Friday, April 11, 2008

Time to Fix the Bullpen

I was a member of the "Ride this bullpen out. Let's see what we've got" contingent coming into the season. Nine games in, I see that this pen will cost us in more ways than one without action being taken soon. It's become increasingly clear that the current crew won't cut it, and it is time to cut some bait.

Update: Yorman Bazardo has been designated for assignment with Clay Rapada getting the call. The goal is clearly to cycle through as many relievers as possible until finding the right guys. This is the correct strategy.

Pitchers who should stay:
  • Todd Jones was a guy I was worried about, but has shown no signs of dropping off. Granted, there hasn't been a ninth inning save chance for him, but he has not been part of the problem yet.
  • Bobby Seay is the team's best relief pitcher. It's too bad that his role is so specialized.
  • Denny Bautista has pitched well so far. Like Jones, he has not been part of the problem.
Pitchers on the brink:
  • Aquilino Lopez has a 0.00 ERA in 7 1/3 innings so far. The problem I have is that he has allowed 5 of his nine inherited runners to score. Other pitchers can blame him for their faulty ERA's. His WPA (Win Probability Added) is -.111, meaning that the Tigers chances of winning games has gone down a combined 11.1% when he has entered the game. That is unacceptable and a good reason why ERA doesn't work when evaluating relievers. Hopefully the ERA doesn't lead to him getting spots in tight situations. Things could get even uglier if he does.
  • Francis Beltran has looked good by comparison, but showed today he cannot be counted on. I'm still skeptical of his appearance in relief on Saturday. Beltran simply feasted off of hitters who couldn't see what was coming because of the shadows on the field. Even despite that, he gave up a big homer to Jermaine Dye.
  • Zach Miner has been shaky. I was his biggest supporter after his first couple of appearances seemed to be the result of bad luck. Today, he just looked timid and needs to trust the fact that the movement on his fastball should be enough to get hitters out.
Pitchers who need to go:

  • Jason Grilli, in case you haven't heard a million times, is the son of former Tigers reliever Steve Grilli, as if you have heard of Steve Grilli. He has been unreliable for the better part of two years and two weeks now. He is fine in a mop-up role, but this team has plenty of guys who are fine in mop-up roles. It's time to take some chances to give guys a shot, and keeping around a bunch of pet projects because they can get outs when the game is out of reach is not going to work. Worst of all, the guy has no out pitch. He can't finish the deal when he gets ahead in the count, because he has to throw that straight fastball with no movement that he can't command instead of wasting a pitch. Jason Grilli is out of options, as we all know, just as we all know that is likely the reason he is still being brought into games. It's time to cut bait and send him to Toledo. Nobody else will want to claim him on waivers at this point.
  • Yorman Bazardo: I was wrong about this guy. I don't know if he's hiding an injury or what, but he simply doesn't have it at this point. While guys like Lopez and Grilli can get outs while the game is out of line, Bazardo has proven that he is incapable of that right now. Like Grilli, he is out of options, and like Grilli, that shouldn't be a problem.
Internal Candidates:
It takes two to tango in a trade, and making a trade for a reliever right now will likely prove to be a mistake. Any time, you make a panic trade and are trading from a position of weakness, it's not going to be an optimal situation. Fortunately, even though the minor league season is only a week old, there are plenty of candidates stepping forward so far.
  • Welcome back to the USA, Francisco Cruceta, who finally got his work visa approved. In a perfect world, the Tigers would give him the 30 days alotted to work out in Lakeland and spend time on a rehabilitation somewhere. At this point, it may be the best situation to put him straight into the bullpen and let him sink or swim. If he sinks, he's still better than Grilli and Bazardo. If he swims, it's a plus.
  • Clay Rapada's shoulder tendinitis has apparently cleared up. He's had one great outing and one stinker so far in Toledo. The good news is that he has 7 strikeouts in 5 innings of work. You may have noticed the fact that the Tigers' relievers have been having a hard time finishing the deal on 0-2. Rapada shouldn't have that problem
  • Armando Galarraga is off to a wonderful start in his first two starts. I would not at all be opposed to seeing him grab a spot in the bullpen just to see if he can stick in a high leverage spot.
  • Virgil Vasquez is now the Tigers' sixth starter as Bazardo has blown up, while McBride and Tata are injured. He's also been very impressive, almost overshadowing Rick Porcello in the days in which the two pitched. I don't know if the bullpen makes sense for a guy who may need to stay stretched out in the case of an emergency. Either way, he could have some success down there.
  • Casey Fien has three scoreless appearances so far in Erie. He's got the stuff to succeed, and it may be nice to go with the hot hand.
At this point, it is time to cylce in relievers and see if they stick. I'm sure we can get seven guys who can get outs late in games. Staying with the status quo at this point will only prove to pour more gas on the fire. I don't think roster moves to fix the bullpen will be much of a surprise to anybody tommorow.

Also, if you are curious, Tim Byrdak has thrown 4 scoreless innings with 5 strikeouts at AAA Round Rock in Houston's system. I'm not saying this was a bad move, but I'm merely pointing this out.

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