The Detroit Tigers bullpen, once considered the team’s major weakness, is shaping up to be a major strength heading into 2022.
4.94 ERA. K per 9 of 7.92. Last in the American League. The first two numbers and the last sentence were recent reminders of the Detroit Tigers bullpen dating back to 2018. However, last season, the Tigers’ bullpen was ranked 23rd overall in terms of pitching numbers, according to FanGraphs.
That does not sound like a high ranking, but let’s put things in perspective for a moment. Detroit’s bullpen heading into last season was a series of question marks. Michael Fulmer did not start hitting the upper 90s until closer to the end of spring training. He was getting rocked, but that’s why spring training numbers don’t matter. He was pretty clear back in the short season of 2020 that he was getting closer to where he wanted to be as a pitcher.
The emergence of Kyle Funkhouser and Gregory Soto were important to the growth of the bullpen. Now, as reported by Evan Petzold of the Freep,($) Soto brought back his changeup but he changed the grip to it so having a closer who can throw four different pitchers just makes him that much better of a closer.
Speaking of the changeup, that pitch benefitted reliever Alex Lange towards the end of the season as his velocity continued to climb and his change up generated a swing and miss rate over 40 percent.
Adding Andrew Chafin yesterday ties in together what all three pitchers above have in common. They were former starters at one point and can throw at least three different pitches. While Funkhouser only throws his changeup just 8 percent of the time, it was a pitch he threw when he was a starter and one that could be used again, as in the case with Soto. Combine that with Tyler Alexander as potential swing man out of the pen that provides a different look with his cutter. It has the potential to be a case of “pick your poison.”
Even Joe Jiménez, who has been a reliever since the minors, threw a changeup at least 12 percent of the time last season. The Tigers are going to continue their progress under pitching coach Chris Fetter and the rest of the staff to use each pitcher’s strength. As this happens again in 2022, it will just give fans something else to look forward out of the Detroit Tigers bullpen in 2022.