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Detroit Tigers: A look back at the bullpen’s performance in 2021

Aug 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short (59) celebrates with relief pitcher Gregory Soto (65) and left fielder Willi Castro (9) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop after a win over Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 20, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short (59) celebrates with relief pitcher Gregory Soto (65) and left fielder Willi Castro (9) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop after a win over Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /
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Detroit Tigers
Tigers pitcher Kyle Funkhouser walks off the field after pitching against Cleveland during the seventh inning at the Comerica Park on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. /

Detroit Tigers RHP Kyle Funkhouser

There was a very obscure song in 1996 by the artist Armanda van Helden that is a series of samples with one voice saying “the Funk Phenomena” and it’s highly catchy, just like how Kyle Funkhouser caught onto the bullpen in 2021 after starting the year in Toledo.

He joined the bullpen on May 6 to little fanfare because if you were looking merely at his stat line, it wasn’t good. 17.2IP, 18 walks with an ERA of 7.64 but there was 25 strikeouts in those 17.2 innings pitched. Whatever the staff recommends in Toledo to the crew here in Detroit, they are going to run with and that is what happen.

In nine games in May, Funkhouser posted an ERA of 2.13 and allowed three runs on six hits.  After last season in which he relied heavily on mainly his fastball, Funkhouser instead went to what Statcast considered a “sinker” and a slider mix. His strikeout rate in a limited season last season was 14.8% and this season, it jumped up to 21.1%.

While his walk rate was 12.8% on the season, he limited hard-hit contact, with a barrel rate of just 4.6% which put him among one of the top percentiles in the league.

His September did not end on a high note as he posted his highest ERA of the season with a 5.25 and a WHIP of 1.92.  One possible reason behind it is his sinker started to get squared up more. All the home runs he allowed in September came off the same pitch.

Regardless, Funkhouser took a step forward this season when a bullpen staple in Buck Farmer started to struggle.

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