After a great first half and much less great second half, Joba Chamberlain had two very poor outings against the O’s in the ALDS. He signed a small deal last winter with the hopes of rebuilding his value, and while he looked well on his way to doing that in June, things quickly fell apart and he actually wound up getting less guaranteed money when the Tigers re-signed him this morning.
That’s actually a pretty remarkable thing when you peel back the onion. Joba had a perfectly fine season with a 3.57 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 63 innings. He had the occasional sore this or that, but nothing that kept him out of action for very long. And yet, no one wanted him.
His second half numbers were much worse than his first half, with is K%, BB%, ERA, and wOBA all going in the wrong direction in a big way, while his BABIP actually got better. Part of that is simple regression to the mean. Joba wasn’t as good as he performed during the first half and so some crash was expected just in the normal course of business. He also lost it a little and wound up pitching 28 below replacement level innings after the break. Factor in his two awful appearances in October and it’s not a huge shock that he’s not signing a $20 million deal.
But it is a little surprising to me that he had virtually no interest and got a $1 million deal after teams reported. The first half did happen and it’s not as if that performance is totally irrelevant. Joba showed that he could remain healthy and reasonably effective for a full season, but no one came calling with a significantly better offer.
Maybe that speaks to long-term concerns about his health or perhaps it speaks to teams paying too much attention to a few innings of reliever performance. Joba is certainly worth a flyer at this price, but it’s very odd to me that the Tigers would pay Hanrahan, Gorzelanny, and Joba $3 million or so among them in conjunction with the $170+ million they spent on the rest of their roster but not be willing to pay a little more for one of the quality middle relievers who hit the market this winter.
I wanted Neshek, Gregerson, Cotts, Duke, and Frasor and the Tigers did not seem to be in on any of them despite the maximum AAV on the deals sitting in the $5-6 million range.
Signing Joba at this price in isolation is totally fine. I’m all for it. There’s almost nothing that can go wrong. But the team seems to never want to pay an extra million or two for a good player even though they routinely pay several million extra for their great players. It’s an odd approach if nothing else.
My one specific concern here is that I worry Joba will have a good April and Ausmus will fall into old patterns of using him in the 8th inning exclusively. Just because Dombrowski signed him late doesn’t mean the manager will use him correctly. Given how rigid Ausmus showed himself to be last year, it could cost the Tigers on the basis of familiarity.