Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Tigers veteran arson squad

Joe Nathan has 27 saves for the Tigers -- and six blown
saves, with an ERA of 5.36. He has one more year
at $10 million left on his contract.
One of my many pet theories is that the bullpen is a measuring stick for an organization's competency. Relief pitching is both fragile and available. Good organizations, my theory holds, are aware of this and constantly re-evaluate their bullpens and seek to rebuild them on the fly. Top-notch managers are usually adept at identifying the failed starters whose strengths lend themselves to relief work and find the proper matchups.

That's the theory, and then there's the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have dominated the AL Central the past three seasons and remain in the hunt this year, but their bullpens have been more hindrance than help. Given how well general manager Dave Dombrowski has done over the years in other aspects of the roster, that's surprising.

This year's Tigers bullpen is an assemblage of "proven closers" unlike almost any I can remember. Between the 40-man roster and the 60-day disabled list, they have

  • Joe Nathan, 368 lifetime saves, six All-Star teams
  • Joakim Soria, 177saves, two All-Star teams
  • Jim Johnson, 124 saves, one All-Star team
  • Joel Hanrahan, 100 saves, two All-Star teams

That's 769 saves and 11 All-Star rosters among the four of them. And we haven't even gotten to Detroit's passel of veteran setup men: Joba Chamberlain (seven saves), Phil Coke (eight saves), Al Alburquerque (one) ...

Nathan's addition (to a two-year, $20 million deal as a free agent) was supposed to put an end to the late-inning collapses, but the former Twins stopper has had a miserable season. Johnson led the majors in saves in 2012 and 2013 with Baltimore; this year he's been released by Oakland and has an ERA of 7.31. He and the currently DL'd Soira, briefly dubbed the "Mexicutioner" in his glory days with the Royals, were midseason additions. Hanrahan hasn't actually thrown a pitch for the Tigers this year and isn't likely to.

All these guys (except Chamberlain and Alburquerque, each 28) are at least 30 years old, and the resulting cluster of aged firemen-turned-arsonists suggests that somebody in the Detroit organization -- perhaps first-year manager Brad Ausmus. perhaps somebody higher in the organization -- is uncomfortable with the idea of identifying the suitable skill set in somebody unproven in the job.

Given the World Series-or-bust mindset in Detroit, that's understandable. It's also an expensive mistake.

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