Detroit Tigers Should Pursue a Swingman
After a down season, the Detroit Tigers can learn a few things from some of baseball’s successful teams last season. One of these teams, the division-rival Kansas City Royals, was the most successful team in the league—they won the World Series.
While many will rave about the Royals’ deep and talented bullpen, one aspect that tends to be overlooked is the presence of swingman Chris Young. The 36-year-old had never pitched much in relief entering the season, but went on to make 34 total appearances for Kansas City. The 34 appearances included 18 starts and 16 relief appearances. Young even finished three ballgames.
Over 123.1 innings, the right-hander pitcher posted a 3.06 ERA. The veteran’s ability to pitch effectively as a starter and a reliever was key to the Royals as he was available to make a spot start, or pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen when needed. For all the talented pitchers on the Royals’ staff, only Wade Davis had a higher WAR. Young’s had a 2.6 WAR, higher than the likes of Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Salvador Perez.
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The Tigers rotation is currently set with Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Mike Pelfrey. However, teams can never have enough quality depth.
Detroit paid for not having enough quality depth last season as 12 different pitchers started a game. Players like Matt Boyd, Kyle Lobstein and Buck Farmer proved to be too young, while the likes of Randy Wolf, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon were simply ineffective.
If Detroit had employed a quality swingman, the pitcher would have plugged the hole in the rotation while eliminating the need for so many pitchers to try their hand at starting.
Luckily, there are a number of quality options available on the free agent market.
One of the more intriguing names on the open market is old friend Doug Fister. The former Tiger had a down season in Washington in 2015 (5-7 record with a 4.19 ERA and a 4.55 FIP), but comes with an excellent track record. From 2011 to 2014, Fister compiled 51 wins, a 3.11 ERA, a 3.37 FIP and a 17.1 WAR number. Most of this success came with Detroit. For his career, the right-hander owns a 3.18 ERA in 232 innings pitched at Comerica Park.
Other notable free agent possibilities include Cliff Lee, Aaron Harang and Joe Blanton.
The Tigers could be a match for Lee, who is seeking a “perfect fit.” As CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa points out, Lee could alleviate the pressure on young arms such as Boyd, Greene and Daniel Norris. While it’s an extremely valid point, Lee could also serve as insurance for new addition Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey has 27 losses and a 4.94 ERA over the last three seasons.
Unlike many older starting pitchers with extremely successful track record, Lee never really showed signs of decline. The 37-year-old pitched to a stellar 3.11 ERA and 2.97 FIP in his last 515 innings.
Harang posted a 2.02 ERA in his first 11 starts for the Phillies last season, suggesting he still has something left in the tank. While the 14-year veteran struggled the rest of the way (his ERA on the season was 4.86), perhaps pitching out of the ‘pen would be beneficial. There would be less pressure and much, much more run support.
Last, but not least, Blanton enjoyed a renaissance of sorts last season. The current free agent split the year between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. In total, he racked up seven wins in 36 appearances—including four starts. With a 1.57 ERA in 21 relief appearances for Pittsburgh, Blanton can clearly pitch effectively out of the bullpen.
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Whatever the Detroit Tigers end up doing, the team should pursue a pitcher who can pitch effectively as a starter and a reliever. Detroit could use the depth and quality in both areas, and it would lessen the burden on the rotation and the bullpen.