Detroit Tigers: The case for Chad Bell

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TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 9: Chad Bell #64 of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 9, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 9: Chad Bell #64 of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on September 9, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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The Detroit Tigers have Chad Bell working as a starter in Triple-A Toledo. It’s time to make him a full-time reliever.

The Detroit Tigers, despite a ghastly 6.93 ERA last season, opted to keep left-hander Chad Bell on their 40-man roster. The 29-year-old has had a solid minor league career, but struggled mightily in the big leagues last year.

So while it is no surprise that he did not crack the 25-man roster out of camp, Bell is getting a chance to start at Triple-A Toledo. He looked good in his first start, tossing 3.1 innings and giving up one run while striking out five.

However, it’s time for the Tigers to accept that Chad Bell’s future is not as a big league starter. And while he did not look good coming out of the bullpen last season either, he has a much better chance of turning into a quality bullpen piece than he does a starting pitcher.

Chad Bell, pitch mix, and the bullpen

During Bell’s 62.1 innings with the Tigers last year, he threw four pitches: A sinking fastball, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. Diving deeper into the performance of each pitch reveals that Bell actually found a lot of success with both his slider and his changeup. His fastball and his curveball, however, were nothing short of horrendous.

Bell’s fastball in particular ranged between 89 and 96 miles per hour. Opponents slashed .349/.455/.590 off of it. Even more concerning, Bell only located his fastball in the strike zone 51.2% of the time. If he wants to find big league success, he will need to work on his command. Added velocity wouldn’t hurt, and a move to the bullpen would likely help sustain Bell’s fastball in the mid-90’s.

Likewise, a move to the bullpen would allow Bell to completely do away with his curveball. Relievers, particularly left-handed ones, rarely use more than two or three pitches. Bell, if he were a full-time reliever, could rely on his slider/changeup as his primary offspeed pitches, with his harder fastball mixed in as well.

All of this doesn’t mean Bell will suddenly become an elite bullpen piece. After all, his 47 innings as a reliever last year led to a 6.13 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP. He was much worse as a starter however, so it would behoove the Tigers to consider him a bullpen piece going forward.

Future LOOGY?

As with any left-handed pitcher, Bell’s success in the major leagues will likely hinge on his ability to get left-handed hitters out. Particularly if he moves to the bullpen. While Bell’s numbers last year weren’t great, there’s some cause for optimism here as well.

Bell faced 88 left-handed hitters last year, 84 of them as a reliever. They slashed a combined .284/.369/.405. While that’s obviously not ideal, looking deeper Bell really didn’t do that bad.

He posted a very solid 9.6 K/9 and an okay 4.1 BB/9. He suffered from an abnormally high .372 BABIP and a low 63.8% strand rate. His FIP was 3.87 and his xFIP was 3.90, much, much better than his actual 5.95 ERA.

Basically, Chad Bell pitched like an average LOOGY last year. The results showed otherwise, but Bell could easily develop into an average left-handed reliever if given the opportunity. Having him pitch in Triple-A as a starter is not the answer. He needs time to develop his repertoire as a reliever.

Next: Tigers prospects entering make-or-break seasons

With Daniel Stumpf and Daniel Norris (for now) in the big league bullpen, and Blaine Hardy waiting at Triple-A, Bell may have a tough road hold down a bullpen role this season. However, the Detroit Tigers would be smart to consider Bell as a situational lefty, particularly if injuries or ineffectiveness plague their other relievers.

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