Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bullpen Issues

What is wrong with the Tigers Bullpen? That is the question through ten games in this 2013 season. Coming into the season, the bullpen was the big question mark, however, for a different reason. The closer role.

The first person that one could point to in the bullpen is Brayan Villareal. During his outings, his stuff looks good like its always been, but his command has totally deserted him in the early going. He has attributed this to a mechanical flaw that he is trying to get worked out. After giving up a walk off home run to Jason Donaldson last night it looks like the best place for him to try and get his mechanics straightened out is in Toledo.

The bullpen struggles aren't a total shock as without a closer, its hard to have defined roles for your bullpen guys because each new lineup presents a different for Jim Leyland to try and patch together a plan to protect a lead. When it comes to guys with control issues like Villareal, I think its important for them to have a set role. It sounds ridiculous as they are professionals, but many bullpen guys don't do well if they don't have a set role.  They become comfortable in a specific type of situation, and when they are bouncing around from inning to inning or role to role, they struggle to focus and command eludes them.  It's cliche, but bullpen guys are a different breed. Villareal is an example of this and maybe the pressure of figuring it out at the major league level isn't the best for him and its time to option him to Triple A.

The other part of that to consider is if anyone at Toledo currently could help the club's bullpen woes. Sample size noted, Bruce Rondon has been solid in his 4 appearances with the Mud Hens this year allowing 3 runners in 4 innings of work while striking out three. If he can consistently display command in Toledo, he will be called up to the big leagues in short order. Another guy who has been lights out at Toledo early on is Luke Putkonen. He hasn't allowed an earned run in seven innings of work. He was a contender for the long relief role in spring training, and would be one of the first call-ups in the case of injury.

I know that the season is very young, but if Villareal is a mess mechanically, it might be time to send him down for a couple weeks to straighten it out and shake up the bullpen for the Tigers a little bit. It's possible they can catch a spark from a new guy for a little bit which could help stabilize a 'Pen quickly taking on water.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Game 7 Recap

Tigers 7, Blue Jays 3
W: Anibal Sanchez (1-0, 1.50 ERA)     L: Brandon Morrow (0-1, 5.59 ERA)


As I had hoped, the Tigers bats were alive and well, collecting 15 base hits while earning them a 7-3 win over the Blue Jays. Miguel Cabrera went four for five with a 2-out 3-run home run in the 4th off Morrow and the Tigers did not stop there.  Prince Fielder reached base four times, with a run scoring double and Torii Hunter collected three hits en route to his 2,000th base hit as professional baseball player.  Alex Avila also added a solo home run to the stat sheet.

Sanchez continued his success from his first start by working seven strong innings, allowing just two earned runs on five hits while striking out eight.  His pitch count was elevated at 114 pitches, but he was dominant throughout.  Don Kelly helped him out by robbing a J.P. Arencibia home run in the second inning.  It was a great play and its good to see Kelly show of his good defense.  Sanchez showed great command of all his pitches and he is pitching like he did in the playoffs last year.  This is a very good sign.

Thought it was a solid win, some things could have gone better.  Benoit gave up a home run to Rasmus and a double to Adam Lind in the ninth inning.  It did not alter the outcome of the game, but Benoit needs to prove he can handle end of the game situations, regardless of the the score.  Newly appointed third base coach, Tom Brookens, made his first questionable call when he sent Hunter home.  He was thrown out at the plate with no outs in the third inning.  It probably made more sense for him to keep Hunter at third since Fielder was due up next.  It did not end up costing them the game, but it is good for Brookens to make that type of decision early in the season.

The Tigers took control of the game early by scoring a run each of the first two innings and with two out scoring.  The bats are awake and I think they'll stick around for the rest of the series.

Earned Their Stripes:

  • Anibal Sanchez: Although he had a lot of pitches, he pitched seven strong innings and showed great command of all his pitches, especially his change-up.
  • Miguel Cabrera: Need I say more about this guy? He continues to hit and drive in runs, especially with two outs.  He became the first player with 100 home runs in Comerica Park.
  • Torii Hunter / Prince Fielder: They both continue to hit in bunches, collecting three and two hits respectively.  Hunter is also the 14th active player to reach the 2,000 base hits.
  • Don Kelly: He made one heck of a catch in left field and showed that he is part of the defense for this ball club.
  • Johnny Peralta: He finished the day hit-less, leaving eight men on base and recorded the Tiger's only strikeout of the day. 
  • Joaquin Benoit: Allowed two hits, including a home run and a double in one inning of work.  He needs to buckle down and focus if he plans on closing out games for the Tigers.  His best pitch, his change-up, needs to be kept down.  When it is left up, batters hit it a long ways.
  • The bottom of the order (Peralta, Kelly, Infante): They only mustered one hit in thirteen at bats, leaving 15 on base throughout the game.  The Tigers loaded the bases with zero outs in the 7th inning and failed to score.  This has become a problem for Tiger hitters and going forward, they must take advantage of bases loaded situations   

