The Detroit Tigers’ bullpen is a wreck and Anibal Sanchez is on the 15-day DL with a blister on his middle finger. Here, we will take a lot at two possible replacements for Sanchez in the organization and look for bullpen help wherever it can be found.
Last season, the Tigers were fortunate enough to only use 6 starting pitchers: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Sanchez, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, and Jose Alvarez. We all well know that Fister is gone. Not everyone knows that Alvarez is also gone; he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for Andrew Romine (this trade has been terribly underrated as Romine has been very solid to start the season). Without Fister and Alvarez, the Tigers are going to have to look to other sources to fill the spot starts with Sanchez on the DL. The way the rain outs and off days have worked, the Tigers may only need to call someone up for one start on May 5, and maybe for May 11 if the Tigers do not want to push their staff.
The top two candidates to come up for a spot or two start are Robbie Ray and Kyle Lobstein. Ray has made four starts with the Toledo Mud Hens this season compiling a 1.93 ERA, a WHIP of 1.07 and 16 K’s over 23.1 innings. Lobstein has a 7.84 ERA with a 1.89 WHIP and 20 K’s over 20.2 innings in 5 starts with Toledo. Looking at the numbers, Ray is the obvious choice, but the number do not determine everything. One convenient thing is that Lobstein and Sanchez’s pitching days lined up for the last start. The biggest determinant which will probably lead to the call-up of Lobstein is he is already on the 40-man roster and Ray is not. If the Tigers were to call up Ray, they would need to clear a spot on the roster for him which teams do not like to do for a spot starter.
Robbie Ray is definitely the long term answer and replacement, but Lobstein will probably be the short-term spot starter. If there is a major injury and the Tigers need a long term replacement, then Ray would probably be called up.
The bullpen is much more complicated. Calling this bullpen a disaster is kind. Justin Miller has been the best arm statistically out of the bullpen this season with a 1.69 ERA in 5.1 innings with a WHIP of 0.75 and most importantly 0 walks. Evan Reed and Ian Krol have both been alright so far. Krol’s problem is that he has already surrendered 3 home runs in 8.0 innings of work. Reed has surrendered 3 walks and 9 hits in his 8.1 innings of work. Joe Nathan will work himself out to the point where he won’t be the problem. After that, Al Alburquerque has a 5.00 ERA, Joba Chamberlain has a 5.40 ERA, Phil Coke has an 8.10 ERA, Luke Putkonen hasn’t been very good when he was not on the DL and Jose Ortega turned in what was probably the worst 1.1 innings of work we have seen in relief this season.
Nathan, Krol, Miller (even though he was sent down and called back up because of usage), and Reed should be safe from replacements at the moment. Options inside of the Tigers organization to pitch in the bullpen include Duane Below and Casey Crosby, for a longer reliever/Phil Coke replacement, Corey Knebel, Chad Smith Pat McCoy or Jose Valdez, if you want to call someone up to pitch in middle relief who obviously not ready to pitch in the big leagues yet, or what we have already seen. This is the team and the farm system that has been built.
If you want to go outside of the organization, Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Gregg, Ryan Madson, Frank Francisco, Cristhian Martinez, and Brett Myers are still free agents. If you want to go out and pick up a pitcher from a different team, it will be a pitcher that other teams do not want. So far, picking up players like Romine and J.D. Martinez have worked, but for both of them you get a player like Alex Gonzalez. If this bullpen is going to get better, it will probably have to do it from inside of the organization and hope they can figure it out.