Solving the Detroit Tigers Bullpen Problem


Eight games into the season, the Tigers bullpen committee is proving to be as effective as Congress compiling the Federal budget. Solutions bandied about include, in no particular order: Bringing in a deposed free agent such as Brian Wilson or Francisco Rodriguez: swinging a trade with a team with a reliever surplus; summoning a savior from the farm system; promoting Bruce Rondon; or turning to the erstwhile Big Potato, Jose Valverde.

The answer is very simple, is on the current roster, and should naturally emerge as the season progresses.

The starting pitchers MUST pitch deeper into games.

Denny McLain, who may have been a bit opinionated, disdainfully summarized the bullpen thusly, “Relievers? Those are the guys who aren’t good enough to be starting pitchers.”  True to form, Denny completed 105 of the 264 games he started; in contrast,  Justin Verlander has completed 20 of his 234 starts. Examining the Tigers relief staff, Drew Smyly would be the only exception to McLain’s assertion.

The strength of Detroit’s staff is clearly the starting five. JV, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello comprise top-to-bottom the best rotation in the American League; all age 30 or below, well-conditioned and well compensated. In 6 of the 8 games so far, the starter has gone just 5 innings. Early-season pitch counts and raw weather have contributed mightily to these early exits.

Looking at the pitching staff by innings consumed, if the 5 starters pitch 200 innings each, that leaves 458 innings for the bullpen (excepting extra-inning games.) That equates to roughly 8 outs a game for the “committee”. So far, the bullpen has been relied on to get nearly 11 outs per game – a full inning more than would be expected.

All of Detroit’s starters except Porcello have averaged over 6 innings per start in their careers, so as the starters get stretched out the relievers’ workload should be normalized. Less reliance on the weak links of the staff should equate to better results, i.e. (Maximum Max + Less Coke = More Wins).

Remember, it is early yet. Relievers need to be put in positions where they can succeed, like any other player. So far, they have been called on too much – a trend that is likely to change.

If you don’t believe that – Rondon has 3 K’s, 2 BB’s, and no runs allowed in 3 innings at Toledo. Just sayin’.

March 18, 2013; Viera, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) delivers a pitch against the Washington Nationals during the spring training game at Space Coast Stadium. Detroit beat Washington 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports