I could name this post so many things.
OMFG if he gets hurt we're screwed.
It's Cabrera, Dummy.
It's Verlander, Dummy.
Here's who I think the most important Tiger is.
Anyway, safely assuming the fulcrum of the Tigers - JV, Cabrera, Scherzer, etc... - perform to career norms, because of the injuries that have befallen the them since the beginning of 2014, there IS one player who is more instrumental than others to the Tigers ability to hold off the Indians and Royals for the Central, and beyond.
If you read me often (anyone!?) you might think its's Ian Krol. Krol, who looks identical to Phil Coke in size, weight, shape and delivery, IS vital to the Tigers bullpen. And you did choose the correct construct of the roster. However, while Krol may be called upon to be the only reliable lefty in the Tigers 'pen, the importance of his success is more a factor in salvaging any measure of acceptance, this year anyway, in the Doug Fister trade.
Right place, wrong guy. With Bruce Rondon down for the year with Tommy John surgery, the Tigers need Joba Chamberlain to be more than just the dependable bridge from starter to 8th inning reliever that he was signed to be.
Chamberlain was a small risk and worth the signature. Now, to assure the Tigers can still reach 89-92ish wins, Chamberlain will need to launch himself onto mid and post season 'Best Signings' lists.
The talent is there for Chamberlain is for to be on this stat sheet, among baseball's most vital non-closing relievers.
At least the talent WAS there. Just 6 years ago, in '08, Chamberlain was widely recognized at a top five prospect in the entire game. That acclaim was after just 88.1 innings at three levels of minor league ball in 2007 where he totaled an astounding 135 strikeouts and a 9-2 record.
After rocketing through the minors in just four months, Chamberlain arrived mostly for good in New York on August 7th, 2007. As the Yankees began a light interpretation of what were to become the Joba Rules, the Nebraskan blew away Major League hitters as he'd done to lesser competition the previous four months. 24 innings, 34 strikeouts, .38 ERA and .75 WHIP. His 2 postseason appearances that year against Cleveland weren't so spectacular allowing 6 baserunners and 2 runs in 3.2 innings.
No matter. His top five prospect status remained.
The full blown Joba Rules were in effect for the 2008 season as the Yankees had hoped to micromanage the potential strain on Chamberlain's arm having only pitched 112 professional innings.
Almost ever since, whether he's been a starter or a reliever, Chamberlain has struggled with control. The 97 mph velocity of the one-time prospect is gone, but Chamberlain has still comfortably worked with a 94 mph fastball the last four seasons. It just doesn't go over that plate enough. And when it does it's gotten mashed; n '12 and '13 Chamberlain allowed line drive rates of 23 and nearly 25%. His 1.38 career WHIP in almost 450 innings doesn't scream SHUT DOWN 8TH INNING GUY. Eek.
Needing to live up to hype of the Greatest Yankee Prospect since...,the Joba Rules. The stress of being badgered about the Joba Rules. Almost being murdered by a trampoline. And of course the magnification of all of it in the setting of being, again, a New York Yankee...that's a heated crucible that Arthur Miller might not even be able to sell.
A 1.86 spring WHIP in Lakeland isn't very reassuring, but perhaps with the distractions and pressure of New York behind him Chamberlain can finally bloom into the productive pitcher many expected him to just half a decade ago.
Only now, aiding another frequent playoff contender to that very place, instead of the storied Yankees.
If it's of any calming influence, Mark Melancon wasn't unhittable last spring. 9 hits in 11 innings and 5 walks. That was coming off '12 with an ERA of 6.20.
Last regular season he walked 8 in 71 innings, with a WHIP under one and was one of the ten best relievers in baseball.