For those who you have may have missed part of my week long, half-assed, knee jerk, totally biased 2008 Detroit Tigers preview, just follow the links...
Part 1: Starting outfield and DH
Part 2: Starting infield and catcher
Part 3: Starting pitching
Part 4: Bench
It being opening day eve, I've put off long enough my previewing the Tigers' possible Achilles heel, the bullpen. Let's dive into the shallow end, and hope we make it through without your blood pressure spiking, suffering heart palpitations or enduring acid reflux. If you can survive a Todd Jones save opportunity, you should be able to make it through this bullpen preview.
Bobby Seay: With the surprise release of Tim Byrdak, Seay is the lone left handed pitcher in the Tigers' 2008 bullpen. He's was well used, and quite effectively at that, as the LOOGY, the lefty one out guy, in 2007. Seay did fairly well against right hand bats, who hit him at a .250 clip, but did very well facing lefties, who hit only .206. As long as the Tigers bullpen stays healthy, Seay won't be asked to stop out of his comfort zone as the LOOGY.
Yorman Bazardo: Now we start with the bullpen question marks. Bazardo was up for the proverbial cup of coffee in 2007, making 11 appearances with Detroit, starting twice, finishing 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA. He made enough of an impression last season, along with pitching well in spring training, which allowed Bazardo to make the team out of spring training.
Obviously, the odds of his making the Tigers increased significantly with the injuries to Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Also helping was his lacking a minor league option. It was either he made the team, or risk losing him via waivers.
As to what we can expect from Bazardo? Your guess is as good as mine. I doubt he'll be used much in high leverage situations, so he just needs to keep the Tigers in games while pitching middle/long relief. He could also be considered the Tigers' 6th starter, as Bazardo would be one of the first internal options considered if the Tigers needed a spot start during a scheduling pinch, or (God forbid) a starter went down to injury.
Aquilino Lopez: Lopez was another late season call up when injuries took their toll in 2007, finishing with no decisions, and a 5.19 ERA in 10 appearances. Much of what I said about Bazardo applies to Lopez. He's another middle/long relief guy who can be considered a question mark, being asked to pick up the slack in the absence of Zumaya and Rodney. His lack of minor league options also helped in making the roster.
He is what he is, a journeyman bullpen arm. Lopez won't be asked to do much, just eat innings and keep the Tigers close when a starter gets knocked out of the box.
Jason Grilli: Grilli is the fan's whipping boy. He was booed unmercifully at every opportunity by Tigers fans in 2007. They had plenty of reason to lay into Grilli, as he had an astoundingly high 7.96 ERA at Comerica Park. Weirdly, as bad as he was at home, he was just as excellent on the road, with a minuscule 1.91 ERA. It was as Jekyll and Hyde of a season you'll ever see.
Obviously, Grilli isn't as bad, or as good, as his splits indicate. He's another Tigers pitcher who was asked to step out of his comfort zone due to the numerous bullpen injuries, and was affected adversely. He's a middle/long relief guy who has the full confidence of Jim Leyland when used in that role. For Grilli to be used in any other way is just asking for trouble.
Zach Miner: Miner is the Swiss army knife of the Tigers bullpen. He's shown he can be quite capable when used either as a starter, or as a long or short reliever, though consistency is an issue. To start 2008, Miner will be asked to step into the Zumaya/Rodney 7th inning set up role.
The talent is there, though he doesn't have the strikeout capabilities you'd prefer to see in your set up guy. But if he keeps the ball down, Miner will be effective in the set up role. If not? Well, that will be when the Tigers' offense will have to win games 10-9.
Denny Bautista: Possibly the biggest bullpen question mark, as Bautista will be thrust into what could be considered the most important bullpen role, the 8th inning set up man. He pitched well enough in spring training for the Marlboro Man go with Bautista, instead of a more experienced pitcher, to set up Todd Jones. Then again, beggars can't be choosers.
Though he hasn't much of a MLB track record to speak of, the Tigers picked Bautista up this past off season due to his potential. They hope he can be one of those pitchers every successful team seems to find, the bullpen member who steps up from out of nowhere to become an effective setup man/closer.
Not that Bautista has the same talent, but no one expected Zumaya's performance in 2006. The Tigers' will need something similar from Bautista in 2008. He has to hit the ground running, so to speak, and shutdown teams late. The stuff is there, but it remains to be seen if he's actually capable of doing so.
Todd Jones: Ah, yes. The Rollercoaster. The smoke and mirrors closer. The closer who couldn't break a pane of glass with his fastball. A fan heart attack waiting to happen. The closer who depends an inordinate amount upon on his defense making plays. When Jones blows up, which to be honest, hasn't been all that often, to steal a line from SCTV's Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok, he blows up good, he blows up REAL GOOD!
Despite all the drama, what counts is results, and Jones almost always does the job. If Jones has a typical Jones year, we should expect 35 saves or so, with an ERA not worth bragging about. But you should also expect him to blow a half dozen save opportunities, which isn't all that bad of a ratio.
Jonesy is a one inning pitcher, that inning being the 9th, period. As long as he doesn't walk anyone, which he normally doesn't, and has a capable defense behind him, which he normally does, Jones should be fine. We fans may all have a head full of gray hair and need a pacemaker by the end of the season, but he'll be fine.
Would I prefer a better closer? Of course! Is closing overrated? Hell, yes! Which is why the Tigers can get away with Todd Jones closing.
Overall: Hopefully, Rodney will be back within a month or so, with his fastball and knee-buckling change up, intact. Better to sort out his arm issues now, than in the middle of the season, as in '07. As for Zumaya, I'm not counting on him for this year. If he comes back with fastball blazing, great! But we should get used to the idea Zoom may not return this season, or at least not at his former effectiveness.
If Rodney and Zumaya were healthy, I'd be quite happy with the Tigers' pen. The pitchers would have defined roles, and would used in situations for which they're be best suited. I'd be comfortable in saying the Tigers had one of the better pens in baseball.
Without the pair of often dominant setup men? Well, I'm nervous as all Hell about the bullpen. Your guess is as good as mine as to their ultimate effectiveness. I have a feeling there will be a long feeling out process, with the possibility of some explosive, late inning failures, before Leyland finds the right combinations.
Let's hope there is a surprise performer or two who steps up, and the feeling out process doesn't cost the Tigers in the long run. A playoff spot may depend upon it.