Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2013 Bullpen Construction

After a disappointing performance in the post season and with the underperformance of Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit’s struggles with home runs, the Tigers bullpen is flux next season.  Despite the uncertainty, the potential for an above average bullpen is there.  With young, high potential arms such as Brayan Villarreal, Al Alburquerque, and Bruce Rondon in the system and experienced, proven arms in Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, and Joaquin Benoit, the future looks bright.  So who will be pitching high leverage innings next season?

Brayan Villarreal looked like a dominant late innings reliever up until September, when he struggled to the tune of a 6.75 K/9, 8.68 BB/9, and a FIP of 6.20.  The reason for his struggles is unknown at this point but he pitched only 9.1 innings so small sample size caveats apply.  A reasonable explanation, though unfounded, is that he tired.  It was his first full season in the major leagues and the minor league season doesn’t last until September.  This could explain why he was left off the playoff roster.  Despite his late season struggles, he still produced an outstanding season line of 10.19 K/9, 4.84 BB/9, and a 2.98 FIP.  While he could stand to reduce his walks, his stuff is well above average allowing him to get away with a below average walk rate.  Look for him to see plenty of high pressure situations in 2013.

The next big armed reliever in the Tigers pen is Al Albuquerque.  Despite missing most of the season due to injury, he has been absolutely dominant in his time with the Tigers due to his overwhelming stuff.  Featuring an explosive fastball and an incredible slider, he posted a 13.92 K/9 and a 2.08 FIP last season.  He spent most of this season on the disabled list with elbow problems, but in a limited sample size of 13.1 innings this season, he posted in a 12.15 K/9 and a 2.19 FIP.  He has similar issues to Villarreal in that he struggles with high walk rates but his stuff is possibly better than Villarreal’s, putting him in prime position to be a dominant end game closer in 2013.

The last potential youngster to pitch high leverage innings is Bruce Rondon, the Tigers minor league pitcher of the year.  He features an 80 grade fastball with 80 movement that is one of the best anywhere in the game.   To accompany his fastball, he has a slider that flashes above average potential and a future average change up.  In fact, he has stuff of a potential number two starter he just doesn’t have the control or body type to deal with 200+ innings a year.  Despite control issues, he did manage to lower his BB/9 from 7.65 in 2010 to a 3.86 in 2011 and 3.74 this year (not including 8 innings in AAA with a 7.88 BB/9).  As long as the control improvement is legitimate (likely), he profiles as our best reliever within the next few years and one of the best in all of baseball.  Despite this potential, he most likely will be eased into the roll, pitching in the 6th and 7th innings and lower leverage scenarios.

One interesting name to watch in the minors is Andy Oliver.  He almost assuredly won’t see any high or even medium leverage situations due to his high walk rate and relative lack of experience in the majors but his stuff is very good and if he had even average control, he would profile as a mid-rotation starter.  After moving to the bullpen, he tightened up his control enough to have potential as an end game reliever.  He probably needs at least a half season in AAA to get used to coming out of the bullpen, but he has a chance to salvage his career from there and could be an interesting midseason call up.

As for the experienced guys, Benoit is clearly our best reliever despite a down second half.  Reliever numbers suffer from small sample size issues since they rarely hit 100 innings in a season so his HR/9 of 1.77 is not worry and is very likely to regress towards his career number of 1.17.  Benoit is an interesting picture since he has a reverse platoon split, holding LH hitters to a .300 wOBA against a .319 for RH hitters.  This is due to his devastating changeup which is easily his best pitch.  He is a proven high leverage reliever who will definitely be getting similar innings next year.

Phil Coke has had quite a season.  He went from much maligned “lefty specialist” to shutdown closer against the Yankees.  Despite his solid playoffs, Coke had a worrying year overall.  Despite being very solid against lefties, holding them to a .298 wOBA he was absolutely crushed by righties to the tune of a .441 wOBA.  Essentially, he turned righties into Joey Votto this year.  This could very easily be a small sample size issue since his career splits aren’t nearly as bad (.347 to righties, .276 to lefties).  In all honesty, unless the Tigers bring in a true LOOGY, he will likely be the lefty specialist and medium leverage situations.

Despite the uncertainty, the bullpen issues seem fairly easy to resolve internally.  With the future coming soon in Bruce Rondon, they shouldn’t look for a long term answer at closer but a stop gap instead.  If a traditional closer is not found, Leyland should have no issue piecing together the list three innings of games between all of the talent they have in the bullpen, young and old.  

1 comment:

  1. Nice write up. Keep your eye on Luke Putkonen. Tigers brass seems to like him and I think he profiles well as a reliever, rather than a starter. Our biggest question will be lefties in the pen, particularly a 7th inning lefty if Coke doesn't get his act together. Schlereth is still out there but I wonder if they will convert one of Downs, Below, or Wilk to a reliever or lefty specialist?