Before you click away and leave an angry comment about clickbait, keep in mind where I am coming from. According to FanGraphs 2021 Power Rankings, the Detroit Tigers are projected to have the worst bullpen in all of baseball with a total fWAR of 1.1. But do they have a case for their projections? Let’s take a deeper look.
Last season, the Tigers finished 16th overall in fWAR for relievers at 0.9. They bring back the same bullpen with the addition of Derek Holland to the mix. We have discussed Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, and Bryan Garcia before, and admittedly with Garcia, our contributor, Tanner, is optimistic about Garcia’s 2020 numbers but more on that later.
Let’s take a look at the Detroit Tigers 2020 reliever numbers. The data is courtesy of FanGraphs and I left out names who are not returning from last year. The league average is in bold
Reliever Strikeout Rates
Detroit Tigers bullpen concerns
As you can see, Cisnero, Soto, Norris, and Holland performed above average in terms of K%. Holland replacing Nick Ramirez is an upgrade in terms of K% and walks. While right-handers batted just .206 off Ramirez, he still had a walk rate at 8%.
The way Hinch has his bullpen set up right now heading into Opening Day is four lefties. While all four have started at some point, Alexander, Norris, and Holland could be used in multiple inning situations often or could piggyback a start. Soto’s walks are still a concern, which is why there was no clear-cut winner between him and Cisnero to close.
What four factors could change the projections from worse to good?
- The transition for Michael Fulmer to a reliever. While he could make it back into the rotation if Fulmer finds his stride and is effective, why jeopardize it? He started making the adjustments in spring training and with his pitches at a lower velocity, Fulmer was able to use his secondary pitches better.
- The 2019 version of Buck Farmer to arrive. His velocity was reported to be up during spring training and if you recall in 2019, he had a K% rate of 25.3% and his whiff % was in the 78th percentile. His changeup which in 2019 had batters hitting just .195 against, in 2020, batters hit .346. Perhaps it is why his fastball was not as effective in 2020, which was able to put batters away with it in 2019 at an 18% clip. Last season, just 10%
- A farm system arm to emerge. Alex Lange showed off an impressive curve in spring training and a fastball with movement. What is concerning about the big arm of Jason Foley is if he can generate more swings and misses with his secondary pitches. He has a 98MPH fastball but lacks movement but that all could change.
- Garcia needs to generate more swings and misses. That is the obvious thing to say but looking at his numbers, there is no other way to say it.
Projections are just that, projections. Detroit may have to rely on their bullpen often with two rookies in the rotation with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. Their innings will be watched and another factor to consider. Julio Teheran. Can he stay healthy the entire season? Back issues with pitchers can be problematic, just ask James Paxton.
As far as Jose Urena is concerned, he too, like Teheran, is coming back from injuries in 2020. When Spencer Turnbull comes back, how does that change the bullpen? There are many questions heading into Opening Day but I believe they will perform the above projection.