Joba Chamberlain has appeared in two baseball games in the American League Division Series. His ERA is 108.00:
Unlike the vast majority of stats in sports, ERA is asymptotic. Batting average, OBP, etc. all fall between zero and one. Points per game in any sport are dictated by how many points a player can physically score. ERA, however, spans the width between zero and infinity. Sure, most ERAs are contained in a bell curve -- we'd estimate 99 percent fall between 1.50 and 9.00 -- but the possibility exists for higher or lower.
To reach zero is easy in small sample sizes -- you merely have to never allow an earned run. What is difficult, however, is to reach numbers close to zero. You have to allow a small amount of runs and gradually record outs and watch the number trickle down. In 2007, I watched rookie Joba Chamberlain do this. He didn't allow a run in his first 13 appearances, and when he finally gave up a homer, his ERA went from zero to 0.50. From there it trickled down, out by out, until he reached a 0.38 ERA at the end of the year. 24 innings, one run. A prized commodity, the New York Yankees wouldn't allow him to pitch on back-to-back days, and the fire-baller became a fan sensation.
By comparison, it's easier to achieve preposterously high ERA totals. You just have to allow a few runs in a short amount of time. In the 2014 ALDS, I have watched Joba Chamberlain do this. In his first appearance, he allowed both runners he faced to reach base -- one via error, one via single -- and both scored, giving him an ERA of infinity:
In his second game, Chamberlain recorded an out, but then hit a batter with a pitch and allowed two singles. All three players scored. One out recorded, four runs allowed, and that's an ERA of 108.0.
It is not a surprise that the Tigers' bullpen is failing, nor is Chamberlain the only problem. But we're still going to sit here and gawk at his gaudy number, and think about the player that once was.