What impact will Joel Hanrahan have on the Tiger bullpen?

Jared Wickerham

Former All Star closer Joel Hanrahan is expected to join the Tigers some time in June. What impact could he have on the team?

Prior to being sidelined for Tommy John surgery in May, 2013, Joel Hanrahan was the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates for two seasons, being selected to the National League All Star team in 2011 and 2012.  Hanrahan took over the closer's role in Pittsburgh late in the 2010 season. While the closer's job in Detroit is occupied by Joe Nathan, the Tigers have signed Hanrahan with the intention of giving him late inning duty in an important set up role.

Impact on the Roster:  Hanrahan has been immediately placed on the major league roster and on the 15 day disabled list, so the Tigers don't immediately need to remove a player from the 25 man roster yet.  To make room on the 40 man roster, the club has outrighted left handed reliever Mike Belfiore, who was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles at the start of this season.

When Hanrahan is ready to join the active roster, the Tigers will need to remove another player- a relief pitcher- in order to make room for him.  The club currently has eight players in the bullpen, but that number will be reduced to seven when Robbie Ray is called up for a start on May 6, and that spot will go to Anibal Sanchez when he comes off the disabled list shortly thereafter.  Sanchez is eligible to return on May 12.   Likely candidates for removal include Jose Ortega, Justin Miller, and Phil Coke.

Impact on the bullpen: Closer is the role that Hanrahan is most familiar with since the Pirates gave him the job late in the 2010 season.  He thrived in that role for two more seasons, and was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 2013 to be their closer.  He recorded just four saves before being sidelined for season ending surgery. In 2012 and 2013, he logged 128 innings, with 76 saves, an ERA of 2.24 and a WHIP of 1.15, striking out a batter per inning, while holding opposing hitters to a .203 batting average.

Hanrahan was a starting pitcher all the way through college and through the minor leagues, and started twelve games for the Washington Nationals in 2007, when he was first called up.  He worked out of Washington's bullpen in 2008 and 2009 and was then Traded by the Nationals with Lastings Milledge to the Pirates for Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan. He worked in the Pirates' bullpen in a set up role before being given ninth inning duties late in the 2010 season.

According to pitch f/x, Hanrahan features two pitches, a fastball which was regularly clocked in the high 90's, and a slider in the upper 80's which he likes to throw with two strikes on the hitter. He has abandoned his change up, which he used to throw to left handed batters. His velocity on the four seamer rose about 5 mph when he moved to the bullpen full time.

Whether he pitches the seventh or the eight inning in Detroit is not yet known.  The Tigers acquired Joba Chamberlain with the idea that Nathan would close, and Bruce Rondon would be the primary set up man.  Joba has assumed the eighth inning role at least for now, and has done well after two shaky appearances to start the season.

The addition of Hanrahan will leave the team with three new additions, in the critical late inning roles who were not on the team in 2013.  With Chamberlain and Hanrahan in set up roles, manager Brad Ausmus will have Al Alburquerque, left hander Ian Krol, right hander Evan Reed (who is out of options), and probably another left hander to work lower leverage innings, or pull late inning duty in a pinch. As we've seen in recent seasons, the Tigers are capable of having a bullpen ERA above the league average, while being very effective in the late innings.

Chamberlain's best work during his career came in a seventh inning role with the Yankees, behind the legendary Mariano Rivera and set up man Rafael Soriano. If Hanrahan regains his old form, an eighth inning job is his most likely role. That's a big IF as it will take him some time to regain effectiveness following surgery just a year ago. He is available at a bargain rate for a good reason.

Are the Tigers done? It would come as no surprise if the Tigers were to either call up or acquire another left handed reliever to replace Phil Coke, but for the time being, they seem content to let Coke work the lowest leverage innings when two or three runs won't make a difference, and see if he can regain major league form. Luke Putkonen is due to come off the disabled list, and the Tigers still have young right handers Melvin Mercedes and Cory Knebel on the rise, currently  pitching in the minors.

Impact on payroll:  The Tigers get Hanrahan without having to sacrifice any talent from their organization.  Hanrahan is guaranteed $ 1 million for the season, with another potential $ 2 million in incentives.  Those incentives will be related to things like games finished, game appearances, and any awards given. Incentives are not based on the most commonly used statistics, such as ERA, Wins, or WHIP.

Cot's contracts will surely have the details on the incentives soon enough.  Chamberlain earns $ 2.5 million in salary, plus bonuses of $ 100.000 each for 35, 40, 45, 50, and 55 games pitched, plus a $ 75,000 bonus if he is selected to the All Star team.  The Tigers will save a pro rated portion of the major league minimum if Hanrahan replaces a player who is sent to the minors.  The more bonus money Hanrahan earns, the better his signing will look at the end of the season.

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