Too often, left handed relief pitchers are branded as left-handed specialists, or "LOOGYs." This should not be the case with Tony Sipp, the veteran lefthander who was last seen pitching out of the bullpen for the Houston Astros. Over a seven year career that includes work with the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks, the 32-year-old southpaw is coming off his finest season. He ranks with Antonio Bastardo as one of the premier left-handed relief pitchers on the free agent market.
It is no coincidence, then, that the Detroit Tigers are interested in both Sipp and Bastardo. Fox Sports' Jon Morosi tweeted that the Tigers "have talked about Sipp and Bastardo, among others." It's unclear whether the team has actually reached out to either pitcher yet, but the desire to improve is there.
Sipp is the owner of a career 3.50 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP, but that's not the whole story. While his usage suggests some bias toward being used as a lefty specialist, his platoon splits show that he has been effective against both left and right-handed hitters. Sipp has faced righthanders 52 percent of the time over his career, and his career splits don't show a substantial bias in either direction.
Who is he?
Sipp was not drafted until the Cleveland Indians selected him out of Clemson University in the 45th round of the 2004 amateur player draft. Originally drafted as a starting pitcher, he took his time getting to the major leagues, making his debut as a 25-year-old reliever in 2009. After four seasons in Cleveland, he was sent as part of a three-way trade along with Shin-Soo Choo to Arizona, with Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, and Trevor Bauer going to Cleveland.
Arizona released Sipp after a turbulent 2013 season. After an unsuccessful tryout with San Diego, he was signed as a free agent by the Astros and made his way back to the major leagues where he has spent two seasons in Houston's bullpen.
Why should we be interested?
Sipp is one of only four current free agent relief pitchers to accumulate at least 1.0 fWAR during the 2015 season (O'Day, Kelley, and Lowe are the others). The Tigers' need for bullpen help is quite apparent, but Detroit could use some left-handed relief in particular, with Blaine Hardy being the only reliable southpaw reliever on the roster. Sipp is projected to sign for two to three seasons with a salary of $4 to 5 million. If that is his true price tag, he is an affordable set up man who could make a nice compliment for Mark Lowe and Francisco Rodriguez at the back end of the Tigers bullpen. He has posted two consecutive seasons with a 2.93 FIP, suggesting he has figured something out.
Why should we stay away?
You see that 1.0 fWAR for 2015? Well, that also happens to be his career fWAR, meaning that he has been about a replacement level pitcher over his first five seasons in the major leagues. Sipp posted career bests in almost all statistics last summer. His lone season with Arizona in the National League is the outlier on the bad side, but his 2015 season was his career year, so carpe diem when it comes to signing a player coming off a career season. His walk and home run are nothing to write home about, either, but the overall results outshine some of his peripherals.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The Tigers are definitely looking for bullpen help, and Sipp is one of about 10 free agent relief pitchers who could fit into an eighth inning role for them. He has gotten more outs in the eighth than any other inning in his career, with a 2.90 ERA, allowing a .203 batting average. Sipp should fit into the Tigers' budget, so it's just a matter of what the Tigers' brass think is their best fit. Should they acquire another of the top relief pitchers, in addition to Lowe, it makes even more sense that one of them should be a lefty.