Flying Tigers: How the David Price trade could help the bullpen

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As the aftershocks of the David Price trade continue to ripple across the baseball landscape, Tigers fans still are trying to understand the meaning and implications of the move. My immediate reaction was mixed, generally because starting pitching seemed like the least of Detroit’s postseason needs, one of the most glaring of which remains a shallow, untrustworthy bullpen with nothing to speak of from the lefthanded side.

While I do think the Tigers should move Justin Verlander to the ‘pen in October, Price may be able to address the team’s relief-pitching deficiencies in his role as a starter. In 2014, Price has pitched more innings and more innings per start than any other Detroit pitcher (numbers from Baseball-Reference):

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Price has been going deeper into games this year than any member of the Tigers rotation. If he can continue to pitch into the seventh or eighth inning on a regular basis, that could reduce the number of relievers needed in that game and preserve bullpen options in other games.

The measure of this impact is likely to be small, but like Victor Martinez’s extended plate appearances, these could be the sorts of small advantages that, in the aggregate, push one team past another.

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Previously
Trade Deadline Explosion – 7/31
Where are the Bats?
– 7/31
Detroit finds relief, but at what price? – 7/24
Closing Time? – 6/4
Closing the Book on 2013
– 6/2
Victor Martinez, Professional Hitter
 – 5/7
Actually Mad Max
 – 4/29
Waiting for Takeoff – 4/28

Flying Tigers: Trade Deadline Explosion

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In developments that can only be described as shocking, the Tigers executed a last-minute trade for pitcher David Price, sending Austin Jackson to Seattle and Drew Smyly to Tampa. (Seattle also sent Nick Franklin to Tampa.) The trade was finalized while Detroit was in the middle of a game both Smyly and Jackson had started, and Jackson had to be pulled off the field when the deal was done.  Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff

A month into the season, the Detroit Tigers sit atop the tightly bunched AL Central with a tenuous 12-9 record. The team, guided by first-time manager Brad Ausmus, looks and feels much different than it did over the last two years. Whether due to the change at the helm or a not-quite-coherent set of offseason moves, the 2014 Tigers appear to have traded identity for tactics and strategy. Thus begins Flying Tigers,* our third Detroit baseball series.

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When Jim Leyland announced his retirement following the end of the 2013 season, we knew Motor City baseball would be different in 2014, but we didn’t realize just how different it would be.     Continue reading

[UPDATED] Fistered: Tigers lose starting pitcher to the Nationals

News broke last night that the Detroit Tigers traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, the team’s second major move of this young offseason. (They traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last month.)

In exchange for Fister, the Nationals sent Detroit Steve Lombardozzi Jr., a utility player; Ian Krol, a left-handed reliever; and Robbie Ray, a left-handed starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said that Krol “can step right into our bullpen and has the potential to be a No. 1 lefthanded reliever,” and he called Lombardozzi “one of the best utilitymen in baseball.”

It’s tough for me to evaluate this trade, because I’ve never heard of Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray. I’m far from a league-wide expert on players, but that may be an evaluative statement, however. I know Dombrowski has committed to moving Drew Smyly into a starting role, but I thought it would be Rick Porcello, or perhaps Max Scherzer, who departed to make room for Smyly. The decision to move Fister surprised me, and although I don’t know anything about Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray, I can’t help feeling like Detroit got too little in return for the very solid Fister.   Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Trader Jose(s)

With the non-waiver trade deadline set for 4:00 pm today, the Tigers got in on the action earlier this week by adding two major-league-ready players who should address the team’s short-term needs as they prepare for a postseason run.

On Monday, Detroit acquired bullpen help in the form of Houston closer Jose Veras. Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Forget what you know

This year’s Detroit Tigers are far from perfect, but they’re off to a good start on the strength of their starting pitching and the bats of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Torii Hunter, Omar Infante, (increasingly) Victor Martinez, and (once again) Austin Jackson.

