The Tigers did not get very good production out of their left-handed relief pitchers in 2014. Blaine Hardy was a pleasant surprise with a 2.54 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 39 innings, but Phil Coke and Ian Krol were major disappointments. Coke ended the season with a 3.88 ERA and 3.98 FIP, but is now a free agent. Krol was even worse, with a 4.96 ERA and 5.18 FIP. He was the worst player on the Tigers' roster with -0.5 WAR in 32 2/3 innings.
This sounds like a great reason to go after Andrew Miller, the best left-handed reliever on the market by a longshot. However, the Tigers may not like the idea of spending another $6 million on a single reliever in 2015. Instead, what about a lefty who has had some recent success, but will come at a discounted price? One possible option is Boston Red Sox left-hander Craig Breslow.
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Breslow is a 34 year old lefty who was drafted out of Yale by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002. A 26th round pick, Breslow was released by the Brewers in the middle of the 2004 season. He signed with the San Diego Padres in March of 2005 and made his MLB debut that July. Since then, Breslow has pitched for the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Red Sox (again). A true journeyman reliever, Breslow is now looking for a new home after the Sox declined his $4 million contract option for 2015.
Why should we care?
Breslow has been a solid reliever for the entirety of his nine year career. He has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in eight of his nine seasons, with occasional forays under the 2.00 mark. His best season came in 2013 with the Boston Red Sox. An afterthought at the beginning of the season, Breslow stepped into the setup role and allowed a sterling 1.81 ERA in 59 2/3 innings. He picked up 13 holds in 14 chances that year, and only allowed four earned runs after the All-Star break (playoffs included).
One of the biggest problems with the Tigers' left-handed relievers in 2014 is that they were essentially useless against right-handed hitters. Phil Coke allowed an .871 OPS to righties. Ian Krol's was even worse at 1.048. Breslow has not had such difficulties. In his nine year career, he has allowed righties to hit just .237/.325/.355 in 1130 plate appearances, a .680 OPS. His walk rate jumps to 11.1 percent against righties, but he still strikes them out at an 18.7 percent clip.
Why should we stay away?
Breslow was pretty bad in 2014, and at age 34, that's a concern. He upped his strikeout rate from 2013, but was still well below his career mark of 19 percent. His fastball velocity declined by almost two miles per hour, though an early season shoulder strain may be to blame. WEEI columnist Alex Speier notes that Breslow's velocity returned towards the end of the year, but also gives references to other overworked Red Sox relievers who never fully recovered from deep playoff runs in recent years.
Breslow's command can also be an issue at times. He walked 28 batters in 54 1/3 innings last season and has given up 3.65 walks per nine innings in his career. He has been better in recent years, but has never been considered a dart thrower. He only has one season with a walk rate under three batters per nine innings, resulting in a middling 1.98 career strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Breslow's name has not been mentioned in any rumors since his option was declined by the Red Sox, but that doesn't really mean anything. A guy like Breslow may wait until Andrew Miller signs in order to better gauge his own worth. The Tigers may be able to pick up someone like Breslow with an aggressive offer, but odds are that he will not sign until after the Winter Meetings in December.