Detroit Tigers Player-by-Player First Half Reviews: Relievers

This is Part 2 of a three part series reviewing the first half for the Detroit Tigers. Part 1 covered the starting pitchers. Part 3 will cover the position players.

The setup for this post will be the same as the last one; player summaries will come first, followed by a summary of the entire unit. So without further ado, a review of the Tigers bullpen through the first half of the season:

Eddie Bonine
Grade: B

Bonine has, by and large, been excellent for the Tigers as one of the two long relievers on the roster (the other being Brad Thomas). He has a 4-0 record with a 2.75 ERA in 28 appearances and 39 1/3 innings, all of which are very good stats. The problem is that Bonine is likely to regress, as he appears to have been rather lucky this year based on his .244 BABIP (batting average on balls hit in play), which is well below the MLB standard average of .300, which most pitchers (and batters, although they have more control over this) generally regress to. While Bonine's unusually low BABIP can be partially attributed to the improvement of his knuckle-curve, a contact pitch designed to produce groundouts, which he does do rather efficiently, it is likely that he has been the beneficiary of a fair amount of luck. This, combined with his relative lack of control (he has a subpar 1.29 K/BB ratio) and his propensity to give up homeruns (he leads Tigers relievers with 5 given up), is highly concerning and suggests that he will regress in the second half. As he has produced A-level results with C-level supporting statistics, he gets a B for his efforts thus far.

Joel Zumaya
Grade: A

Losing Zumaya for the season was a huge blow to the Tigers bullpen, as no reliever outside of Jose Valverde has been as good as him. Before his injury, Zumaya appeared to have excised his demons that have plagued him for most of his career. He had found his control, giving up only 11 walks in 38 1/3 innings, the first of which came over a month into the season, and had also reduced his propensity to give up homeruns, giving up only 1 all season. This led to a 2-1 record with a 2.58 ERA and 11 holds. He still leads the Tigers in the latter category. And as always, Zumaya struck out batters at a high clip, accruing 34 before his injury. This was shaping up to be the best season of his career and it is heartbreaking for it to have ended with yet another significant surgery, after which it will once again be an open question as to how he will perform.

Jose Valverde
Grade: A+

Jose Valverde has been perhaps the best reliever in baseball, converting 18 saves in 19 opportunities and posting a 0.95 ERA. He has been very good at striking people out (34 K in 38 innings), and kept runners off of the basepaths, producing a 0.84 WHIP.

There are a couple of pitfalls that should be noted with Valverde. First of all, he has a incredibly low .164 BABIP, a number that is sure to rise before the season ends. However, it should be noted that this very low BABIP is not wholly the result of luck. Valverde has a .278 BABIP on his career because of his excellent forkball* which produces a lot of ground balls. Furthermore, he has improved his ability to get groundballs considerably this year, producing an incredible 1.70 groundball to flyball ratio. All in all, he's due for a minor regression in the second half, but even then he will still be an elite closer.

*Valverde's forkball is often classified as a split-fingered fastball. I consider it to be a forkball because the ball is held rather deep between his index and middle fingers, along with its slightly reduced velocity and tremendous downward movement.

Brad Thomas
Grade: B

On paper, Thomas's numbers do not look especially good at the outset. He has a 4-0 record with a 4.10 ERA in 37 1/3 innings over 21 appearances. However, it should be noted that two of his worst appearances were spot starts for Dontrelle Willis, and if you only consider his relief appearances, his ERA drops to 3.51. Furthermore, it should be noted that Brad Thomas is a contact pitcher who heavily relies on a low-90s fastball to get groundouts, something that he is rather proficient at doing. This style of pitching is not necessarily conducive to long outings, as batters can adapt to it rather easily because the pitches themselves are not very good and only the best contact pitchers are able to spot their pitches well with a high degree of consistency. Thus, when batters recognize that a contact pitcher, particularly one that relies on pitches with little movement, is not dead-on with his location, they will take more pitches and wait for the pitcher to make a mistake. As Thomas is not an elite contact pitcher and often has days where he does not locate his pitches with absolute precision, it is sometimes necessary to restrict him to shorter outings so as to avoid the possibility of him getting lit up.

Now, when evaluating Thomas's relief appearances, particularly those appearances that took place after his rocky start to the season, he has largely been very good. However, it is very concerning that he has a 0.75 K/BB ratio, as well as his elevated 1.63 WHIP, two trends that suggest that he has been somewhat lucky this year. As such, he gets a B.

