My pick for underappreciated Tiger: Joaquin Benoit
It's a little bit strange that I've decided to write about Joaquin Benoit for a post sponsored by Moneyball. Let's face it, paying a setup man millions of dollars a year is definitely not an idea that would have been espoused in Moneyball. Remember how Billy Beane reportedly threw a chair after his team drafted Jeremy Bonderman. If the A's gave out the 3-year, $16.5 million contract the Tigers did to Benoit, he probably would have hurled the darn thing into the upper deck seats covered by tarps.
If I was going to write a truly Moneyball-like story, I'd have to feature Al Alburquerque, who was thrown away by a couple of teams only to catch fire for the Tigers. What a pickup that was.
Still, I felt like highlighting one of the Tigers players I think fans don't appreciate quite as much as they could. Benoit wasn't the only candidate of course. I could have written about Ramon Santiago, but I hear him praised so frequently around these parts that I think it's safe to say BYB readers appreciate Santiago. It was even suggested to me that Miguel Cabrera could be a candidate. In fact, two fellow Tigers writers have penned posts recently mentioning how Cabrera is taken for granted by fans and media.
So I'm going to write about Benoit, a horrible first impression but a keystone in the late innings ever since. Certainly, you can certainly share your picks in the comments section.
I think a lot of fans gave up on Benoit early. He was not without his struggles. It looked like the signing could be a colossal failure when the relief pitcher not only didn't recapture 2010, but fell flat on his face by the month of May. In fact, his ERA reached as high as the 8s and he finished May at 5.85. He was tagged with three losses in five appearances after giving up 3 runs twice and four runs once. It was bad. I was tagged with being a clueless hack by some on Twitter who didn't agree with my post saying Benoit was actually pretty close to turning things around. Fortunately for the Tigers, Benoit straightened things out and has since made the eighth inning one of relative calm most of the year.
Since June, Benoit has 19 holds and three blown holds. (Technically they're called blown saves, but just want to keep it simple in your mind.) Benoit also has a 3-0 record. (One a vulture win, to be fair.) He's been pitching especially well as of late. The last run he was debited for was Aug. 1. He's made 17 consecutive appearances without allowing a run.
How good has he been recently? During the past 45 appereances (42 innings) he has allowed just 7 runs for a 1.50 ERA. He has 43 strikeouts during that time.
Before that, he allowed just one run in the month of July and three in June. Benoit doesn't allow a lot of inherited runners to score either. Nine of the 28 runners scored for a .679 strand rate. The only bullpen member with more success is Al Alburquerque.
Where would the Tigers be without Benoit in the bullpen this year? It's hard to say, but I have a hard time thinking they'd have had as successful of a season as they're enjoying. Imagine when Alburquerque was injured if the seventh and eighth innings were inherited by Ryan Perry, Daniel Schlereth, Brayan Villarreal, Phil Coke or whatever have you. For large swaths of the season of those players struggled. Thankfully, Perry, Schlereth and Coke are all doing well now. But a bullpen without Benoit and Alburquerque could have been demoralizing in July and August.
So that's my pick. Who is yours?