Just a Notice:

Hey guys, I am graduating in three weeks, so we all know what that means. I am busy as heck. I will do my best to keep up to date with everything going on, but for the next two weeks or so there will probably not be a whole ton of content. As school ends the last week of April, I look towards having a significant amount of time to put into the blog and will be able to keep producing quality content. I beg you to bear with me through this slow period, and promise I will return with better content than was found at the start of this blog.

Thanks for your understanding!


Game 7 Preview

Toronto Blue Jays (2-4) vs. Detroit Tigers (3-3)

Time: 1:05 EST, Comerica Park, Detroit, MI (Fox Sports Detroit, Tigers Radio Network)

Pitching Matchup: Brandon Morrow (0-0, 1.50 ERA)
Anibal Sanchez (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Today, the Tigers look to match up against the Blue Jays. This is an interesting matchup as both teams were highly favored to bolster great offenses and both have faired inconsistently so far. The Tigers look to rebound offensively after a subpar performance against the Yankees on Sunday. The offensive managed 8 hits, all singles, and finished 0-5 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 men on base. The Blue Jays are hitting a measly .223, but that hasn't slowed their lead off man, Jose Reyes. He comes into play hitting .435 with a home run and 2 doubles. The Tigers are hitting .282 led by Torii Hunter at .393, who is coming off three consecutive multi-hit games.

Brandon Morrow is on the bump for the Jays and is coming off a strong performance against the tribe, going 6 innings while striking out 8. Hunter is 4-13 off Morrow while Cabrera is 1-5 with a HR.

The Tigers send Sanchez to the hill, following 5 innings of shutout ball against the Twins. Since being acquired from Miami last year, Sanchez is 1-1 with 4.26 ERA vs. Toronto.

Both teams are coming off shut out losses and I expect the teams to come out swinging. The Blue Jays have been more inconsistent and that will end up costing them this game. The Tigers bats will once again come to life.

Tigers 7 - Blue Jays 4

Lineup Notes

Victor Martinez has been scratched due to a cut on his right thumb from the bat rack. He needed 8 stitches and is listed day to day. Dirks will slide into the DH slot, giving Don Kelly the start in left. Avila is also back in the lineup after the birth of his daughter.

Jackson CF
Hunter RF
Cabrera 3B
Fielder 1B
Dirks DH
Avila C
Peralta SS
Kelly LF
Infante 2B

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Game 6 Recap

New York Yankees 7, Detroit Tigers 0

WP: C.C. Sabathia (1-1, 3.00 ERA) LP: Justin Verlander (1-1, 2.19 ERA)


     There was not a whole lot of good going on in this game and for the 5th time in 6 games, my prediction was wrong.  C.C. Sabathia was brilliant from the start, although wild. His wildness was effective as the Tigers couldn't pick up on any pattern that Sabathia was using this afternoon. Justin Verlander got hit hard early before settling in and completing seven and a third strong innings. The three early runs he gave up, especially the two on a home run from Jayson Nix, did the Tigers in as they couldn't muster anything off of Sabathia. 

     The lone bright spot for the Tigers was Matt Tuiasosopo who collected two hits in three at bats and walked once. Outside of him, no one was really in form as the Tigers only mustered 8 singles and no extra base hits on the day. 

     The bullpen was also not very sound today as Phil Coke continued his poor start to the season allowing 2 runs in two-thirds of an inning and Octavio Dotel surrendered two in the ninth which put the game completely out of reach. Coke didn't even look comfortable against the right handers and wasn't finishing his pitches yet again today. He will likely work in the bullpen with Jeff Jones on that during their game off tomorrow. Dotel just didn't have it today, and the game was likely out of reach when he entered anyways. There is nothing to indicate Tigers fans should worry about Dotel at all moving forward.

     Also of note was Mariano Rivera closing the game out for the Yankees. Barring a post season series versus the Yankees, this weekend was the last time Rivera would grace Detroit fans with his presence. The Tigers don't play the Yankees at home any more this year and won't see them again till August when they will look like a much different team.

