The Detroit Tigers bullpen heading into 2020 does not have many roles etched in stone. Joe Jimenez is chiseled in as the team’s closer.
The Tigers bullpen in 2019 struggled mighty. Of the Opening Day 2019 roster, only Joe Jimenez and Buck Farmer survived the season. 26 different pitchers were used to fix the myriad of issues the Tigers had out of the pen. They were 27th in strikeouts per 9 at 8.61 and home run per 9 of 1.57, which was the 4th worst in all of baseball per Fangraphs data. Their bullpen WAR was a 0.6 and finished the season with an ERA of 4.94. All that being said, there were some building blocks that could help the Tigers in 2020. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection has the Tigers projected WAR of 1.0, which is a slight improvement over 2019. Let’s take a look at the backend of the bullpen, which seems to be the most set heading into spring training and start with Joe Jimenez.
Joe Jimenez under a magnifying glass.
Jimenez inherited the closer’ s role last year after Greene was traded to Atlanta. In 27 innings pitched in save situations, he allowed 30 hits, 11 earned runs 12 walks and struck out 37 while posting a WHIP of 1.55 and K per 9 of 12.3. His barrel percentage of 10.8% ranked him near the bottom five percent of the league and against lefties, he posted an ERA of 5.19 and yielded 13 walks in 26 innings pitched. What’s interesting in his performance compared to 2018 was his Swing Take. Statcast Swing Take takes the area over the plate is split into 4 Attack Regions, Heart, Shadow, Chase, and Waste. (If you are interested in learning what zone consists of, click here.) His work in the Chase zone is an improvement from 2018 in which he was 3 swing runs better and 1 take run worse so it’s a 2-run improvement. The data shows if you combine that with his 9 swing-run improvement in the “Heart” section, I think we see a pitcher who was improving at working the edges and sequencing in his delivery. But the Shadow section, which is is the area that straddles the strike zone on both sides, he did not fair well on swings.
A strong second half
His workout regime was well documented heading into 2019 as he was looking to bounce back from a bad 2018 second half in which he posted an ERA of 7.78 after making his first All-Star appearance.
He responded in the new role as the team primary closer, posting an ERA of 3.81 with 31 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched and he cut his walk rate from 10% in the first half to 6% after the All-Star break. His numbers in high leverage situation showed growth. 14.2 IP, one home run allowed, 4 walks and batters were hitting .192 against him.
The most common phrase among Tigers fans these days is if a player starts off strong, you flip him at the trade deadline. Jimenez was rumored to have a few teams looking at him last year but for Tigers fans, if Jimenez has a strong first half, pitch against better against lefties and help recover the dumpster fire that was the bullpen last season, I see no reason to move him. 2020 MCB Bold Prediction: 52 IP ERA of 3.45 and he picks up 34 saves in 39 opportunities. Next up, Buck Farmer.