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Detroit Tigers: Inside the Numbers on Why the Bullpen Will Improve

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Feb 21, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Lowe (21) and starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) high five fans on their way to practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2016; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Lowe (21) and starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) high five fans on their way to practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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From a statistic standpoint, the Detroit Tigers bullpen will be much better in 2016.

At this point, you’ve probably heard about the Detroit Tigers revamped bullpen. New general manager Al Avila finally did what predecessor Dave Dombrowski never did, and invested heavily in refurbishing the bullpen.

Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe were the significant additions. However, the departures of some struggling pitchers could be just as positive when the bottom line is concerned.

In terms of WAA (wins above average) and WAR (wins above replacement) the Tigers six least-productive relievers moved on before the start of Spring Training.

Joba Chamberlain was cut before the season even ended, but his numbers are included as well given the fact that he posted an ugly 5.54 FIP in 22 innings pitched. Joining the veteran on the list of pitchers to move on are Al Alburquerque, Guido Knudson, Ian Krol, Tom Gorzelanny and Neftali Feliz.

WAA

The aforementioned six players posted the following WAA numbers.

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That group posted a total -4.5 in terms of WAA. Here’s Rodriguez, Wilson and Lowe’s totals.

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In total, that’s a staggering 7.4 difference in terms of wins above average.

WAR

Now a look at the former Tigers’ collective WAR.

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And now for Avila’s new additions.

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Like the WAA numbers, there is a significant change when comparing the two groups. The difference between them is an equally staggering 7.7 WAR.

This is all without mentioning Drew VerHagen, who could see an increased workload in 2016 after turning in a positive season last year. In 26.1 innings pitched, the 25-year-old pitched to a 2.05 ERA despite more walks (14) than strikeouts (13). If he can turn those numbers around even slightly, he has a chance to be a staple in the bullpen. VerHagen’s WAA and WAR in such a small sample size were 0.6 and 0.9 respectively. 

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Additionally, Bruce Rondon could have a bounce-back year and be the pitcher most thought he would be coming out of the minor leagues. If he can do that, it will add another layer to a much-improved bullpen.

What’s more, top prospect Michael Fulmer could make the team as a reliever. The former New York Mets farmhand has dominated in the minors thanks to a blazing fastball and some nasty off-speed offerings. That combination would play well in shorter spurts out of the bullpen. It’s entirely possible that the 22-year-old could have similar success to that of Drew Smyly in 2013. Smyly pitched to 2.37 ERA (2.31 FIP) in 2013 as a reliever, throwing 76 innings and striking out 81 batters. Fulmer is unlikely to pitch that much, but he can be just as successful where stats are concerned.

Did I mention one-time Mets closer Bobby Parnell is in camp as well?

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In Conclusion

The Tigers clearly have some bullpen options heading into the season. Purely by taking out Alburquerque, Chamberlain, Knudson, Krol, Gorzelanny and Feliz and adding Rodriguez, Wilson and Lowe, the team should be much better where relief pitchers are concerned.

For more Detroit Tigers Analysis, check out our Detroit Tigers analysis hub page.

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