the not so weird athletes have their comfort zones.

I’m not saying I believe his ERA is going to magically drop from the 4.93 he posted in 2013, or that is WHIP will dip to a less terrifying number than 1.73 just by putting on the Old English D and making nice with Comerica Park. But maybe he’ll be more comfortable in Detroit. Remember not only did the Tigers choose him, he chose to play here too. And maybe, because he’s more comfortable, he’ll be able to become a player more closely resembling the superstar he was billed as at the start of his career and not the second tier reliever he’s been of late.

Posting an 8.14 K/9(strike outs per nine innings) in 2013, even with the rest of his stats being so poor, doesn’t indicate to me that Chamberlain is a lost cause, it tells me that Joba Chamberlain’s biggest opponent may very well be his own mind, and that if he can get that straight with the help of the Tigers’ pitching coaches, we may all be lauding Dombrowski’s instinct and sense of perception once again.