Earlier this offseason, we celebrated the seven year anniversary of the trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. The Tigers sent six players to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, highlighted by top prospects Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. One of the other four players was right-handed pitcher Burke Badenhop, who has carved out a nice career as a reliever. Now a free agent, Badenhop still has yet to latch on with a team for the 2015 season. Could the Tigers come calling for a potential homecoming?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
The Tigers drafted Badenhop out of Bowling Green University with a 19th round draft pick in 2005. He began his career as a starter, and actually put up some impressive numbers before he was traded to Florida. He split time between the rotation and bullpen with the Marlins in 2008, but missed a large chunk of the season with a knee injury. After another season of jumping back and forth in 2009, the Marlins shifted him to full-time bullpen duty in 2010. Over the past five seasons, Badenhop has allowed a 3.36 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 326 2/3 innings, all in relief. He spent two of those seasons in Miami, then shifted across the state to Tampa Bay in 2012. After a quick jump to the National League with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013, Badenhop posted a career high 1.0 WAR for the Boston Red Sox in 2014.
Why should we care?
While not a flashy pitcher by any means, Badenhop has shown a consistent ability to get big league hitters out. He has logged at least 60 innings in each of the past six seasons, and allowed an ERA under 4.00 in five of them. As a reliever, he has a career 3.35 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. He also has a 2.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 400 career relief innings, and has held opposing batters to a .679 OPS. Best of all, Badenhop has shown an uncanny ability to limit home runs. He has only allowed 31 in his entire career, and 24 as a reliever. However, his career 3.66 xFIP is still slightly lower than his 3.71 ERA.
He does not strike many batters out, but Badenhop is a ground ball machine. He relies heavily on his two-seam fastball, which averaged 90-91 miles per hour in 2014. All three of his pitches -- he also throws a changeup and slider -- resulted in a ground ball rate of 55 percent or higher last season, and he has been above 51 percent in every season of his career. Despite pitching just 70 2/3 innings last season, the Red Sox turned a whopping 14 double plays behind him. He has induced 57 double plays in his entire career, spanning just under 1900 plate appearances from opposing hitters.
Why should we stay away?
If you want a reliever who can get a strikeout in a big spot, Badenhop is definitely not your guy. He has only struck out 16.7 percent of the batters he has faced in his career, a figure that fell to 13.8 percent in 2014. He has fanned 50 batters in a season just twice, and his 40 strikeouts in 2014 were a career low for a full season. Opposing batters swung and missed on just 3.3 percent of pitches last season.
Badenhop also struggles with left-handed batters, who are hitting .274/.361/.421 against him in his career. His career walk rate against lefties is nearly triple (!) what it is against right-handers, and he only strikes out 11.6 percent of the left-handers he faces. He seems to have plenty of trouble commanding the ball against lefties, resulting in the high walk rate and a career 22 percent line drive rate. When platooned properly -- Badenhop faced nearly twice as many righties as lefties in 2014 -- he can be effective. Otherwise, he's a risky venture.
Will he end up in Detroit?
He is coming off of the best season of his career, but teams seem to be able to look past Badenhop's shiny ERA and see what type of pitcher he really is. With age working against him -- he will be 32 in 2015 -- he might be resigned to taking one year deals for the rest of his career. All of this is working in the Tigers' favor, though they may be able to get him at a cheaper price if they offer a second year. Will they even look Badenhop's way, though? It's doubtful, as the Tigers are enamored with power arms. However, with a continued need for solid bullpen depth, picking up a consistent reliever like Badenhop wouldn't be a bad idea.