How the Tigers Can Take the Central Crown. Hint: His Name is Cliff Lee

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The bullpens are, of course, the rest of the story. While the Indians and Royals have top-heavy ‘pens with stud closers, the Twins and Sox are winning with depth. If we count Duensing as a starter, the rest of the Twins’ bullpen was worth 6 WAR, with only 2.4 of that coming from part-time closers Jon Rauch and Matt Capps. The Sox ‘pen was worth 6.3 WAR.

The Tigers, on the other hand, got 2.1 WAR from their bullpen – 1.2 of which was from Jose Valverde. 0.6 of that was Phil Coke, who we have pegged at present for the 4th or 5th slot in the rotation. After losing Fernando Rodney, Brandon Lyon, Bobby Seay and Zach Miner we expected the bullpen to be a weakness, and it was. If we’re going to win the Central in 2011, that has to change.

Bullpen forecasting is dominated by ‘regression to the mean’, so bad bullpens are rarely as bad as they look and good bullpens rarely as good. It is also true that the Tigers have a stockpile of young, live bullpen arms almost ready to contribute – so it is possible that the situation can be rectified with internal resources alone.

Still, a line-by-line analysis gives a great deal of cause for concern. Fu-Te Ni utterly imploded… will he regress back to the mean, or simply disappear? Joel Zumaya’s tendons and cartilage doomed the Tigers’ pen this year… will he be healthy next year? Can we ever expect him to pitch a full season? Jose Valverde was awful in the second half this year… can he fix whatever went wrong? Does anyone even know what went wrong? Daniel Schlereth and Brad Thomas made positive contributions despite terrible peripherals.

Thomas had 29 walks to 30 Ks and a WHIP of 1.53, if you think he can do that again and keep an ERA of 3.89 you probably blow your whole paycheck on ring-toss games. Schlereth hasn’t made any improvement in control, and no matter how many guys he strikes out won’t be able to get by with a WHIP of 1.61. Unless he does make those strides, he’s more likely to have an ERA in 2011 north of 6.00 than to repeat this year’s 2.89.

Those other ‘live arms’ we’ve been hearing about: Casey Fien, Jay Sborz, Robbie Weinhardt & Alfredo Figaro gave us a negative 1.7 WAR last year. Can we count on them making our bullpen strong in 2011? It’s one thing to talk about regression to the mean after a bad 6th season, it’s another to talk about regression to the mean after a bad rookie year.