Tigers' underrated bullpen piece deserves more credit for 2024 success

This Tigers' reliever has been stellar of late.
St. Louis Cardinals v Detroit Tigers
St. Louis Cardinals v Detroit Tigers / Mark Cunningham/GettyImages

Despite a slow slip down the AL Central standings and two straight series losses, the Detroit Tigers' bullpen continues to be one of the very best in baseball. They're fourth in ERA (2.81) behind the New York Yankees, Cleveland Guardians, and Seattle Mariners, and doing all they can to keep games close for a lackluster offense, behind an inconsistent rotation.

Jason Foley, Alex Lange, Andrew Chafin, and Alex Faedo have been just about lights out for the Tigers, with 65 1/3 innings and only 14 runs given up among them. Even though Shelby Miller's last appearance was a rough one (he was responsible for the men on when Juan Soto hit a bases-clearing double that would eventually win the Yankees their game against the Tigers on May 5), he's also been reliable for the team.

A less-talked about name out of the bullpen, though, is Joey Wentz, who's pitched a little more than Foley, Lange, or Chafin for a 0.61 ERA in what's looking like a fantastic comeback story for a pitcher who almost didn't make the Opening Day roster.

Joey Wentz has been stellar out of the Tigers bullpen after struggles as a starter

Wentz made his MLB debut with the Tigers as a starter back in 2022, and he was absolutely hammered during that outing. He only pitched 2 2/3 innings but gave up six earned runs in a 9-0 loss against the Oakland Athletics in May of that year. Wentz got one more start that month — a scoreless four innings — before getting sent back to Triple-A. However, the Tigers called him up again in September, and he made five starts and posted a 1.73 ERA.

It was enough to get him on the Opening Day roster as a starter in 2023, but Wentz could never find his legs and was utilized more frequently as a long reliever in September. Going into 2024, Wentz seemed like an easy cut, but the Tigers decided to keep him in the bullpen, which appeared to be a little short on arms heading into the spring.

The move seemed to do the trick, but Wentz has also reworked his fastball, ranked in the 87th percentile by Baseball Savant this year. His off-speed stuff is even better, ranking in the 92nd percentile. Wentz's cutter and changeup have a 0.075 batting average against versus a still low .149 XBA.

Wentz has clearly found new life as a reliever. So much so that it's pretty much salvaged his career in the majors. The Tigers need their bullpen to keep being one of the best while they wait for their hitters to pick things up, and Wentz is shaping up to be an instrumental part of that effort.

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