Dominant Tigers bullpen helped keep team afloat during homestand

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The Detroit Tigers just finished up a nine-game home stretch and while they finished a solid and respectable 6-3 at Comerica Park, the three losses were part of another sweep at the hands of division rival Cleveland.

The starting pitching over those nine games was pedestrian and the offense was inconsistent again at times. The one aspect of the club that was impressive and arguably preserved a winning record on the homestand was the bullpen.

We saw that they received ‘Bullpen of the Week‘ honors last week against both Cleveland and Seattle, and that title alone should give an idea of how good they really were. But when you look at the numbers, it is encouraging to say the least. So let’s dig into it a little more.

Let’s just start with the ERA. A combination of nine different relievers proceeded to produce a combined 1.64 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP over those nine games vs. Seattle, Cleveland, and Miami. Here is a breakdown of each pitcher’s log from June 20-29:

  • Shane Greene: 4 GMs, 4 IP, 4 H, BB, 2 ER, K
  • Mark Lowe: 3 GMs, 3 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, K
  • Mike Pelfrey: 1 GM, 4.1 IP, 3 H, 2 K
  • Francisco Rodriguez: 4 GMs, 4 IP, 2 H, BB, 5 K
  • Bruce Rondon: 3 GMs, 4 IP, 2 H, BB, ER, 4 K
  • Kyle Ryan: 5 GMs, 7 IP, 6 H, 9 K
  • Anibal Sanchez: 2 GMs, 2 IP, H
  • Alex Wilson: 4 GMs, 7 IP, 8 H, BB, ER, 7 K
  • Justin Wilson: 4 GMs, 3.2 IP, 3 H, ER, 4 K

There’s a lot of underlying story lines within all nine of these pitchers as well, which makes the topic all that more intriguing.

Photo Credit: Tu Nexo De/Flickr
Photo Credit: Tu Nexo De/Flickr

In the situation of Pelfrey and Sanchez, they are a pair of starters that the Tigers in theory would like to be performing at least adequately in the rotation and there’s 24.8 million reasons for that. Pelfrey was only available for relief in case Sanchez, who made his return to the rotation in a 6-0 loss last Saturday vs the Indians, failed to give them a quality start. The moves were also made in an effort to give youngster Michael Fulmer a bit of a breather.

Well, Sanchez was poor once again and subsequently demoted back to the bullpen. While Pelfrey’s bullpen outing was encouraging and arguably his best showing of the season, it did not translate into his most recent start on Tuesday. Detroit again would prefer to have the two provide quality outings in the rotation but they are simply not getting it done. But in the bullpen, the two have combined to allow just two ER in 15 innings of relief work.

Another guy you can throw into the hat of ‘pitchers the Tigers would prefer to have start’ is Shane Greene. He was sidelined in late April and missed the entire month of May with a blister on his middle finger of his throwing hand. Since his return in early June, he’s been effective coming out of the pen and, to the surprise of some, has embraced his new role in the bullpen. In 13 IP this month, he’s allowed just five ER, three of which came in 0.2 innings of work in a 10-3 blowout vs the Royals.

By and large, he’s been huge for Detroit. For the Tigers, Greene is a ‘reliever with starter-type stuff’ that is capable of handling late-game situations as well as stretch relief if need be.

A. WilsonJustin Wilson2The law firm of (Alex) Wilson & (Justin) Wilson, while they have been up and down throughout the season, are winning a lot of battles as of late (pun intended). Going back to May 23, J. Wilson has allowed just two ER over 13 IP, posting a K:BB ratio of 8:1. Alex has been equally as strong dating back to last month as well. After a May 28 appearance, his ERA was 6.11. Today, it is back to under 4.00.

Closer Francisco Rodriguez has been just what the Tigers needed over the last handful of seasons when they were winning division titles – a veteran AND reliable closer that gets the job done. Now Frankie has had three outings, two of which resulted in blown saves, where he allowed two or more ER in the 9th inning. Outside of those three (Opening Day vs. MIA, 4/20 vs. KC and 6/13 vs. CHW) appearances, he has registered an sparkling ERA of 1.11. The WHIP on the season is a respectable 1.16.

Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr
Photo Credit: Tom Haggerty/Flickr

Then there is Bruce Rondon, who the Tigers have high hopes and expectations for, even after having to send him home early last season for lack of effort deemed by manager Brad Ausmus. Rondon started off the season down in Triple-A and whatever message was delivered was definitely received. Rondon was called up during the Tigers’ last road trip while they were in Kansas City. So far so good for Bruce, as his lone blemish has been a solo home run off the bat of Nelson Cruz last Thursday.

Rondon does not need to be ‘lights out’ successful, although it certainly would be welcomed and appreciated. But if he can have more consistent stretches of scoreless outings and cut down on the implosions he was prone to a year ago, he is a viable weapon with plus-stuff.

Poor Mark Lowe. I mean, nobody will really feel bad for him probably because of the money he makes as a professional athlete, but as a guy who has had a modestly successful big league career, coming off a very strong 2015 campaign and impressive start to this season, this is a real struggle to watch. Just for a better perspective of things, Lowe’s ERA after a scoreless outing on May 1 was 2.79 – solid. Since then however? An ERA over 15….yes, that’s 1-5 then a decimal. Sprinkled throughout those last 18 appearances are seven games of multiple runs allowed, including two five-run outings.

Is Lowe a bad pitcher? Absolutely not. He’s a quality reliever having a brutal stretch to what was a great start to the season. And more often than not they have hindered the Tigers’ chances to win games as of late. This is precisely why Detroit is making very small baby steps with him coming into games. Lowe has had three days or more of rest between appearances five times in his last nine games, all of which have been in relatively low-pressure situations.

One more clunker and Lowe unfortunately might be on his way out of the Motor City via the ‘designated for assignment’ move.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr
Photo Credit: Keith Allison/Flickr

The best guy in the bullpen all season long has to be Kyle Ryan. The 24-year-old southpaw has been arguably the most reliable among all Tigers’ relievers in 2016. The ERA rests at a solid 2.60 and the WHIP is okay at 1.30.

He’s good for a strikeout in big spots (18 K in 27.2 IP) and only seven of his 31 hits allowed have been for the extra-base variety. But his bread-and-butter has been the ground ball. He’s induced 50 of them this season, six of which have been turned for a double play.

Also, among all American League relief pitchers to have logged at least 20.0 innings out of the bullpen in 2016, Ryan ranks 13th in ground ball percentage at 55.7 percent and 14th in fewest pitches thrown over his 27.2 IP (398). But it is the ‘inherited runners’ statistic that gives Ryan the honors of being the best Tigers’ reliever.

The 25 runners inherited (when he entered a game) are the most for a Tigers reliever and the 28 percent of those runners than have come around to score is the lowest on the club. For a better perspective, the league average through June 29 games is 31 percent and the Tigers’ team average in that department is 38 percent.

Baseball is a game of ebbs and flows, the 162-game schedule presents that as such. Teams are constantly prone to good stretches and bad stretches and as of late, the bullpen for the Tigers has been very good to say the least. How long they can ride this impressive stretch for remains to be seen and we can’t help but think where the team would be had the bullpen coughed up some games on the recent homestand.