And when I say anyone, I mean anyone.
The Detroit Tigers have certainly had their fair share of bullpen woes over the last decade, starting with Todd Jones, who I still have never seen throw anything besides a 90 mph fastball.
We then entered the Jose Valverde era, a time where strikes were rare and 1-2-3 innings even rarer. A time where a routine save consisted of three walks, a run scored and three fly balls to the warning track. He got it done most of the time, but not often enough to keep his job in Detroit.
Enter Joaquin Benoit, the setup man-turned closer who did well for the Tigers, converting 24 of 26 saves and recording a sterling 2.01 ERA in 2013.
But the Tigers had other priorities this offseason, and opted not to renew Benoit’s contract. He signed a new contract with San Diego, leaving Detroit with literally no ninth-inning option.
That was until they inked Joe Nathan to a 2-year contract. Nathan, the 39-year-old, 13-year veteran is by no means a new face for Tigers fans: he spent years tearing Detroit’s heart out from the bullpen in Minnesota and Texas. Nathan boasts 344 career saves and a career ERA of just 2.79, making many Tigers fans excited about their new closer.
I was not one of those Tigers fans.
Not to say I was upset, but instead of keeping Benoit, they opted to overpay a 39 year old coming off a career year that he likely won’t duplicate.
Now, Nathan can play and he won’t hold a 7.04 ERA and 60 percent save rate over a 162-game span. But that’s what he’s doing now and I’m not sure I can trust him.
Last year, the Tigers had the luxury of rolling out Drew Smyly in the eighth inning, a guy who was stellar in that set up role. Smyly racked up 21 holds while only allowing 12 percent of his inherited runners to score. He finished with a 2.37 ERA.
Smyly earned the right to get a shot at a starting job, and Dave Dombrowski traded away Doug Fister to give Drew that shot, but I’m still not sure that was the right move. Fister was a proven commodity as a fourth starter and a great fourth starter he was. I challenge you to name an American League fourth starter that can match this line: 14-9 record, 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 208 innings.
My point is this: Smyly was a proven setup man, Fister was a proven starter. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Now the Tigers have the choice of turning to Al Alburquerque, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Krol, Phil Coke or Evan Reed in the eighth inning.
Alburquerque hasn’t thrown a good pitch since 2012, and refuses to throw a fastball at times. He did just get through a clean seventh inning as I write this, but I don’t trust him with a seven-run lead.
Chamberlain barely pitched last year due to injury and ineffectiveness, and has posted an ERA of 4.35 or higher in four of the last five years. He’s shown some good stuff this year, but also nearly coughed up a six-run lead in Baltimore. And now he’s blowing it in the eighth as we speak.
Phil Coke? Ha! His ERA sits at 13.50. Want more on the redbearded lefty? Read it here.
The other lefty, the one that can actually throw a baseball, is Krol and he’s shown promise. He’s done well against lefties and poorly against righties, but that seems very easy to fix: don’t pitch him against righties. However, it seems that just about every team has at least one right-handed batter, so Krol is tough to rely on outside of being a lefty specialist (remember how great Jamie Walker was?).
In fairness, Reed hasn’t gotten enough of a look. I think he has some solid stuff, but Brad Ausmus, like Jim Leyland, seems reluctant to go to him. He has a 3.52 ERA thus far, but legal issues also loom. Whether he gets a shot or not, he’s likely not ready for a setup role.
The bottom line? Who can the Tigers hang their hat on in the bullpen? Even if I give Nathan the benefit of the doubt, there’s nobody else there.
And when I say nobody, I mean nobody.