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In one Tweet, tell me what the Tigers should do to solve their bullpen issues. I'll use a handful of them on MLive.
— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) June 13, 2013
To answer this question, I decided to look at how Tigers pitchers performed in high leverage situations:
During the course of a game, some situations are more tense and suspenseful than others. For instance, we know that a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning is more suspenseful than a one-run lead in the top of the third inning. Batting with two runners on and two outs in the eighth inning is filled with more pressure than batting in the same situation in the second inning. Leverage Index (LI) is merely an attempt to quantify this pressure so we can determine if a player has been used primarily in high-leverage or low-leverage situations.From the table above, Baseball-reference used a Leverage Index of 1.5 to determine high leverage situations. Al Alburquerque, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit have been the Tigers best relievers in high leverage situations. Alburquerque has been sent down to AAA because of control issues, so that leaves Smyly and Benoit as the best options in high leverage situations.
One of the problems of just using the best reliever for high leverage situations as the closer is that sometimes a situation will occur earlier in the game that is more high leverage than the ninth inning. It's because of this that people argue that the closer position is overrated. And I agree. I want Drew Smyly to come in the game in a crucial moment instead of waiting until the 9th inning. I also want Drew Smyly to stay in the game until it's finished, essentially being a multiple-inning closer.
Drew Smyly is a starter by trade, so limiting him to just 1 inning doesn't make sense. He also isn't going to start anytime soon since the first time the Tigers needed a spot starter, they called upon Jose Alvarez, saying that Smyly wasn't stretched out enough. Leyland has primarily used Smyly in the middle innings and based on the leverage situations, his role can be labeled as "mop up." 122 of his 152 (80%) batters faced have come in low or medium leverage situations despite his great numbers in high leverage situations. Arguably, small samples need apply. 30 batters is hardly anything concrete. Also, using Smyly like this will cause him to miss 1-2 days between appearances.
However, Joaquin Benoit has been just as good as Smyly in high leverage situations and 44% of his batters faced have been in such situations. Having a plan where both Smyly and Benoit alternate the closer role, each going both the 8th and 9th (and sometimes the 7th) is what I think, the best solution. Putting a relief pitcher in the game and not taking him out until either a) he's tired or b) ineffective is a strategy that I've always believed in (unless of course that pitcher has severe split numbers. I'm looking at your direction, Phil Coke). Changing pitchers until one of them blows the game is a fear I never want to see happen.
The last time a Tigers starting pitcher failed to go at least 6 innings was Rick Porcello on May 23rd. That means the Tigers have gone 19 consecutive games where the starter has gone at least 6 innings. In fact 48 of the 64 games (75%) the Tigers have played, the starter has gone at least 6 innings. The need for a "long man" in the Tigers bullpen just isn't there. The best way to maximize Smyly's talents is to use him late in the game.
The Tigers already have relievers capable of closing. Jim Leyland just needs to use them properly.