Relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal made his MLB debut in 2012 as a midseason callup for the St. Louis Cardinals. In his first full season, he was a two-WARP player, and he became the Cardinals’ full-time closer in 2014. By his third full season, 2015, he was an All Star and down-ballot MVP candidate (even though the new metrics preferred his 2013 performance). After averaging about seventy-one innings pitched across those first three full seasons, Rosenthal’s totals dropped to 40.1 and 47.2 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The decrease in 2016 was the result of performance struggles and a six-week DL stint for shoulder inflammation. Essentially ditto for 2017, except the DL trip for Trevor Jordan “TJ” Rosenthal was for Tommy John surgery that also caused him to miss all of 2018.
That timing was especially unfortunate for Rosenthal, who became a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. The Washington Nationals quickly signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal, but things did not go well for him in D.C., where the control issues that had begun to crop up at the end of his time in St. Louis quickly reemerged. He made five appearances for the Nationals before he recorded an out, at which point his ERA dropped from “inf” to a mere 72.0. A viral infection sent him back to the DL (plus some extended spring training) for the month of May. He returned in June to provide five additional appearances that were slightly better but still too erratic for the Nationals’ taste, and the team released him on June 23. Six days later, the Tigers signed him and sent him to Toledo. He gave the Mud Hens 5.1 innings of not-great work before the big club called him up yesterday for reasons unclear:
While one would think that Rosenthal’s promotion to the big leagues is a sign that his bout with the yips has improved, that curiously doesn’t appear to be the case. In 5 1/3 innings with Detroit’s affiliate in Toledo, he’s allowed six runs on eight hits and six walks. Rosenthal has punched out nine hitters, which is a mildly encouraging.
Ron Gardenhire didn’t waste much time before taking a look at his new player, sending Rosenthal out to handle the eighth inning and hold Detroit’s run deficit at three. Rosenthal accomplished that task, fully exhibiting his two current trademark tendencies– high velocity and low command– in the process, mixing speed almost as much as location.
The variances in speed and location, one generally more preferable than the other, were very obvious. Far less obvious but also preferable was his release point, which appears to have been pretty well clustered for a wild and crazy guy like 2019 Rosenthal:
(Release point doesn’t seem to be much of an outcome-determinative issue for Rosenthal these days, though. Compare his arguably more tightly clustered plot from his first appearance this season, the one in which he allowed all four batters he faced to score and recorded no outs.)
Rosenthal only has thrown a total of 7.1 innings (216 pitches) this season, but the visual evidence sufficiently conveys an image of a wild and rarely effective reliever. It’s hard to understand exactly why Detroit signed him and promoted him to the majors, but a couple theories related to the approaching trade deadline make some sense. Al Avila may be hoping that Rosenthal suddenly dials in his command to such a degree that the Tigers can convince a competing team to trade them something of value for an apparition of a useful bullpen piece. More likely, Avila is anticipating moving the team’s only 2019 All Star, closer Shane Greene, and wanted to audition some replacement bullpen assistance for August and September.
A brief note on the prospect of a Greene trade, which seems like a foregone conclusion at this point, is that the closer, who’s making $4 million this year and won’t be a free agent until at least 2021, actually ranks just behind fellow reliever (and last season’s sole Tiger All Star) Joe Jimenez according to WARP.
Despite an uncharacteristically homer-driven night and an early 4-2 lean, the Tigers fell 8-6 last night in Cleveland, and that loss dropped them to last place in the AL Central. Only the Orioles have fewer wins to this point in the season, and no team has a lower on-base percentage. The updated projections at FanGraphs have the Tigers finishing with just fifty-nine wins. That would be their lowest win total since the fateful 2003 season (43-119), and any trades between now and the deadline likely would serve only to lower that number. Hang on, kids.