Starting off this 2014 season, the Detroit Tigers have done a lot of things right. They have a .319 batting average and a .536 slugging percentage which are both tops in all of baseball. Their OBP of .371 is 3rd. Over the 4 games they have pitched, the starting rotation has a 1.82 ERA, a .174/.253/.233 split against batters, and a WHIP of 0.97 which are all remarkable stats that have led to Tigers to a 4-1 start to the season.
What has not been remarkable has been the performance of the bullpen. Besides injuries, the bullpen was the biggest concern for fans entering this season and they have cause for concern with the way the bullpen has started the season.
In the 5 games to start the season, the Tigers’ bullpen has a combined bullpen ERA is 5.84, a WHIP of 1.54, and a split at the plate of .288/.333/.423. This even includes Drew Smyly’s 3 scoreless innings in relief of Anibal Sanchez. If you remove Smyly, the ERA jumps to 7.71 and the WHIP to 1.82. The biggest problem has been the 9th inning where the Tigers have allowed 9 runs in the 5 9th innings in the 5 games thus far this season. In the rest of the game, Tigers pitching has given up 3 runs in the 1st inning and 3 runs in innings 2-8.
So who has had trouble for the Tigers from the bullpen? So far, it has been a group effort. Phil Coke was charged for 3 runs over 1/3 of an inning against the Baltimore Orioles in the 7-6 win on Saturday. Joba Chamberlain gave up 2 runs in his only inning of work. Joe Nathan has not been good thus far this season as he has given up 2 runs over 2.2 innings with a blown save. Al Alburquerque has given up 2 runs over 3 innings of work in 4 appearances.
The two bright spots in the bullpen have been Evan Reed and Ian Krol (I don’t count Drew Smyly because he will be a starter this season). Reed has pitched 2.1 innings without giving up a run. If Reed gets movement on his pitches and varies his pitch selection, he could be useful in the middle of games. Ian Krol has pitched a perfect inning in his only appearance and will be a vital part of this bullpen late in games against left handed batters.
So what is the solution? There are a couple of them. First is the mean. Joe Nathan will not have a 6.75 ERA this season. He will lock it down and the 9th inning will not be a problem. We honestly don’t know anything else on this roster. Phil Coke was not good last year and he may not be good this year. Al Al and Joba will be better than they have been so far, but we don’t really know how much better.
There are options on the free agent market still, but the fact that these players have not been picked up to this point is bothersome, but they may be better than what is on the roster now. If you want to take a flier on a reliever at this point, it will have to be Rafael Betancourt, Kevin Gregg, Ryan Madson, Joel Hanrahan, Francisco Cordero, Brett Myers, Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel or Francisco Cordero.
Realistically, the Tigers are going to be stuck with the bullpen that they currently have for the near future. The loss of Bruce Rondon is proving costly now like fans feared it would. Buckle up and hope the starters can get as deep into games as possible just to keep the bullpen in the bullpen.