Oct 5, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (7) during batting practice before game three of the 2014 ALDS baseball playoff game against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Tigers’ bullpen should be better in 2015, not only based on talent, but because Brad Ausmus’s bullpen management SHOULD be better this season. The 2014 Tigers bullpen was a wreck to say the least: 27th in Major League Baseball in ERA, 29th in WHIP, 29th in OPS, and the list goes on.
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Last season, Ausmus seemed married to his late inning bullpen plan and would not change his plan, even when it was going horribly wrong. Joe Nathan never lost his closer’s role through his 4.81 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. Joba Chamberlain kept pitching in the 8th inning, even though he posted a 4.97 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP in the 2nd half of the season.
Joakim Soria was not given a chance to close on a regular basis after the Tigers traded for him and was constantly entered into losing situations, especially with runners on base. Soria has been a pitcher who needs to enter a game at the start of an inning to be the most effective, yet Ausmus entered him in the middle of an inning on a constant basis.
In Ausmus’s defense, he was not dealt the best hand of pitchers for his bullpen, but he could have put his pitchers in a better spots to succeed. This year, the bullpen seems to be at least slightly better from a talent standpoint, but Ausmus still needs to manage the bullpen well to get the most out of his pitchers.
Joe Nathan should not be as bad as he was in 2014 as he was in 2015. Joakim Soria should also be better in 2015 because he should have the well-defined role of set-up man, pitching in consistently in the 8th inning. If Nathan has another down year, Soria should quickly be moved into the closer’s role as the Tigers cannot waste games in the 9th, especially after the American League Central’s overall improvement as a division this offseason.
Bruce Rondon is making his return after Tommy John surgery. He is the wild card of the bullpen because every pitcher reacts differently to Tommy John, especially pitchers who throw as hard as Rondon. I am not sold that Rondon will be the Rondon of last 2013 and I think anything he gives the Tigers is a bonus in 2015. I think he will be used as a 7th inning RHP along with Al Alburquerque who is coming off of a nice bounce-back season with a 1.17 WHIP and a 2.51 ERA.
The Tigers have also added some new faces to the bullpen in Tom Gorzelanny, Josh Zeid, and Alex Wilson. Gorzelanny posted a 0.86 ERA, but a 1.429 WHIP last season with the Milwaukee Brewers. His lines were confusing to say the least with a reverse split and his high WHIP, but Gorzelanny is one of the best at holding inherited runners on base once he enters a game. Josh Zeid is just looking to make the team this year after posting a 6.97 ERA with Houston in 2014, but he had surgery to repair both of his feet in August and October which he hopes will help him improve his performance. Finally, Wilson posted a 1.91 ERA and 0.882 WHIP in 2014 with the Boston Red Sox and the Tigers hope he can repeat some of those numbers in 2015.
All of these relievers have the potential to have nice seasons in 2015, and if they all can put out at least decent seasons, the bullpen will be leaps and bounds better than it was in 2014. It will be the job of Brad Ausmus not only to handle these relievers and put them in the best spots to succeed, but also know when to let his starters go another batter or inning, or pull them. The tools may be there in the bullpen for the Tigers to succeed in 2015, but a major key to success is Ausmus’s bullpen management.