Consider this a sequel. Move one was made a couple of days ago: Brad Thomas to the DL, Charlie Furbush to the big league club. Verdict: minimal impact. Now we see move two, Brayan Villarreal has been optioned to Toledo and Enrique Gonzalez called up to take his spot. What’s the verdict this time?
Let’s start with a rehash of what I wrote before. Thomas was terrible in Detroit, Furbush great in Toledo. The talent-for-talent trade definitely appeared positive, the problem is that Brad Thomas hadn’t pitched in any meaningful situations anyways. Getting a better pitcher for garbage time doesn’t generate wins. Brad Thomas had an ERA of 9.00. Brayan Villarreal had an ERA of 6.46, both had inflated BABIP numbers. The difference is that Villarreal had been striking out far more than he walked, so his xFIP and tERA numbers (which predict future performance better than plain old ERA) weren’t too bad at all. The same can’t be said for Thomas, who looked bad no matter what metric you picked. Now, of course, I wouldn’t imagine Jim Leyland looks much at xFIP when he’s choosing who to put in the game with one out in the seventh with a runner on first. It seems to be the case that Tigers management simply lost confidence in Villarreal’s ability to get hitters out, and chose to send him down rather than use him only in low-leverage situations.
But is Enrique Gonzalez really any better? Let’s not forget the performance that got him sent down in April. Sure, he was pretty good in his 10 innings of work in Toledo the past month, but that’s a tiny sample size – and it’s AAA. Villarreal’s numbers have sparkled in the minors too, and he’s 5 years younger than Gonzalez. In 150 or so innings at the major league level, Enrique Gonzalez has an ERA of 5.77. Every step of the way he has had good K/BB number in the minors, then got his call up and seen them go flat. I doubt he has turned over a new leaf a few months shy of his 29th birthday. This doesn’t seem like a trivial improvement, this seems like a move for the sake of a move that is detrimental to the Tigers bullpen strength overall.
The Tigers have real prospects down on the farm that could be given their shot to fill the bullpen void, but they have chosen not to interfere with their development to that end. The Tigers have real problems in the bullpen that should be sent to Toledo to get things figured out, cases where ‘addition by subtraction’ might really apply. They are the guys who can’t throw strikes to opposing relievers (oh, who am I kidding. There’s only one ‘guy’) and they are not named Brayan Villarreal.
I suppose now the two questions to ask are: how many times does Gonzalez need to implode before he’s back in Toledo? and who gets called up when he does?