Grading the Detroit Tigers at the Break: Bullpen


July 14, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit (53) pitches in the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers at Comerica Park. Detroit won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For the bullpen, I’m only grading pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched.

Joaquin Benoit (38.1 IP, 1.64 ERA, 2.64 xFIP) – A

There is a contingent of Tigers fans that had been calling for Joaquin Benoit to be the closer for three years now (I’m one of them), and he’s been brilliant in the role now that he has the spot. His strikeout rate is at an all time high and he’s in the top ten among qualified relievers in both ERA and FIP. The Tigers still have bullpen issues, sure, but they don’t have closer issues. Since Jose Valverde was designated for assignment, Benoit has posted a 1.08 ERA while striking out 42% of the batters he’s faced.

Drew Smyly (56.2 IP, 1.91 ERA, 3.17 xFIP) – A

Drew Smyly’s xFIP almost pushed him into the “B+” range for me, but, in the end, why would I penalize him for allowing a miniscule home run rate? Perhaps he won’t pitch quite to his 1.91 ERA going forward, but he’s been a godsend for the bullpen in both (1) his ability to pitch multiple innings when needed and (2) his ability to lock down a high-leverage spot. According to FanGraphs, he’s been the fifth most valuable reliever in all of baseball with 1.5 WAR earned so far.

Darin Downs (33.0 IP, 5.18 ERA, 3.35 xFIP) – C+

The ERA isn’t pretty for Darin Downs, but his peripherals are all fine. His BABIP is high and his strand rate is low, so could very well regress in a positive manner in the second half. He’s also been excellent (.270 OBP) against lefties (which should be his primary job), and much of the damaged was suffered in mop up duty when he’s left in to face both lefties and righties. Downs isn’t an overy terriffic pitcher, but he’s a perfectly capable medium-to-high leverage LOOGY.

Al Alburquerque (24.1 IP, 5.18 ERA, 3.64 xFIP) – C

With Al Alburquerque you’re always going to get the strikeouts and walks, but he’s recently been bitten by the home run as well. That won’t work. Homers haven’t been a big problem for him in his major league career, so hopefully this is an abberation, and his xFIP says he’s been basically average elsewise. He’ll need to find better control if he’s to truly be in the seventh/eighth inning mix down the stretch, but he can handle some medium leverage work in the meantime.

Luke Putkonen (20.1 IP, 2.66 ERA, 3.94 xFIP) – C

Luke Putkonen is Luke Putknonen, which I’m finding is to mean that he’s not very good but not very bad. He’s not a high leverage guy, but he can provide effective enough long relief (and not just the mop-up kind).

Phil Coke (29.1 IP, 5.83 ERA, 4.34 xFIP) – D

Phil Coke hasn’t been very good, but his peripherals don’t look quite as bad as one might expect given his ERA. He’s still been good when facing left-handed hitters (.623 OPS against) so as long as Jim Leyland doesn’t continue to insist that he face batters from both sides of the plate, he can be effective for the team as a LOOGY.