The weak link– the bullpen– has been both very obvious and very weak. Hoping for some addition by subtraction, the club sent onetime-closer Jose Valverde down to the minors, and a more focused “closer-by-committee” approach has emerged, centering around Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly, with an emphasis on not misusing Phil Coke.

One of the criticisms of manager Jim Leyland is that he likes to have go-to players to fill defined roles, and nowhere is this more applicable than in his handling of relief pitching. In short, Leyland wants to have one guy be his guy when it comes to closing out games in the ninth inning. His unwillingness to deviate from that approach has had exceedingly frustrating consequences when The Closer is someone less effective than the likes of a Craig Kimbrel or, say, a 2011-vintage Valverde. (This is especially true because the Tigers have trouble scoring late in games. If the bullpen blows a lead late, this team is unlikely to mount a comeback.) Even though fans would like to see Leyland be a bit more nimble with the way he utilizes his personnel, some of his attitude surely has rubbed off on them. The fans want to have someone who can be The Closer too.

Buster Olney launched a thousand blog posts with his suggestion that current Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon might make a good fit in Detroit. Papelbon has a great reputation as a closer, and, as Buster writes, “there are no questions about whether he could handle October,” which is where the Tigers’ expectations reside.

Team owner Mike Ilitch has shown little resistance to spending money on this iteration of the team, which means that the large contract that’s scaring other teams away from Papelbon is unlikely to be an issue in Detroit.

My opinion is that, if the Phillies are willing to part with Papelbon without demanding much beyond the absorption of his contract, the Tigers should get him. If his steady hand can turn these cardiac kitties into some cool cats come playoff time, it’ll be worth it.

That said, it probably is worth taking a look at how Papelbon would stack up with his new teammates if he were to catch a ride to Motor City this season.  Continue reading

The DET Offensive: Interleague Play

It has been a tough first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, who are struggling just to get to .500. I wrote before that the best way to get out of a slump is to invite the Royals to your yard. That sort of worked, but it didn’t really cure any ills in the longer term. After this month, though, I have a new recipe: play the National League.

The Tigers began interleague play on June 8 in Cincinnati, and they won each of their interleague series except for the last one, taking two of three from the Reds, Cubs, Rockies, and Cardinals and avoiding a sweep in Pittsburgh with a game three win against the Pirates, the team with the second-best home record in all of baseball. The Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates are good, and the Cubs and Rockies are quite bad, but Detroit’s performance on a given night seemed to have little correlation to the strength of their opponent. MLB, unlike the NFL or NBA, is a situation in which any team can beat any other team on a given day, but I think this is more a reflection of the Tigers’ internal struggles.

Injuries continue to be an issue, the most troublesome example of which is all-star catcher Alex Avila’s knee and leg problems. Fortunately, Gerald Laird has proven to be a more than serviceable backup, but Jim Leyland consistently and accurately insists he has yet to have his best lineup on the field for any meaningful stretch of games. Utility man Don Kelly also is out as a result of flinging his leg into a barrier at dead-sprint speed.

On the positive side, Doug Fister looks to be healthy and back on the path towards pitching effectiveness. Ditto on the latter for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The shining star continues to be Austin Jackson, who is hitting very well in the lead-off spot while recording zero errors in center field.  Keep reading…

The DET Offensive: Brennan Boesch’s Birthday

The Tigers got back to their winning ways this afternoon after a disappointing ninth inning yesterday in which Justin Verlander finally was allowed to sow the seeds of his own defeat by coming back to beat the Rays 7-2. Fresh-faced rookie Drew Smyly– filling in for the injured Doug Fister– struggled early but found his bearings long enough for Brennan Boesch to drive in four runs and secure the win.

“Today was a lot of fun,” Boesch said. “It’s my birthday, and we’re going to have a fun flight to Chicago.”

I suppose that could mean a lot of things. If my coworkers and I all were millionaires, though, a birthday party on an airplane might not be so bad, especially if you like gladiator movies.

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Previously
The DET Offensive: Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep – 4/9