Sep 9, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) high fives relief pitcher Joe Nathan (36) after picking off Kansas City Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson (not pictured) at second base in the ninth inning at Comerica Park. Detroit won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
When you ask Detroit Tigers fans, “What is the Tigers biggest weakness?” most will respond with the struggles of the Tigers bullpen. For the season, the Tigers’ bullpen is ranked 26th in all of baseball and 12th in the American League with a 4.19 ERA. Don’t look know, but the Tigers’ bullpen has been better lately. The team numbers are the numbers entering Sunday’s game. Individual numbers include Sunday’s game.
For their last 20 games, the Tigers bullpen has compiled a 1.76 ERA in 56 IP. For the month of September, the Tigers have pitched 33.2 innings with a 1.60 ERA. This is 2nd in all of baseball and only trails the New York Yankees. One of the biggest reasons is that the Tigers are stranding 86.5% of runners on base which is the best in baseball.
The advanced tats aren’t as forgiving for the Tigers’ bullpen. The BABIP over this time has been .260 which is the 5th lowest of all teams in September. The biggest indicator of an ERA correction is FIP and xFIP. The Tigers bullpen’s FIP is 3.59 and their xFIP is 4.51.
What is key for the Tigers’ bullpen is how the late inning men have stepped up. If you asked Brad Ausmus his plan for his pitchers, it would be for the starters to go 7innings, Joba Chamberlain to pitch the 8th inning and Joe Nathan to pitch the 9th. If one of those two guys can’t go or the starter does not finish the 7th inning, the Tigers have Joakim Soria, Al Alburquerque, and Phil Coke to get outs late in games.
Joe Nathan has been a lightning rod of opinions among Detroit Tigers’ fans. In his last 19 appearances dating back to July 20 before Sunday’s appearance, Nathan has only allowed 4 runs over 18.1 IP for a 1.96 ERA. Over that time, Nathan’s ERA has dropped from 6.06 to 4.75. Nathan had not allowed a run in his last 6 appearances before Sunday. Since June 25, Nathan has converted 17 of 18 saves. Nathan will not completely earn the trust of Tigers fans, but he has earned my trust with the lead in the 9th inning.
Joba Chamberlain has struggled a bit in the 2nd half, but he has also been better for the last couple of weeks. Since August 23, Chamberlain has pitched 8.2 innings surrendering 2 earned runs for a 2.20 ERA. Chamberlain has only allowed 8 base runners over this period for a 0.98 WHIP. Chamberlain’s addition in the offseason was under the radar acquisition, but he has been one of the best pitchers in the Tigers’ bullpen.
Joakim Soria has been injured since pitching in Toronto and just returned this past week. Soria pitched in Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Indians and showed why the Tigers traded for him. Soria’s fastball is not what it once was, but he located it very well. His breaking ball was deadly Saturday as well. If Soria can stay healthy and be effective in the late innings, the Tigers could have a solid 7-8-9 combination.
Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke have also been better lately. Al Alburquerque has been spectacular for a month and a half now. Since July 31, Alburquerque has pitched 15.2 innings and has only allowed one run in that time. Al still has a 5.17 BB/9 walk rate which is high, but his strikeout rate is still 9.19 K/9. Alburquerque has not allowed a home run in this period which is a big reason for his struggles this season. Coke has been better too. Since the All-Star Break, Coke has a 2.53 ERA in 24 appearances. Coke has become a reliable late inning lefty for the Tigers.