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How the Tigers built a deep bullpen

The Tigers suddenly have a deep bullpen. Where did they find the arms?

Bonderman facing the Mets in 2010
Bonderman facing the Mets in 2010
Nick Laham

Jeremy Bonderman was a key piece of the Tigers' 14 inning victory on Wednesday night.  In 38 1/3 innings with Seattle this year, he had a Brad Penny-esq measly 16 strikeouts.  But against the Indians his fastball was back at 94 mph, and his slider had a late downward break.  In three innings he had three strikeouts and allowed only one hit.  The Tigers had their eleventh victory in a row, and confidence in a deep bullpen.

If the Tigers had not picked up Bonderman on a minor league deal, Evan Reed would likely have been used in those three innings last night.  Most likely Reed would have allowed at least a run, and the Tigers would have lost.  Fangraphs has a statistic that helps to quantify this, "Win Probability Added".  For last night's game, Bonderman was worth 0.40 wins.  That is valued at about a million dollars.

Bonderman was available for next-to-nothing, and is a converted starter.  He joins Jose Veras, who has not allowed in run in 5 1/3 innings for Detroit.  Veras made over 100 starts in the minor leagues, and was a free agent last winter.  Houston signed him for less than two million dollars.  He cost the Tigers a prospect in Danry Vasquez, but the system will always have more toolsy outfielders in the low minors.  Drew Smyly was a starter in the minors, and has found a home in the bullpen.  Al Alburquerque was signed as a minor league free agent.  Bruce Rondon was developed by the Tigers though he has not started a game since he was 18 years old.  Joaquin Benoit made 55 starts for Texas, performing below average, before moving to the bullpen.  Detroit signed him as a free agent.  He is the only one of the group receiving a significant salary in 2013.

This group of six relievers threw eight innings and allowed two runs.  Most were converted from starting pitchers at some point.  Half were acquired at very low cost.  Kudos to the front office.

So why in the world do the Tigers continue to draft relief pitching?  It did not work in 2008, and this year they doubled down by drafting even more.  Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?  If there is a need for a bullpen arm, they have demonstrated that they can find one quickly and cheaply.

Thankfully, Phil Coke was not needed last night.  He has only faced one batter in the month of August.  The Tigers are on an eleven game winning streak.  Is this a coincidence?