The Detroit Tigers bullpen was once again a problem area in 2015. With upgrades and new faces likely to make up most of the bullpen next season, could free agent Darren O’Day be the answer the team has been looking for?
The obvious answer is yes. O’Day comes with quite the track record.
In eight big league seasons, the reliever has posted a miniscule 2.31 ERA over 443.2 innings pitched. Additionally, the former Texas Ranger has posted a sub 1.80 ERA in each of the past two seasons, during which he pitched 68.2 and 65.1 innings respectively. In fact, in the last four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, the reliever’s ERA has never eclipsed 2.30.
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O’Day can clearly keep runs off the board, but he can also keep runners off the base paths.
As a member of Baltimore’s bullpen, the reliever has 62 walks in the last four seasons combined. Detroit’s three most dependable relievers last season, Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy and Al Alburquerque, had 66 combined walks between them.
The now-former Oriole is also a prolific strikeout pitcher. O’Day averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings over the last for years, including 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season.
Those strikeout numbers, among other strong stats, earned the reliever a spot at the All Star Game. This may drive his annual salary up, but not to a point where the Tigers can’t sign him. Reliever contract values have gone up in the past few years, but O’Day has never been a closer, meaning he won’t be too expensive in the grand scheme of things.
May 29, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA
Image via Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit could conceivably sign him for non-closer money and then use O’Day as the team’s closer. This kind of strategy worked for the Astros with Luke Gregerson last offseason. Gregerson, at the time with only 19 career saves, signed a three-year, $18.5 million deal. The former Padre would go on to convert 31 saves (not to mention posting an outstanding 2.86 FIP) in 61 innings for Houston. The Tigers could sign O’Day to a similar contract.
This would be beneficiary in two respects for Detroit. First, it would allow Wilson and Hardy to continue in setup roles. Second, it would still give the Tigers financial wiggle-room to go after other upgrades in free agency.
Compared to most of the other stadiums, O’Day has struggled at Comerica Park. However, when a reliever’s “struggles” include a 3.72 ERA, it isn’t too much of an issue.
A potential bullpen featuring O’Day as the closer and Wilson, Hardy, Alburquerque and another free agent reliever serving as set up men would all of a sudden make the bullpen a position of strength for the Tigers.