Welcome to Section 313, seat no. 7 — I'm glad you're here this week. Last night the Tigers took their 16-16 record into Angels Stadium to take on a team that has had their number since 2000. It's been a week of turmoil, of sorts, for the Tigers as they left Oakland with a series loss when they were in a position to earn their first series sweep of the year.
Out of the off day Monday, news came out that they were discussing the closer role after Francisco Rodriguez blew consecutive saves in consecutive days. A couple weeks ago, I talked about how bad our bullpen has been since 1993; and then Tuesday, the team announced that Justin Wilson would be replacing K-Rod as the team's closer.
Trust me, I could hear the collective roar of Tigers fans all the way down here in Dallas.
So here are the two things on my mind this week, the latter being the main point and a capstone to my former point. Those two points being: our bullpen has pieces that are strong enough to build around, with an effective supporting cast. Secondly, it's time to cut the dead weight.
The Majority of Our Bullpen has Been Solid —
Wait, catch your breath, and hear me out.
We all know the perils of the Tigers bullpen over the years. But this year, there are four guys in the pen that have done an outstanding job. After last night's game, any reliever not named Rodriguez or Sanchez has had some pretty good recent success. You would have to go all the way back to April 29th to find a time where someone other than Anibal Sanchez or K-Rod gave up a run. That's nine games and 17 innings without surrendering a run. That's pretty good.
But let's let the numbers speak for themselves. And here's what we're trying to get to, Blaine Hardy, Shane Greene, Alex Wilson, and Justin Wilson are the strength of our bullpen. If we can get the right supporting cast around them, our bullpen will be better — much better than it has been.
Here's an overall look at everyone who has pitched out of the Tigers bullpen this season, according to Fangraphs:Click the photo to enlarge stats
Taking away guys like Warwick Saupold and William Cuevas, given that they've only appeared in two games and one game respectively, the main culprits of the Tigers inflated bullpen ERA are Bruce Rondon, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Ryan, and Francisco Rodriguez. I know that sounds elementary, and I'm not trying to question your intelligence, just merely proving a point.
Here's what our four “reliable” relievers numbers look like apart from those that are “less reliable”:Click the photo to enlarge stats
As you can see, these four guys have been lights out this year. They combine for a 1.65 ERA, 55 strikeouts, in just 49.2 innings pitched. There's good reason to believe that with these four as the stronghold of our bullpen — if given the right supporting cast — they can be really good.
But in order to get that supporting cast, people are going to have to be cut.
It's Time to Cut the Dead Weight —
I'm never one to call for someone's job. But sometimes the writing is on the wall — especially in a meritocracy like baseball. In this world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, Anibal Sanchez and Francisco Rodriguez haven't done much of anything. The worst part about the whole situation is how good they had been in the past.
Rodriguez is the active saves leader in the Major Leagues. There is no doubt that he's had a great career. It's always tough when you see a guy struggles the way he has this year, knowing how good he's been. The 35-year-old has lost a bit over the years, topping out on his fastball nowadays at 88 MPH. That's not normally a problem if his secondary pitches work in conjunction with the loss of speed. News flash: they're not. K-Rod has blown 4 saves in 32 games and also earned a loss in a 1-1 game a few weeks back.
In short, it seems as though K-Rod has lost something, mainly his velocity, and that's not something that's coming back. He's owed $6 Million this year before he becomes a free agent after the season.
That brings us to Anibal Sanchez, who for two years now has seemingly been throwing batting practice each time he's in the game. In 153.1 innings pitched last year Sanchez gave up 30 home runs and carried a 5.87 ERA. Things haven't turned around much this year as he's pitched 17.2 innings and given up eight home runs with a 9.68 ERA. All of this after his 2013 campaign where he won the AL ERA Crown with a 2.57 ERA.
Anibal is owed $16.8 Million this year with a club option for 2018. For two years he's looked off, with no sign of figuring anything out. Yet, somehow, he still is trotted out there to pitch in games. No more recent then Wednesday against the Diamondbacks — where he gave up two home runs and three earned runs.
Collectively each of them is owed $22.8 Million for the season. The Tigers have already cut ties with guys who were underperforming, Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe, eating $13.5 Million already. Could they add another $22.8 Million to that number? The better question is, should they?
It truly depends on how they view the situation, but in reality, it seems like a no-brainer. Doesn't cutting Lowe and Pelfrey send a message that they are willing to cut the underperformers to make way for guys who actually give them the opportunity to win? And if the answer to that is “yes,” then you have to believe they'd paid $22.8 and continue the trend. The reality is we are paying them regardless because their contracts are guaranteed. So my contention is this: if that money is going out no matter what, we (the Tigers) might as well pay these two guys not to pitch for them.
$36.3 Million is a lot of money. But when it makes your team better and gives them a better chance to contend, it is money well spent.