General Manager Dave Dombrowski did a not-Dave Dombrowski thing this offseason. Rather than doing Dave Dombrowski things like not signing a "proven" closer for the bullpen, he instead did sign a "proven" closer to replace the guy who did an equally good job at half the price. Mlivers and Disciples of Bill Simonson rejoiced, because now we had no reason to fear the ninth inning. Now we have a real "Shut Down" Closer unlike Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney, and Jose Valverde who were apparently not shutdown closers in spite of the fact that they did their jobs well anyways.
Now I have nothing against Joe Nathan signing with the Tigers. Joe Nathan is a very good pitcher. As Tigers fans, we are the #1 authority on Joe Nathan and his being good at pitching. But Joe Nathan wasn't the answer to the Tigers alleged bullpen woes, as intelligent Tigers Fans (IE, ones who frequently read articles posted on Bless You Boys) will tell you. The ninth Inning was never the problem because Joaquin Benoit pitched in it, and Joaquin Benoit did things that made Tigers fans happy and non-Tigers fans sad more often than not. The real issue is the lack of faith in the candidates who will bridge the gap between [Insert name of ridiculously stupid good Tigers Starter here] and Joe Nathan. As it just so happens, the 7th and 8th innings are higher up on the leverage index than the ninth inning.
So where is the setup man? Luke Putkonen doesn't fare well in high leverage at bats. Ian Krol is just a LOOGY. Phil Coke is a LOOGY who can't get lefties out and somehow still has a job. Bruce Rondon also can't get lefties out, which doesn't bode well in an American League that features 12 starting lineups that could possibly be lefty/switch-hitting dominant. Joba Chamberlain doesn't have a platoon split, but even if Jeff Jones fixes him like he did with The Ice Cream Man, I would only bet on the Hutt for the seventh inning.
And then there's Al Alburquerque.
Yeah, he does walk a lot of people. Walking people isn't good. But Al Al also does this:
In spite of nagging base-on-balls issues, Al Alburquerque still gets a huge amount of batters out. Career-wise, opposing batters have a wOBA of .247 against the Tigers's strikeout wizard in high leverage at bats and a wOBA of .230 in medium leverage at bats. I'm a bit too lazy to try and compile the full list, but to the best of my knowledge the only professional baseball players who make a considerable sum of money posting pathetic offensive numbers such as the above are pitchers who pitch in the National League and Chone Figgins. Compare Al Al to the likes of:
- Cardinals Setup-turned-closer-because-Edward-Mujica-Regressed- man Trevor Rosenthal, who allowed a .286 wOBA to opponents in high leverage plate appearances last year
- Junichi Tazawa, setup man for the World Champion Boston Red Sox, who allowed hitters on base to the tune of a .313 wOBA in high leverage situations, and a .280 wOBA in medium leverage situations (Both marks are less than Al Al's career averages).
- Tampa Bay Rays setup man Joel Peralta, who allowed opponents a wOBA of .301 clip
- Or Royals Setup men Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow, who allowed a .292 and .320 wOBA respectively to opponents in high leverage at bat.
- I could try to compare Al Al to David Robertson, but David Robertson is ridiculously good and that wouldn't be fair to Al Al
If Alburquerque can cut down on the walks and meltdowns and stay healthy, maybe we already have our setup man who happens to be very, very good. Then again, maybe my somewhat unbridled optimism is unwarranted. I do like the fact, however, that there is some optimism there.
In my opinion, I think Al Al will could be the great setup man we've been looking for (just make sure you have pills and/or alcohol handy when the walks start piling up). Then again, he could end up not being good because relief pitchers are volatile. But that's always an issue with bullpen arms, and Al Alburquerque makes opposing batters look like high-schoolers a whole lot, which is fun.