One of the few open spots on the Tigers' 25 man roster is the one that Manager Brad Ausmus would like to fill with a second left handed reliever. The first lefty reliever is newly acquired Ian Krol, who came to Detroit in the Doug Fister trade with Washington.
Ausmus has said that he would like to have a second left handed reliever in the bullpen, and the job is there for Phil Coke, if he can step up and claim it. So far this spring, Coke has done nothing to indicate that he should have the job, with a 7.20 ERA, giving up ten hits in seven innings of work in the grapefruit league. So if not Coke, then who should be the second lefty in the Tiger bullpen?
The Tigers may prefer to have a left hander for their long relief role, since they have four right handers in the starting rotation, and opposing managers are likely to have lineups with plenty of left handed hitters.
On Wednesday, the Tigers announced that they were sending Casey Crosby, the only other left handed relief pitcher currently on the 40 man roster, to Toledo. They still have Kyle Lobstein and Jose Alvarez with the major league squad. Both of them figure to start the season starting at Triple- A, and one of them is likely the sixth man in line for a spot in the Tigers' five man rotation. That job would generally be more important than being the "long man" in Detroit.
Neither Coke nor Alvarez gave the team a reason to believe that they were suitable for major league duty in their performances last year. Coke was 0- 5 with an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.67 while allowing opponents to hit .291. Between starting and relief, Alvarez was 1- 5 with a 5.82 ERA and a WHIP of 1.50 allowing an average of .281. You just don't want a pitcher with those kind of numbers within the manager's beckon.
Lobstein has a 7.20 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP so far this spring, and has yet to make his major league debut, but had a solid year last season in Toledo, working a solid 167.2 innings with an ERA of 3.27 and WHIP of 1.29. More importantly, the job that the Tigers have in mind for the last man to make the team in the bullpen is that of a long reliever, who will work the lowest leverage situations- earlier in the game when the starter has been removed and the chances of victory are the smallest. The sixth starter is likely to play a more important role over the course of the season, even if most of that time is spent in the minor leagues.
Blaine Hardy is a non roster invitee in spring training this year who has not allowed an earned run in 6.2 innings, while holding opponents to a .191 average. Hardy pitched in both the rotation and the bullpen in Toledo last year. If Ausmus insists on carrying two left handed relievers, Hardy might just be a favorite to make the team. If he does, he can take Coke's spot on the roster, because Coke surely won't be there.
The other decision that the Tigers face in putting together the bullpen for opening day is that they probably just have one spot open for a right handed pitcher, with jobs all but locked up for Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Krol.
Among the right handers, Evan Reed is having a decent spring campaign. Reed has allowed two runs on three hits, with 11 strikeouts in 8 innings of work. He has a 2.25 ERA and allowed a batting average of just .111. In 2013, Reed had a 4.24 ERA, and an FIP of 3.86. He features a fastball in the upper 90's that the Tigers love. The catch here is that Reed is out of options, so he can not be sent to the minors without clearing waivers, and the Tigers risk losing him for basically nothing if he doesn't make the opening day roster.
Luke Putkonen is also having a fine spring- throwing five scoreless innings thus far, and did a pretty decent job for them last year as well. In 29.2 major league innings in 2013, he had a 3.03 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.31. Of importance is that Putkonen has been effective against left handed batters, allowing a wOBA of just .257.
Jose Ortega and Justin Miller are two right handers who remain in major league camp, but both have struggled this spring and have options remaining, so they can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.
As I explained in this article, the data shows that very few left handed relievers actually face more left handed hitters than right handers. The vast majority, even if they have the reputation of being a lefty specialist, face a majority of right handed hitters over the course of a season, even though the manager is looking for the ideal match ups for them.
Of course, these are small samples and I don't want to put a lot of stock in spring training statistics, but these are all the numbers that we, and Brad Ausmus, have to go on. Ausmus will make his decision based on what he sees on the field, rather than just what shows up in the stat charts, but all signs here point to the idea that both Reed and Putkonen should be in the major league bullpen ahead of any left handed pitcher that the Tigers have currently on the roster in Lakeland.