With the news breaking that Jose Valverde has been designated for assignment, I decided to take an in-depth look at the Tigers bullpen woes, and some possible solutions.
In 20 games so far this season Valverde is posting a bloated 5.59 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. His K/BB walk ratio is pretty okay at 3.17 considering the fact that he only pitches 1 inning in each game that he enters. The problem is his 8.4 Hits/9 rate and his team worst 2.8 HR/9 rate; an astoundingly 7% of the batters he faces hit home runs off of Valverde, a result of a 22% HR to Fly Ball rate.
Personally I didn’t understand why he was brought back in the first place, given how brilliantly he flamed out in the playoffs last year, and as a fan I’m glad that he’s finally gone and the team can move on to find a more permanent, and an actual solution to their closer situation.
Rest of the Bullpen
First I’m only talking about guys that have pitched in at least 10 innings.
Second, the bullpen hasn’t been as epically terrible as some fans seem to think. The Tigers have had a few bright spots in Benoit, Smyly and Putkonen. All three pitchers have ERA’s below 2.00 (1.80, 1.85 and 1.59 respectively) and WHIPs of 1.00 or lower (1.00, 0.985 and 0.971 respectively).
Putkonen, not surprisingly has a team low Hits/9 rate at 5.6, Smyly has a team low HR/9 rate at 0.2 while having pitched the most innings out of the bullpen and Benoit has a good K/BB rate of 3.89.
Personally I would love to see either of these guys get an opportunity to close, Benoit is second on the team in saves and will probably get the first shot at the closer job, but I think Smyly, with his performance against the Yankees last year in the playoffs, and with how he’s pitched so far this year has earned that opportunity if the Tigers are going to keep him in the bullpen.
In house options
Smyly’s high strikeout percentage (27%), low extra base hit percentage (7%), above average ground out to air out ratio (1.08) and an incredible Home Run to Fly Ball percentage (1.9%) give him all the tools that a team looks for in a closer. A pitcher who allows very few hitters to put the ball in play and ones that do end up grounding out more often than not, and when they do hit the ball in the air, it ends up safely in one of the Tigers excellent outfielders gloves.
So these some bullpen pitchers the Tigers could potentially go after. Full disclosure I haven’t bothered to look at their contract situations, but they are all on teams that are performing poorly and those teams might be more inclined to build for the future and could be willing to trade bullpen arms for prospects.
Houston – Jose Cisneros: Cisneros is a rookie in Houston and has pitched well so far. If management has lost faith in Rondon, and I don’t know why they would have, Cisneros could be a good route to go. Cisneros’ 2.20 ERA is a bit of a fluke; his K/BB rate and his WHIP (2.80 and 1.361) don’t correlate well, also his HR/Fly Ball rate is a lot better than the MLB league average. The high WHIP however could also be slightly fluky; Cisneros BA and BAbip are both worse than the MLB league average.
Conclusion: He’s got good stuff, but he hasn’t been in the league long enough to make any conclusions on his abilities based on his stats. However, a young bullpen arm with good stuff might be worth the risk for a team that is competing for the World Series for the near future.
Miami – Dan Jennings: Another young pitcher is Dan Jennings out of Miami, one of the few bright spots on that abysmal team. He had a very good rookie season last year, albeit in limited innings, and is already showing signs of improvement this year. Jennings hasn’t given up a single home run this year, but that isn’t unexpected because he only gave up 2 last year. So far Jennings has increased his strikeouts, decreased the number of batters he’s walked and has given up far fewer hits. Oh, and he’s a lefty.
Conclusion: His stuff is really good too, and though he hasn’t been in the league long, he’s pitched against major league hitting longer than Cisneros and has thus far vastly out performed him. I’d love to see what he can do in the American League, also the Tigers have had pretty good luck trading for both young and old Marlins players.
Brewers – Jim Henderson: A 30 year old pitcher out of Canada in his second year in the league. His peripherals last year were a lot better than was the result of his ERA, but a some of that was due to bad luck as he had a sky high BAbip. So far this year he’s on pace to pitch a lot more innings, his peripherals have improved and Henderson’s been less unlucky this year and it has resulted in 20 saves with 2.03 ERA.
Conclusion: He hasn’t been in the league long, but his traditional stats are bearing out as they should when you look at his peripherals, and an older player may fit in better with this team than a couple of really young, unproven pitchers (not that I believe in any of that, but Leyland seems to trust older guys more regardless of performance.)
Cubs – Kevin Gregg: In his 11th season the 35 year old is having his best season of his career. 11 saves on a 1.11 ERA and a 0.945 WHIP, Gregg also is pitching his lowest Hits/9 rate, lowest HR/9 rate, second lowest BB/9 rate and highest K/9 rate.
Conclusion: Is this season a fluke? Most likely, it’s hard to believe that a mediocre relief pitcher in his 11th season could reinvent himself into a dominant closer. However, when you are the Tigers and you are competing for a World Series I have no problem trading for a guy and riding out a hot streak for one year.
Dodgers – Kenley Jansen: Jansen has been a dominant pitcher in MLB since his rookie year. His peripherals pan out, his traditional stats pan out and his stuff pans out. If I’m a fan of any team I want this guy in my bullpen.
Conclusion: I don’t know if the Dodgers would be willing to part with Jansen, but if the Tigers can pull it off, without losing too much, then this is the guy you go get.
– Sunny D