Sep 5, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) celebrate after the game against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. Detroit won 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The bullpen has been the bane of the Detroit Tigers’ existence for the last 5 seasons, but it seems they have some of the pieces needed to build a solid bullpen for the future.
2015 has looked much like 2014 as the Tigers have the 3rd worst bullpen in baseball compared to the 4th worst in 2014. The Tigers’ bullpen ERA is 4.75 in 2015 compared to 4.29 in 2014, but there are more signs of hope this season than there were last year.
In 2014, the future stood with Joe Nathan to come back as the Tigers’ closer with Joba Chamberlain as one of the key 8th inning men. Now, the Tigers look to the future with Bruce Rondon starting to settle down in the closer’s role, Blaine Hardy as a shut-down lefty, and Alex Wilson as a reliable late innings reliever.
Closer: Bruce Rondon
Rondon will be given every chance to be the Tigers’ closer until he has shown he absolutely cannot handle the role. This season, Rondon has struggled with a 6.56 ERA and a 1.543 WHIP, but his strikeout rate is 12.73 K/9 with an elevated walk rate of 4.63 BB/9. If Rondon can cut down the walks and continue to evolve as a pitcher with his control and pitch selection, he can become the reliable closer the Tigers hoped they would have when he debuted.
8th Inning: Alex Wilson
Wilson was the throw-in piece in the Rick Porcello – Yoenis Cespedes deal and has flourished into the Tigers’ best right-handed reliever with a 2.31 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Wilson is another case of a pitcher that does not have overpowering stuff, but he locates his pitches very well and the late movement on his cutter makes his pitches hard to square-up. Unless the Tigers make a trade or sign a late innings reliever in free agency, Wilson will be first in line for the 8th inning job and 2nd in line for the closer’s role.
Late innings lefty: Blaine Hardy
Hardy has been the Tigers’ best lefty in 2015 after starting the season in Toledo. Wilson has a .208/.274/.257 split against left handed batters which has led to his 2.56 ERA on the season. Hardy’s walk rate of 3.04 BB/9 is a little above average, but it is the next step in Hardy’s progression in the bullpen.
Long Man: Drew VerHagen
VerHagen used to be a starter, but the Tigers transitioned him into the bullpen in the middle of the season. In 9 appearances, VerHagen has a 2.38 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP. He has a rough start in his transition giving up 3 runs in his first 2 games, but has not given up a run in his last 7 appearances. He looks like he has settled into the bullpen where the Tigers should keep him for now, but they may try to transition him back into the starting rotation one last time in 2016.
The Tigers have other options in their organization that are not currently in the Tigers’ bullpen, but could be there in 2016 and perform well. The Tigers should try to transition Buck Farmer like they did with VerHagen earlier this season. Farmer has had two chances in 2014 and 2015 to show he could be a starter, but he looks better suited for the bullpen.
Kyle Lobstein has shown he can handle being a starter, but the Tigers could try using him and Kyle Ryan like they used Drew Smyly in 2014. Both of those lefties have the stuff to work out of the bullpen, and the Tigers should experiment with that role in September.
Angel Nesbitt started the season with the Tigers, but faded in May. He has also struggled in Toledo with a 6.52 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP. He showed that he has the stuff to perform at the Big League level, but he needs to find the command to be an effective bullpen arm.
There will be many articles to come on possible free agent bullpen options, but here is a taste of some of the players the Tigers could target that would not break the bank. They have some options on their roster, but strong free agent help is always welcome to the Tigers.