Phil Coke
Grade: A-

With Zumaya out for the year, Phil Coke figures to be the Tigers setup guy for the rest of the year. And that's not a bad thing. Coke has been quite impressive this year, going 5-0 with a 2.52 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings over a team-high 41 appearances. Even more impressive is that Coke has only given up 1 HR this season. The only complaints about Coke are a slight propensity to give up baserunners, as he has a 1.32 WHIP and a somewhat high 14 walks on the year. Even so, he has definitely been a solid reliever and thus he deserves an A-.

Ryan Perry
Grade: C-

Perry has not been good this year, producing a 2-4 record with a 5.47 ERA in 24 2/3 innings over 28 appearances. He has been the recipient of some bad luck, with an above average .324 BABIP and an average 0.77 groundball to flyball ratio. He also has a respectable 20 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings, good for a 7.30 K/9 ratio. The problem with Perry is his lack of control. He has given up 14 walks on the year, good for a 5.56 BB/9 ratio and has a subpar 1.43 K/BB ratio. This has led to a 1.62 WHIP, which in turn, has led him to give up a lot of runs this year. Perry spent several weeks on the DL recently, and hopefully he'll be much improved after recuperating. However, his performance thus far has been subpar, hence a C-.

Fu-Te Ni
Grade: D+

Ni was an excellent reliever over the first two months of the season. Through May, he had a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings over 15 appearances. He also enjoyed increased responsibilities over last year, as he ceased to be used only as a situational lefty and was used in more general situations. He was also striking people out, accruing 18 over his 17 innings. The only downside to his performance was a disturbing 12 walks.

In June, he completely fell apart, giving up 13 runs in 6 innings over 7 appearances. Over this stretch he walked 7 and struck out 4. He was sent down on June 30th, after giving up 4 runs in 2/3 of an inning during an 11-4 loss to the Twins. After this stretch, his ERA had risen to 6.65. As such, he gets a D+.

Enrique Gonzalez
Grade: B+

Gonzalez has impressed in limited action thus far this season, accruing a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings over 8 appearances. He is a highly useful reliever to have on the team, as he is a former starter who can go deep into games. Unfortunately Gonzalez has exhibited some control issues, walking 5 and striking out only 4. However, thanks to his reasonably strong start, he gets a B+.

Robbie Weinhardt
Grade: N/A

Weinhardt has not played enough yet this season to form a real impression of him, giving up 1 run in 2 2/3 over 2 appearances. He shows a fair amount of potential and will hopefully play well in his time in the majors. He is currently competing for a spot on the roster, as he was called up to replace Galarraga, who will come back on July 20. On a somewhat amusing note, Weinhardt hit the first batter he faced in his Major League debut.

Daniel Scherleth
Grade: N/A

Scherlith is in basically the same boat as Weinhardt. He hasn't played enough to form an impression of him and he's competing for a spot on the roster. That said, Scherlith is more highly regarded as a prospect than Weinhardt and is likely to get a longer look.

Casey Fien
Grade: N/A

Fien has one appearance on the year, going 2 innings without giving up a run. He was called up to replace Joel Zumaya and sent back down when Perry came back. The Tigers likely hope that he will not need to be called up much this year before the 40-man roster comes into effect, as he was absolutely atrocious last year, posting a 7.94 ERA over 9 appearances.

Jay Sborz
Grade: E

Jay Sborz made his major league debut this season against the New York Mets. He lasted 2/3 innings, giving up 5 ER. He was sent back down two days later.

Alfredo Figaro
Grade: E

Figaro also has one appearance this year, in which he went 2/3 innings and gave up 2 ER. He was sent back down 2 days later for Casper Wells.

Grade: B+

The Tigers bullpen has definitely been a strength this year. Early in the season, the Tigers were able to keep pace with the Twins despite terrible starting pitching thanks to great play by the bullpen. Furthermore, the top relievers on the team: Valverde, Zumaya, and Coke, have been excellent.

On the other hand, it should be noted that there are a number of issues with the bullpen. Two of the top performers in the bullpen, Valverde and Bonine, have received a fair amount of luck. Also concerning is the poor performance of relievers like Perry and Ni. And then there's the Zumaya injury, which makes depth a major issue going forward. That all said, it is clear that the bullpen has been an integral part of the Tigers wins, especially when you consider that the Tigers have relied a lot on winning close games to get to where they are.

1 Response to "Detroit Tigers Player-by-Player First Half Reviews: Relievers"

  1. TheLastProphet says:

    Good stuff.

    Keep up the good work.

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