Who should be on the Tigers' playoff roster?

Luke Putkonen gets lefties out better than most left handed relief pitchers - Tom Szczerbowski

Now that the Tigers have clinched a playoff spot, there are a few decisions to be made regarding which players should be on the post season roster. Here are the most likely options.

With the regular season winding down and the playoffs set to commence, probably next Friday in Oakland, the Tigers have a few last minute decisions to make about which players will be on the post season roster. Here are the players who are automatically eligible due to their status with the team as of August 31, 2013.

PLAYOFF ELIGIBLE PLAYERS

C- Alex Avila, Brayan Pena

1B/ DH- Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez

IF- Omar Infante, Jose Iglesias, Miguel Cabrera, Ramon Santiago, Jhonny Peralta, Hernan Perez

OF- Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Andy Dirks, Don Kelly, Matt Tuiasosopo

SP- Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello

RP- Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras, Al Alburquerque, Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke

DL- Luis Marte, Octavio Dotel

That list gives the Tigers a total of 28 automatically eligible players for 25 roster spots. A massive loophole is opened by the fact that the team had two players on the DL as of August 31st, Marte and Dotel, who can be replaced by any player who was in the organization as of that date. They don't even need to have been on the 40 man roster at the time. Peralta is eligible, but if the club decides not to take him, he can not be replaced by another player unless he is injured.

Dave Dombrowski made a shrewd move at the trade deadline to create some roster flexibility. Marte, who had been injured while pitching in Toledo, was called up to Detroit and placed on the major league disabled list. The club has had to pay him major league salary from that point, but it bought them a mulligan to be used for the playoff roster.

Now, here are some more players who are currently in the Tiger dugout, who could potentially be added in place of Dotel or Marte. If any of these are added to the post season roster, another player who is automatically eligible has to be removed, since the club can only carry 25. Another player will have to be removed to make room for Peralta, as well.

ADDITIONAL OPTIONS

C- Bryan Holaday

OF- Nick Castellanos

LHRP- Jose Alvarez, Darin Downs

RHRP- Luke Putkonen, Evan Reed, Jeremy Bonderman

SELECTING THE PLAYERS

The Tigers will go with either 11 pitchers and 14 position players, or 12 pitchers and 13 position players, as they have done for almost the entire season. They'll have a four man rotation when Rick Porcello is moved to the bullpen. You can talk all you like about Verlander or Fister going to the pen, but that just ain't gonna happen.

Once Porcello is in the pen, the club will have eight relief pitchers, unless they remove one and add another position player instead. This is exactly what they did on August 31st, when they optioned Jeremy Bonderman and Jose Alvarez to the minors, and recalled Hernan Perez and Phil Coke to Detroit. That move would seem to indicate that, not only did they favor Coke over Alvarez, but that they wanted Perez to be eligible without using up a mulligan.

There are differing opinions on what the mix of players on the roster will be. Tony Paul of the Detroit news believes that the Tigers will opt to go with eight relief pitchers- including Coke and Luke Putkonen. Obviously, the health status of Coke may impact which way the Tigers go with this.



Lynn Henning of the Detroit News wrote:

Hernan Perez is a good bet to be carried as a 14th position player because of his speed and versatility in the infield.

He continued...

It is expected Peralta, if his progression continues, will beat out Tuiasosopo, as well as Castellanos, for the right-handed platoon job in left field.

BYB Kurt agreed with Tony Paul on Twitter, that the Tigers would move Porcello to the bullpen and leave them with eight relievers. I tend to agree more with Mr Henning, and expect the team to drop a reliever and take an extra position player. We won't know until a decision is announced.


POSITION PLAYERS

Of the 15 automatically eligible position players, 13 or at most 14 will make the playoff roster. Castellanos and Holaday are not going to be added. Victor Martinez will serve as the third string catcher, and probably the starting catcher in National league ball parks.

So who's out? The candidates to be dropped are Hernan Perez and Matt Tuiasosopo. With Peralta prepping to play left field at least on a part time basis, it would seem that Tuiasosopo has become redundant. Tui did a fantastic job in a platoon role with Dirks in left field in the first half of the season, hitting .329 .447 .624 for an OPS of 1.070 and a wOBA of .459 in 100 plate appearances. But in the second half, his production fell to just .167 .259 .208 with an OPS of .467 and a wOBA of just .223.

His playing time has been reduced accordingly, logging just 81 plate appearances since the all star break. He is no wizard with the glove and isn't fleet afoot, so he looks to be the first odd man out among the eligibles. That leaves Perez on the roster if the Tigers choose to go with a seven man bullpen.


PLAYOFF BULLPEN

Benoit, Veras, Smyly, Rondon, and Alburquerque are on the team. Porcello being moved to the pen gives them six relief pitchers, with Smyly being the only lefty. Jim Leyland can and has used any or all of the above recently in high leverage, late inning situations, and they have mostly performed very well.

I won't go into excruciating detail on the stats here, as I've just recently gone over them in this article about the Tiger bullpen. Suffice it to say that there are six solid options as long as Rondon stays healthy and Alburquerque keeps trending up and keeps the ball in the yard. Here are the stats for the Tiger relief pitchers used during the 2013 season.

Porcello figures to be the first man out of the bullpen when the starting pitcher departs before the eighth inning. Benoit will close, and Veras is likely the eighth inning set up guy. After that, it's mix n match. Smyly, Rondon, and Alburquerque have all had their moments. There's a lot to like with the upside of the two right handers, but they're inexperienced, and disaster looms if the ball should decide to leave the yard, as it has done on Alburquerque's watch five times this season.

Since Smyly has struggled recently, but is still easily the best option against left handed hitters, he will likely be used mainly against left handed hitters. If he gets more action than that, it's likely because he's on a roll or has been handed the mop in a low leverage situation. That may not be what's best for Drew Smyly, but it appears to be what's best for the team, given the current circumstances.

There will be at least one, and maybe two more relief pitchers on the playoff roster. Leyland would like, no doubt, to add a second left hander. The problem is that all the other left handed relievers suck eggs, even against left handed hitters. Darin Downs is the best of a bad lot against lefties, and neither he, nor Coke- even if he's healthy, nor Alvarez are fit to even throw batting practice against right handed hitters. Here are the splits for Tiger pitchers in 2013 vs left handed hitters.

Leyland may prefer to carry another lefty just because he's a lefty, but I would counsel not to do that. I'd go a completely different route, and put Luke Putkonen in the playoff bullpen. He seems to have a clear edge over Reed or Bonderman if the club is going to carry another right hander, but he also has better numbers against both lefties and right handers than any of the three LOOGY candidates. Putkonen has allowed a home run ball on a few occasions, but maintains a respectable 3.00 ERA, a WHIP of 1.26 and strikes out a batter per inning. He hasn't walked a batter in the second half of the season.


INJURIES

Once playoff rosters are submitted at the start of the playoffs, Major league rules allow a team to replace a player on the playoff roster who is unable to play. However, the player who is replaced must sit out for that series and the next series. So if Cabrera or Iglesias are day to day, but unable to play in a given game, it might be handy to have the extra infielder for depth. Or maybe the club feels that Peralta would then start in the infield, and they need an extra right handed bat, or an outfielder.

The Tigers can leave Phil Coke off the roster for the ALDS and add him for the following series. In the final analysis, I would not carry more than seven relief pitchers, if only because the team doesn't have more than seven who are decent enough to trust in any meaningful situation. Therefore, I would put Perez on the roster, Putkonen in the bullpen, and keep Smyly as the only lefty relief pitcher.

What do you think? Who should be on the Tigers playoff roster?






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