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We issued several members of the bullpen their grades earlier. Today we look at the rest of the bullpen who, with the exception of Joba Chamberlain, served mainly in middle relief.
To see how we graded Phil Coke, Joe Nathan, and Joakim Soria, click here for Coke, click here for Nathan, and click here for Soria. Today we will look at Al Alburquerque, Blaine Hardy, Jim Johnson, Ian Krol, and Robbie Ray.
First off, let’s assign a unit grade to the entire 2014 bullpen. This should come as a surprise to no one.
So with out further ado, let’s get to the guy whose name is a nightmare to spell every time we write about him.
One of the most consistent and reliable options in the bullpen this season, Al-Al quietly put together his best season as a pro in 2014. While he had better numbers in his rookie season of 2011, he was able to be successful over a much longer haul this season, earning the name of “Everyday Al” for his frequent appearances. He posted a 2.51 ERA and 1.169 WHIP with 63 strikeouts in 57 innings. His walks declined from a year ago (34 to 21 in eight more innings), which was a good sign for the sometimes wild reliever. Alburquerque struggled with allowing home runs, giving up seven this season, up from five in 2013.
Joba had a rollercoaster-type season, struggling early, pitching great mid-year, and then crapping the bed down the stretch. When Chamberlain was signed last off-season, most Tigers fans were unhappy. While he had a great rookie year of 2009 with the World Champion New York Yankees, he was pretty inconsistent after that. At the time of the signing, the Tigers envisioned him as a middle innings guy, but when Bruce Rondon went down for the season in Spring Training, Chamberlain was handed the keys to the setup man role. By mid-season, people were talking about how Joba had revitalized his career and would make a fortune in free agency. That still may be the case, but he ran out of gas down the stretch. Joba is unlikely to return to the Tigers and the last image we will have from him is his failure to record outs and let the Orioles score three runs in the eighth inning to effectively drop the team out of the playoffs. It was a poetic end for a team with so many bullpen problems in 2014.
One of the many rookies to take the mound for the Tigers this season, Blaine Hardy impressed early, giving the Tigers, along with Al-Al, another reliable middle innings option that wouldn’t fall to pieces at a moment’s notice. Hardy had a penchant toward being wild and as his innings ticked up, he started to become more and more of a wild-card when taking the mound. This was part of the reason that Hardy was left off the postseason roster in favor of Kyle Lobstein.
The Tigers were not expecting much from former Oakland Athletics’ closer Jim Johnson who utterly melted down to the tune of an ERA over 7 for his former team. Detroit picked him up hoping he’d be able to recapture the skills that helped him save more than 100 games the previous two seasons. If we were giving Johnson a grade for his entire season, it would easily be an F, but his time in Detroit, while not stellar, wasn’t the worst the bullpen had seen all year. Though he struggled early in his transition to Detroit, Johnson allowed just four runs in nine appearances in September.
One of the two remaining pieces of the Doug Fister trade (along with Robbie Ray after Steve Lombardozzi was sent to Baltimore for Alex Gonzalez), Ian Krol had very little margin for error in the eyes of Tigers’ fans. The unpopular trade magnified both his and Ray’s numbers (we will get to him shortly) and would make good numbers seem average and bad numbers the worst numbers ever. In Krol’s case, he was very disappointing, especially after starting out solid. In the early days of the season with Coke struggling, the team needed a solid performance from lefty Krol and they received it. He had an ERA below 2 and 3 through June, but as Coke got better, Krol got worse. This led to him being an unreliable option down the stretch and was left off the playoff roster. After an incredible start, the rookie finished with an ERA near five and a WHIP of 1.517.
As we mentioned above, Ray’s success and failure would be ultimately tied to that of Fister’s. When Ray made his major league debut in a start against the Houston Astros in May and pitched well, some fans sneered Detroit got the better of the deal because Fister still hadn’t pitched for Washington due to injury. Of course once Fister started pitching, he pitched great and it was all downhill for Ray. Through three appearances (two starts and one in relief), Ray had an ERA below 1. He was bombed by Texas on May 22 and that was the start of a sharp decline, not only in Detroit but also with his multiple stints in Toledo. In fact when the Tigers needed a spot starter in August, they passed over Ray for Buck Farmer because Ray had experienced a disastrous outing for the Mud Hens. Ultimately, Ray finished with an ERA over 8 at the big league level.