Tigers Headed North With Improved Bullpen


While some believe the Detroit Tigers could still add a designated closer, their delaying of Bruce Rondon’s major league arrival speaks to the team’s faith in their relief depth.

If he can stay healthy, Al Alburquerque promises to be one of the better relief pitchers in the modern era for the Detroit Tigers.

They’ll take Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, Drew Smyly, and Darin Downs to Target Field in Minnesota to open the regular season, and could use all seven men in the ninth inning at various points. Most of those pitchers are more than capable of closing duties. In fact, this assemblage of bullpen arms looks like one of the best Detroit has seen in recent history.

Over the last ten seasons, 79 men have pitched at least ten innings in relief for the Tigers. Sorted by FIP during their time in Detroit’s bullpen, members of the current construction make up six of the top 11. Only Smyly is absent, having logged only 4.1 innings in relief in last year’s regular season. Alburquerque and Dotel lead the list. The former leads in both FIP and ERA, with respective marks of 2.11 and 1.59 through 56.2 innings.

The group has accumulated 128 saves over their careers with various teams, most of those being from Dotel, who closed out 22 games as recently as the 2010 season. He is the leader in experience and years, being 39 years old. After him, the Tigers’ relief corps features a diverse complement of youth and maturity, ranging all the way down to Smyly at age 23.

With Coke, Smyly, and Downs, the Tigers should have little trouble when faced with left-handed batters. Based on memory, the team has probably gone a while since being able to choose from three different left-handers in the bullpen.

Last year’s opening day bullpen included Collin Balester, Luis Marte, Daniel Schlereth, and Jose Valverde. That list alone provides significant evidence of dramatic improvement.

With Rondon and Marte among those waiting at Triple-A Toledo, the Tigers seem to be in excellent shape in relief. That is, if you can get used to that closer-by-committee deal.