Earned their Stripes:
  • Justin Verlander: Although he had a rocky start, he did pitch into the eighth inning and allow the bullpen a little bit of rest heading into the off day which will help immensely against the Blue Jay juggernaut offense.
  • Matt Tuiasosopo: A solid day at the plate going 2-3 with a walk, only guy who put together consistent solid at bats for the Tigers this afternoon
  • Alex Avila: Because hey, why not! He had a child this morning and had no role in the blow out.
  • Phil Coke: 1 good appearance, 2 awful ones so far from Coke. He needs to get lefties out. Today he didn't get anyone out right or left handed. 
  • Octavio Dotel: Just didn't seem to have any intensity or focus. Worked from behind to every hitter in the inning. Not a good showing today from Dotel
  • Miguel Cabrera: A tough 0-4 day for the big fella, and he falls into this category because of the expectations he's created for himself. His approach today at the plate wasn't terribly sound after a 4-4 day at the dish on Saturday. He needs to get more amped up to play ball.

Looking Ahead:

     The Tigers have a much needed off day tomorrow while traveling to Toronto to take on a Blue Jays team in a mid week series. Fans won't really recognize many Blue Jays from last year's squad as they have made massive lineup improvements in Toronto. This series will feature two of the better teams in the American League so look forward to good baseball to make this work week a little easier to get through.

Game 6 Preview

New York Yankees (1-4) vs. Detroit Tigers (3-2)

Time: 1:10 EST, Comerica Park, Detroit, MI (TBS/Fox Sports Detroit, Tigers Radio Network)

Pitching Matchup: C.C. Sabathia (0-1, 7.20 ERA)
                               Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA)

     It will be a match up between two of the best pitchers in baseball this afternoon at Comerica Park as the Yankees take on the Tigers looking to salvage a game in the series, avoiding a sweep. Sabathia was roughed up pretty good by the Red Sox in his opening day start earlier this week at Yankee Stadium, and maybe even more concerning for Yankees fans showed a fastball that only topped out at 91 MPH. Sabathia sat around 88-90 most of the day with the fastball, and it really limited the effectiveness of his off speed arsenal as they didn't have enough of a velocity differential. 

     Verlander was very effective in his opening day start in Minnesota, but not efficient at all. A lot of that had to do with the fact that he couldn't feel the ball as it was 30 degrees. It is imperative for him to pitch deep into this game as no starter through the first five games has made it past the sixth inning and the bullpen is pretty depleted. Look for Verlander to go deep into the game this afternoon against a roughshod Yankee lineup and be every bit you expect JV to be.

Lineup Notes:

     Matt Tuiasosopo will be getting his first Tigers start in left field today as the Yankees throw a lefty on the hill for today's game. Brayan Pena will also be getting his first appearance for the Tigers as he starts behind the dish. Don Kelly will be today's backup/emergency catcher as Alex Avila's wife gave birth to a daughter last night and won't be attending the game. (Congrats, Alex!) Also, Santiago will again get the start but today at shortstop as Peralta will have the day off and Infante returns to second base. The rumor is that Santiago is getting his weekend tryout and that if he shows nothing, the Tigers will likely release him and call up Danny Worth to fill that role. That will be something to keep an eye on today and going forward. 


     It's not a surprise Jim Leyland is rolling out his second tier lineup today as that appears to be his favorite thing to do on Sundays (besides smoking of course). However, with JV on the hill Tigers fans should feel pretty confident today. Tigers hitters have always had pretty good success against Sabathia and if his fastball velocity is down, look for the club to rack up a lot of hits again today. I'm pretty comfortable in predicting a Tigers win and sweep over the Yankees today. 

     Side note: GO BLUE!

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Closer Look at the Jose Valverde Signing (Pun intended)


   Earlier this week, the Tigers brought back Jose Valverde after Phil Coke blew his first save of the Year in Minnesota. The Tigers agreed with Valverde on a minor league deal in an agreement that allows the Tigers up to a month to see Papa Grande against live hitters in real game situations. If all goes well, you can expect the Tigers to sign Valverde to a major league deal that makes him their closer for the rest of the year. If it doesn't go well, the Tigers can release him, and send him on his way to try and find employment with another squad.

     On the surface, this deal makes all the sense in the world for the Tigers. Many of the national baseball writers and former executives applauded the deal as it is a no-risk deal for the Tigers as they won't have to make a significant monetary investment unless they deem Valverde good enough to close at a major league level. The timing of the deal made it seem a little bit panicky, but the low risk that the investment carries indicates it wasn't a panic move.

