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
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 18: Michael Fulmer #32 of the Detroit Tigers throws a pitch during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 18, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Detroit Tigers RHP Michael Fulmer

When Michael Fulmer came back in 2020 from Tommy John surgery, he was limited to just three innings per start.  He often was quoted that despite the results of some of his bad starts, he felt good in his pitch mix.

Fast forward to spring training, when there was a slight velocity drop and suddenly, it was back to 96-97 with movement and Detroit had a weapon they used as a starter than in the bullpen full time after that.

However, injuries struck Fulmer. First, he had a shoulder strain in the first week of June that knocked him out for a week then later in the month, he had a right cervical spine strain that would knock him out for a month.

But when he came back for the second half of the season, he was one of the steadiest relievers out of the pen. In 29.2 innings of work, he posted an ERA of 1.52 with 9 walks and 31 strikeouts. The number that really stood out was the one home run he gave up after the month of June.

His chase rate stood out in the 89 percentile of the league and he was among the best relievers in the last two months of the season. Combine with him on the right side and Gregory Soto on the left, the two accounted for 32 saves this season.

A fun fact to note. Since 2020, he has thrown his curve 64 times (38 times in 2021, 26 in 2020) and has not allowed a hit, and hitters against him in high leverage situations in 2021 only hit .200 against him.

Detroit Tigers
May 29, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Jose Cisnero (67) pitches in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Detroit Tigers RHP Jose Cisnero and Alex Lange

Jose Cisnero’s season ended on a sour note as he hit the IL with an elbow issue.  Cisnero’s first half of the season was a big reason why the Tigers were able to climb out of the mini hole they were in.

In June in 13.1 innings of work, he allowed just one run and posted an ERA of 0.68 and after a solid July, in 13 innings of work in August, posted an ERA of 1.38. He was able to batters out with a 45% ground ball rate, which helped based on his K per 9 numbers on the season of 9.05, which dropped from last season.(10.31)

With Cisnero shutting it down in September, it gave an opportunity to Alex Lange. Lange struggled in callups from Toledo before but he figured out pitch sequencing and a changeup to go along with his fastball and a “spiked curve” as he calls it. 

Lange threw 19.2 innings from July until the end of the season and posted an ERA of 1.39 and allowed just three earned runs.  After struggling to find his command earlier in the season, something clicks for Lange, who has set himself up for a bigger role next season.

As far as Cisnero goes, his going onto the IL was a precautionary move and hopefully, he is back to full strength next season. Having Lange emerge does help Detroit as gave them some much-needed depth.

For Jason Foley and Bryan Garcia, Foley has a small sample size to work with as he threw just 10 innings this season. Despite the 1.67 ERA in his call-up, he still walked too many batters, and the same for Garcia.

One call-up that was made surprised many Tigers fans when it happened after his last season problems crept in again but it was the way he finished that resonated with Tigers fans.

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