Detroit Tigers’ 2016 Bullpen–Three Free Agent Candidates


Imagine your name is Al Avila.

You’ve just been promoted to your dream job as General Manager of the Detroit Tigers, and in the first few days of your tenure you’ve said all the right things while making the best of an awkward situation.

As the dust settles and the product on the field shows no signs of making a run at this year’s playoffs, you naturally begin to mentally prepare for the 2016 season, though of course you can make no such public pronouncement.

What’s the first thought that comes to your mind as you arrange your priorities for next year?

If you do not yell “Fix the damn pitching!”, perhaps you’ve been on sabbatical at the University of Mars this summer.

For the Detroit Tigers’ pitching–both starting and relief–has been unspeakable, ranking 14th and 13th in team ERA in the  15-team American League.

Of course there are myriad ways to approach this problem, but this article will focus on the relief pitching, the team’s perennial Achilles heel. To further narrow the scope, we’ll simply consider three impending free agents who could buttress the Tiger bullpen in the late innings next year.

So let’s pass the Maalox and get on with it.

Darren O’Day

The current Baltimore Oriole right hander with the funky underarm delivery may not light up radar guns, but he does something far more important.

He actually gets people out.

His four-seamer and sinker top out in the upper 80’s, and he throws an 80 mph slider. But his unusual arm angle makes the ball hard for the hitter to pick up, while imparting a sinking action to his deliveries.

O’Day will be 33 next year and has a sterling career ERA (2.33)  and WHIP (1.01). He’s been even better for the Birds in 44 games this year, with an ERA of 1.25 and WHIP of 0.99.

This career set-up man has obviously mastered his inner quirkiness, a talent that will pay him well this offseason. During the Dave Dombrowski era the Tigers have assiduously avoided pitchers of his ilk, but the fact remains O’Day has been a stalwart bullpen presence in Baltimore for several years.

Considering what the Tigers have been trotting out of their bullpen on a regular basis these past few years, isn’t it time they said “Okay” to O’Day?

Tyler Clippard

The 30-year-old right hander, late of the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics, was dealt to the New York Mets at the July trade deadline. The two-time All-Star has mostly closed throughout his career, during which he’s sported an ERA of 2.85 along with a WHIP of 1.20.

This year Clippard, typically a high-strikeout pitcher, has saved 18 games in 22 opportunities, with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.

He throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90’s about 55% of the time (according to Brooks Baseball), and offsets that with a circle change, a curve, a cutter and a splitter.

Whatever he throws up there, Clippard tends to miss bats.

Joakim Soria

Wait a second!

Didn’t we just….

The answer is yes–the Tigers just traded Soria to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline for minor league shortstop JaCoby Jones.

Then why would the Tigers want him back if they couldn’t use him this year?

Because, silly, he’s an established late-inning pitcher who compares favorably to the other available relievers on the market.

Soria’s career ERA is solid at 2.58, while his WHIP is also a stingy 1.05.

This year, spent mostly with the Tigers, he dressed up a motley bullpen, pitching to his career numbers (2.56 ERA; 1.05 WHIP). He’s also saved 24 games in 28 opportunities (86%).

Though Soria threw harder earlier in his career, he still averages 93 mph on his fastball of choice, a four-seamer, which he throws about three quarters of the time. He also mixes in a change-up, a slider, and a very slow (71 mph) curve ball.

Soria was a pillar for the Tigers this season, a glimmer of hope amidst the rubble of most of the rest of their bullpen.

Whether serving as the closer or in a set-up capacity in 2016, he would again look good in a Tiger uniform.

The Bottom Line

Whereas overall the 2016 free agent class is tagged as one of the strongest in history, it’s not necessarily flush with premier relief pitchers. The likes of Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, and Greg Holland are simply not available.

A quick glance at a list of free agent relievers for 2016 reveals only a few trophies swimming in a sea of mediocrity.

The Detroit Tigers have employed more than their share of porous relief pitchers over the years in the hopes they’d pan out.

Most of them have tanked.

This offseason, it’s time to cast their lines in deeper waters.