One of the main complaints about the Detroit Tigers in 2013 was the weakness of the bullpen. The bullpen as a whole had an ERA of 4.01, an opposing split of .246/.321/.389, and had a WHIP of 1.34. Statistically the Tigers ranked in the bottom third of all of baseball.
The Tigers have made moves to shake up both the starting rotation and bullpen with the trade of Doug Fister which bumped Drew Smyly to the starting rotation and added Ian Krol to bullpen. Joaquin Benoit is currently out on the free agent market and the Tigers signed Joe Nathan to replace him as the closer. The Tigers also added Joba Chamberlain to try to sure up the bullpen.
So has the bullpen improved, regressed, or stayed at the same level?
The biggest improvement this season should come from Bruce Rondon. Rondon pitched in 30 games in 2013 with a 3.45 ERA and a WHIP of 1.360. The WHIP and ERA should both come down and the number of games pitched should rise because he will not need to be in AAA Toledo. This is all in the air at the moment because of Rondon’s sore elbow. If Rondon comes back ready for the 2014 season, he will probably be the Tigers’ 8th inning man. This is a role in which Rondon should flourish with his experience last season and the stuff that he has. If he locates his fastball and mixes in his breaking pitches, Rondon will be a strong 8th inning man and a closer after Nathan’s contract expires.
The Joe Nathan for Joaquin Benoit swap is an upgrade even though Benoit was great in 2013 with his 2.01 ERA, 1.030 WHIP, and 24 saves. Benoit was great in 2013, but Nathan was phenomenal. In 2013, Nathan had an ERA of 1.39, a WHIP of 0.897 and 43 saves. The 9th inning is locked down for the duration of Nathan’s stay in Detroit and there are no questions about it.
I am not sure of the Ian Krol – Drew Smyly swap which probably is not fair. Smyly was a stud last year out of the bullpen after a transition from the potential 5th starter in Spring Training to the late inning lefty out of the bullpen. Krol will be used as the late inning lefty because the contingent that trusts Phil Coke is less than nonexistent. Krol’s lefty split last season was .220/.273/.320. Smyly’s split was .189/.225/.246 which was superb. Smyly was not as good against right handed batters with a .242/.295/.404 which is not fantastic split, but it looks good compared to Krol’s .304/.350/.607 split. He also gave up more home runs than Smyly even though he faced 186 fewer batters. Krol should take a step forward, but will it be enough to match Smyly’s 2013 season? I have my doubts.
Staying the same
The rest of the bullpen and the bullpen overall falls under this category. Al Alburquerque, Jose Alvarez, Phil Coke, Jose Ortega, Luke Putkonen, and Evan Reed are still in this bullpen. Joba Chamberlain does not look like he is going to set the world on fire. I would love for Joba to come in and take the place of 2012 Octavio Dotel and serve as a 7th inning man who shuts down righties, but I do not expect it. The Tigers do not have a great bullpen. Last year, it was covered up by the starters consistently pitching into the 7th and 8th innings getting the ball to Smyly and Benoit in the 8th and 9th. The front end of the bullpen was not pretty and was the main contributor to the bullpen being in the bottom third in all of baseball. Realistically, it will probably be there again in 2014. There is no such thing as a perfect team in baseball and the Tigers are far from it. The bullpen will be a sticking point in 2014, just like it was in 2013.