Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What Should the Tigers 2013 Bullpen Look Like?

By Sean Gagnier

It's clear that the bullpen has struggled at time for the Detroit Tigers this season. When the bats are hot the pen is cold, very rarely do the two ever sync up to provide Jim Leyland with a complete team effort. With so many relievers struggling this season, there appears as though there will be quite the turnover next season in the Tigers bullpen. Here's what I would like to see out beyond the left field wall.

First off, lose Jose Valverde. Yes, it was impossible for him to repeat his performance from the 2011 campaign in which he converted 49 of 49 save opportunities. He also appeared in a career-high 75 games in 2011, but things haven't been as smooth this season.

In 2011, Valverde sported a 2.24 ERA and a 1.189 WHIP, but in 2012 those numbers have ballooned to 3.62 and 1.228 respectively, not exactly closer caliber numbers. He has turned in an admirable season though, but it won't be enough to live up to the surely high salary that he will demand when he becomes a free agent after this year.

There are too many young arms in this organization to throw money away on someone who gets their nickname from a spud.

Octavio Dotel has a club option on his contract and given his performance in this campaign they will likely pick it up to bring him back into the bullpen for another season. A good move on their part. Dotel consistently gives the Tigers solid innings when they call on him, as with any reliever his ERA is a bit elevated at 2.95 but his 0.914 WHIP much more indicative of how well he is performing this year.

Retaining Dotel in the bullpen would be a good move for Detroit and they will most likely do just that.

The number of current bullpen members that should be in the 2013 pen should be small, they have not proven that they are quality relievers and should not be trusted in tight situations.

With Dotel returning, Detroit needs to return Duane Below to the bullpen and keep him their as their long reliever. Below has not been as consistent as he was last season, but he gives the Tigers innings out of the pen, and they happen to be from a lefty, something that is rare on this team.

In 2012, Below has a 3.38 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP, not the greatest numbers but his K/9 and SO/BB ratios remain good enough to anoint him as the long reliever to come out of the Tigers bullpen. He has a 5.6 K/9 and a 3.63 SO/BB ratio, both of which are evident of a solid long relief man.

Phil Coke has also drawn the ire of Tigers fans several times this season, but he has shown that when he is on, he can be a great situational lefty Detroit can run out in the later innings. His 3.78 ERA and 1.615 WHIP are scary high, but he has had a few outings in which he has imploded which has elevated his numbers as a whole.

 If Coke can regain his early season form he will become a valuable part of this Tigers bullpen in 2013. He continues to be under Detroit's control until 2015, so he will continue to be a familiar face in the pen, although not necessarily a bad one.

Joaquin Benoit should be the last member of this season's bullpen to keep their job in 2013. While it appears to many that Benoit is having a terrible season, he is in fact having a very good statistical year. With a 1.074 WHIP and 3.33 ERA Benoit is more often than not going out and giving the Tigers solid innings late in games.

Being under team control until 2014, Benoit will definitely return to the bullpen in 2013 but given his numbers are remarkably similar to what they were in 2011, he appears to be a consistent pitcher who will be good to have in the bullpen for another season.

To those returning four pitchers there must be three new faces, some more familiar than others.

The first player that must be in the bullpen is Brayan Villarreal, granted he is currently in the bullpen but given his supposed arm troubles he may not stay there for the remainder of the year. Villarreal gave the Tigers consistently good innings, even leading some to call for him to take Valverde's closer role, but then he had a bad weekend and complained of arm weakness, even though the doctor he was sent to see found no injury.

Statistically speaking, Villarreal is having a great season. Much like Benoit, despite the numbers being in his favor the fans aren't. He has a 2.29 ERA and a 1.169 WHIP, both evident of a strong pitcher who consistently has control of his pitches when he takes the mound.

The next is Bruce Rondon. Fans may have heard a lot about Rondon and his blazing fastball, but many don't know much more than that. During 2012, Rondon has advanced from Single-A Lakeland all the way to Triple-A Toledo and has a combined 1.31 ERA and 1.042 WHIP. Staggering numbers for a 22-year old.

He will need more time in Toledo before he is considered for the Tigers, but he will undoubtedly get an invite to spring training and if he has mastered a few off-speed pitches to keep batters from sitting on his fastball, then he needs to be in the Detroit bullpen. Having an Aroldis Chapman type player in the bullpen is like having a secret weapon that can be brought out at any time and end a threat.

There still would be the question of who fills the closer role left vacant by Valverde, and there is a simple fix for that, the man who nearly won rookie of the year last season and has a devastating change-up, Mr. Al Alburquerque.  

Alburquerque is currently on a rehab assignment with the Lakeland Flying Tigers and Toledo Mud Hens; in his nine total innings pitched he has combined for a 4.00 ERA and 1.667 WHIP. Not exactly the numbers you want to see from a future closer. But he is incredibly rusty, having not played in a game since he was struck in the head by a fly ball during batting practice in Baltimore in 2011.

Once Alburquerque can shake off the rust and get his pitches working again he should regain his form and be able to return to the Detroit bullpen. When he was healthy, Alburquerque could throw his change-up to batters even when they knew it was coming and still beat them with it. Add that to a solid fastball and another pitch that he was working on prior to his injury and you have yourself a very good, very cheap new closer.

In all the Detroit Tigers 2013 bullpen needs to look like this in order for them to have any hope of success;
RHP: Octavio Dotel, Brayan Villarreal, Joaquin Benoit, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque
LHP: Duane Below, Phil Coke.

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