To ‘Pen or not to ‘Pen

While Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit were very good last year, the rest of the Tigers bullpen was far from a strength in 2011. Many fans and perhaps the Tigers front office feel that upgrading the bullpen – finding a veteran to take a 7th inning role in particular – could go a long way toward fixing what they consider a weak spot on the team. But… the Tigers aren’t in the sort of situation that screams for a silver bullet answer. They’ve got a near-elite closer and one of the best setup men in the game. Those are the two most important (and highest paid) slots in the bullpen. They’ve got veteran depth. They’ve got a R-L balance. They’ve got a few promising youngsters waiting in the wings. What they don’t have is certainty and potential fulfilled.

Let’s make one thing clear: the Tigers bullpen has experienced no losses and has no actual holes. If we’re going to upgrade any bullpen slot, that requires demoting or cutting ties with the guy who holds that slot right now. Clearly that isn’t going to happen with Valverde or Benoit and while Phil Coke‘s role may be in question, I doubt he’s going anywhere. That means replacing Daniel Schlereth, Ryan Perry or Al Alburquerque or demoting one to long relief (and sending Below or Wilk back to Toledo). The first two represent the problems of unfulfilled potential and the third uncertainty.

Why is Al Alburquerque uncertain after such a great rookie year for the Tigers in 2011? Well, he got hurt a couple of times, he stunk in the playoffs and his success in AAA and the majors last season is strongly at odds with his minor league track record to that point. The control issues have always been with him, but over his minor league career Alburquerque has averaged only 10 K/9 and an ERA of 4.53 – that makes his small-sample 13.9 K/9 and 1.83 ERA with the Tigers last season look a little dubious. In his case it wasn’t exactly BABIP driven, it was driven by an unsustainably low ISO – the hits he was giving up were all singles. When he’s on, he’s absolutely amazing – as we all saw last year – but can we actually count on that happening for any extended stretch ever again? As for age – he’s only 25.

Dan Schlereth and Ryan Perry are very much in the same boat at this point in their careers, though one is a lefty and the other a righty. Both were picked in the late first round of the 2008 draft, both have great stuff and ‘closer potential’. Both rocketed through the minors to see significant big league playing time as early as 2009. In the minors, both have very good career numbers – 2.83 ERA with 2.58 K/BB for Perry and a 1.70 ERA with 2.23 K/BB for Schlereth. In the majors neither has flopped but neither has been consistently great: a 4.07 ERA with a 1.57 K/BB for Perry (in almost 3 times as many IP as he ever had in the minors) and a 3.87 ERA with a 1.52 K/BB for Schlereth. Though Schlereth has been wilder, both need to cut down on walks (not strike more guys out) to make a real mark in the majors. In 2011 both had trouble against opposite-handed guys – though that hadn’t really been the case in 2009 and 2010. Both are still very young – Schlereth is 25 while Perry is only 24 – because they both hit the majors so quickly as opposed to working out these problems in the minors.

One difference is that Ryan Perry was pretty awful – especially over the first half – in 2011 (though he was pretty good in 2009 and 2010). You would be forgiven for lacking confidence in Perry or any of these three in a critical situation in the 2011 playoffs or on opening day next April – they have good stuff, but they haven’t gotten consistent results at all levels. They all have the suspect control that makes a ‘fireman’ flammable. Still, most of the ‘badness’ of the Tigers ‘pen last year didn’t come from these 3 (or Coke or Benoit or Valverde or Below) it came from the fill-ins the team cycled through over the first 4 months. Still, if the team is going to improve through additions somebody has got to go… The question is – are you ready to pull the plug on any of these high ceiling relievers to replace them with an aging vet or a totally unproven prospect? I’m not sure I am – but let the polls answer this question.

As food for thought… the prospect whose name comes up most frequently as a replacement for Perry is Luis Marte who is older than Perry and has a higher career minor league ERA. Octavio Dotel has a career ERA of 3.73 and made his debut at age 25 (older than Perry is now). His first season produced a 5.38 ERA, his second a 5.40. Todd Coffey? Career ERA of 4.08.

Who do you want to dump or demote?

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Topics: Al Alburquerque, Daniel Schlereth, Ryan Perry

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  • garretkc

    You have to give Alburquerque a shot based on his 2011 season alone, but I’m extremely worried about him. Jordan wrote a post (http://bit.ly/tkRmtj) about him in July that I agree with wholeheartedly. Pitchers like him, those who throw sliders as their primary pitch, are exponentially more susceptible to injuries. In my opinion, that makes acquiring a reliable veteran reliever so much more important. If there’s no trustworthy options in the bullpen outside of Benoit and Valverde, Leyland will have little choice but to overuse Alburquerque, which will have almost immediate harmful effects on his health.

    • ChrisHannum

      @garretkc If Coke, Perry and Schlereth aren’t trustworthy options – aren’t they the primary concerns rather than Alburquerque?

      • MCBjohnverburg

        @ChrisHannum@garretkc Why? I think he is pretty much saying because of his injury concerns that A.A. isn’t a trustworthy option either. He didn’t exclude him from the group of unreliability.

  • RonnyHurd

    For some odd reason, I still have hope for Ryan Perry being that he is still only 24 years old. However, I do think he needs some time in Triple A to work on his mechanics a bit more.

  • valordesign

    I think Al Al was dealing with rust in the playoffs. He did not have much playing time after his concussion late in the season. I don’t think it was until his final appearance in the game 6 blow out against Texas that he was finally starting to settle in, and I think struck out the side, I remember seeing the Ranger hitters looking at him like who is this guy? If he can stay out of injury next year, he’ll be a great go-to option to get out of jams. I look forward to seeing more of Marte, and I hope Pauley will bounce back to his Seattle numbers to provide good middle relief.What do you guys think about making a trade for Ramirez? The word is SF is considering trading him. Living in the bay area I saw alot of him last year and he has some solid stuff, sometimes he gets in jams but seems to find a way to get out of them.

    Also, what are the possibility that you would give for Zumaya to have a career resurrection year and be an unexpected boost?

    • garretkc

      @valordesign The Zumaya thing is an interesting talking point, but after about six separate injuries, it’s hard to be anything close to optimistic about his chances for a healthy and productive return. If they can give him a minor league deal, fine. See what he can do in spring training, but don’t count on utilizing his services to any extent. I would set the odds of him salvaging his career next season at somewhere around 30/1 and I’m probably being generous.

      Ramon Ramirez, to me, is a much more intriguing possibility. He gets right-handed hitters out and would only have to be a one-year commitment. He’s also fairly cheap, as MLB Trade Rumors is projecting him to make $2.3 million in his final year of arbitration. Since the Giants are basically trying to cut some salary committed to their bullpen so they can more actively pursue free agents, it doesn’t sound like it would take a lot to acquire him. I might actually write a full post about this, thanks for the tip.

      • valordesign

        @garretkc@valordesign When it comes to a bullpen option, he seems like he is the most undervalued possibility out there. When I found out SF was shopping him and Affeldt, Affeldt received all the attention, but Ramirez is who stuck out to me, and my first thought was he would be the perfect canidate to fill the Tigers bullpen needs. I think it would make an interesting post.