Why it makes sense:

     This deal makes sense simply because it is minimal to no investment, could potentially take a ton of pressure and scrutiny off of manager Jim Leyland, and the Tigers have no set, everyday closer which is a luxury to have.

     First, lets look at the Tigers' options as it stands today. The first option is playoff hero, Phil Coke. He currently is 1 for 2 on the year in save opportunities. He has the quirky attitude a closer should have, he has a bulldog mentality, and he has been in every late game situation you can be in.  The problem is that he can't get right handed hitters out. His career stats versus right handed hitters isn't real great. Righties hit .301/.371/.435. This is simply not good enough to be a closer as most managers are going to be able to create the match up they want offensively when their team is down in the 9th.

     Joaquin Benoit is another option, however he is prone to issuing walks when the situation gets tight and he has carved out a nice niche for himself in the eight inning. He is significantly better when getting outs 22,23, and 24, then when trying to get the following three. Issuing free passes in the ninth isn't ideal for a closer, especially one who doesn't possess a high strikeout rate. Another issue with Benoit as a closer is that he gives up far too many homeruns.

     Al Albuquerque and Brayan Villareal we can lump together as similar options. Both of these guys haven't pitched a whole lot in the big leagues, but have similar, devastating arsenals. The problem with both of these guys is that they haven't been terrible poised at times throughout their careers and the devastation goes both the wrong way when their lack of poise rears its head. Villareal displayed what can happen when he tightens up against Minnesota this week when he allowed six runners, five runs and only recorded two outs. Albuquerque who posesses an equally good fastball and maybe better slider also has shown a propensity to struggle when things get tight in critical situations and his command eludes him. Of these two choices Albuquerque is the better options, but Leyland seems to pick his spots with Al Al and doesn't seem inclined to make that spot late in close ball games unless he needs a strikeout. Albuquerque's 13.55 K/9 strikeout rate over his short career indicates that in a year or two he has to potential to be a dynamic closer.

     As you can see the Tigers don't have a great closer option that one could be confident in as things currently stand and taking the no risk chance on Valverde seems pretty logical, however, as I will explain the move is one that I don't care for.

Why it doesn't:

     There is one main reason which makes me question if this was the right move to make. That reason is Bruce Rondon. Rondon is the 22 year old closer of the future for the Detroit Tigers. Not making the team out of spring training might have been a blessing in disguise for the flame throwing right hander who features a fastball that can touch 103 MPH. By not making the team, he was going to have the opportunity to learn how to close a game in an atmosphere where you aren't expected to win a pennant and possibly a World Series.  Allowing him another year in Triple A to develop the ability to tackle the beast that is the ninth inning was probably the best thing for him and his long term future. Last year at this time, he opened the season in High-A Lakeland and ended it in Toledo where he got 8 innings of experience. It's an aggressive track he's on and Spring Training showed he has the potential to be lights out in the ninth, but he just needs more experience against at least fringe major league pitchers.

     This is why bringing Valverde in does not make sense. In a way, Rondon has had his psyche a little damaged as he was tabbed as the closer coming into this year while being paraded around by the Tigers during their Winter Caravan. He struggled a little bit this spring and was sent back to the minors which was by all accounts pretty deflating for the big righty. Now with Valverde coming in, it sends the message to Rondon that the Tigers don't feel like he will be ready to close games at any point this year, and that Valverde, a guy who completely imploded last year and is hated by many Tigers fans, would be more trusted to get the job done than he is.  That isn't sending the right message to the guy you need as your closer in 2014 and beyond.

     The other reason why this seems to be a poor decision to have Valverde assume the closer role in Triple-A for the next while is that it further delays the chance for Rondon to develop as a closer. These are valuable innings for Rondon to have under his belt. He needs to be in as many save chances as possible and Valverde is going to be in the way of that happening.


     This move makes sense given the win now mantra the Tigers clearly have this year and next, however, I think it's the wrong move for the long term good of the organization. Rondon needs to be given every opportunity to develop into a great closer that the Tigers would love to have going forward. Valverde is not a dominant enough closer anymore and doesn't have the potential to be the closer he once was to justify having Rondon's development potentially stunted, and for this reason I don't agree with bringing Valverde on board.

    What are your thoughts on the move to bring in Valverde. I would love it for you guys to leave some opinions in the comments and discuss what you think.