The Detroit Tigers need one more quality reliever to finally have an elite bullpen. Al Avila has made some fantastic acquisitions so far, but he just needs one more relief pitcher.
The Detroit Tigers have had quite the eventful offseason in Al Avila’s first winter in charge. Detroit made big splashes with the signing Justin Upton as well as Jordan Zimmermann. Both received significant contracts that could end up as steals. However, Avila’s best work may have come in the bullpen.
Avila inherited a statistically dreadful bullpen, and worked wonders.
Francisco Rodriguez was the first arrival. The veteran closer was acquired via trade with the Milwaukee Brewers for blocked infield prospect Javier Betancourt. Avila followed up the K-Rod trade with free agent signing Mark Lowe and fellow trade acquisition Justin Wilson.
All three are coming off tremendous seasons. Rodriguez and Lowe posted identical WAR numbers at 1.7, while Wilson checked with a 1.4 WAR.
Lowe and Wilson are expected to serve as Rodriguez’ setup relievers. The duo’s combined 3.1 WAR is exactly the same as the WAR of two of Kansas City’s premier setup last season—Ryan Madson and Kelvin Herrera.
Rodriguez, Lowe and Wilson are obviously assured Major League jobs out of Spring Training, as are two incumbents from last season’s roster. Those two incumbents tend to be forgotten because of how bad Detroit’s bullpen was in 2015.
Many seem to forget how good Blaine Hardy and Alex Wilson were last season. Hardy 3.08 ERA (2.89 FIP) and Wilson 2.19 ERA (3.53 FIP) were heavily relied upon to the point of being overworked last season.
With the aforementioned trio in town, Hardy and Wilson won’t be overworked. This was the case last year. This will keep them fresh down the stretch, and should help each reliever improve upon 2015’s numbers. This will mainly be due to the fact that neither will be pitching in high-pressure games nearly every appearance.
Taking it all into account, the Tigers now have five dependable relievers. With Rodriguez, Lowe, Wilson, Hardy and Wilson, the team features an intriguing blend of relievers that are both power and finesse pitchers.
There’s also Drew VerHagen and Bruce Rondon to consider. The right-handed VerHagen posted a solid 2.05 ERA in 26.1 innings for the Tigers in 2015. He seems to have an inside track on one of the remaining bullpen spots. Meanwhile, Rondon has all the potential in the world, but has yet to put it all together. Last season, the reliever was sent home early due to his “effort level.” If the reliever can make amends for that, he can thrive with the Tigers.
The Potential of a New Addition
The bottom line is that there is quality in the Detroit bullpen—quality enough that the group should be considered above average, at the least.
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What’s missing, and preventing the bullpen from becoming elite, is another quality reliever. Adding a dependable pitcher that can log 50-60 innings with an ERA somewhere around 3.50 would put the Tigers’ relief corps over the top.
A potential new addition would take more pressure off the rest of the bullpen in the same way that the recent acquisitions are with incumbent stalwarts Hardy and Wilson. The new reliever would provide more depth and experience to an already solid group.
Luckily for the Tigers, there are a number of options left on the free agent market. Matt Thornton (1.98 ERA in 77.1 innings pitched since the start of 2014) and Blaine Boyer (2.91 ERA in 105.1 innings over the same span) would both make sense. Ryan Webb is also a player that’s worth a look.
Detroit could also go the trade route. Miami’s A.J. Ramos (32 saves last year) and Carter Capps (1.10 FIP in 2015) would make sense. Either would represent another setup type reliever to add depth—and teams can never have too much pitching depth.
The Detroit Tigers are just a single, quality reliever away from having an elite bullpen. Whether it be a pitcher like Ryan Webb or Matt Thornton, or a more significant acquisition like Ramos or Capps, Al Avila should make one more move.