DETROIT -- For as good as the starting rotation has been, the Detroit Tigers' bullpen has been the strength of the pitching staff in the last 30 days. Awful defense and one reliever have skewed the numbers unfavorably, but that masks just how dependable the team's relievers have been recently, and this year as a whole.
The last month has been kind to the bullpen, despite their workload, but in reality they've been relatively dependable throughout the season. Their only dark moment came during the Tigers' two-week stretch of collectively horrendous baseball, but overall, the 'pen has ranked among the best in baseball entering Friday night. Of course, that depends on whether you look to ERA or FIP, in which case the numbers are night and day.
The Tigers' defense ranks fourth-worst in Major League Baseball by defensive runs saved, mostly due to their center field, right field, and third base positions. Only second base and shortstop come in above zero -- second with 7 DRS, and short with 1 DRS. Their defense alone has cost the team 28 runs when you factor in shifts, which net them four in the plus.
Traditionally, the Tigers have a 4.57 ERA on the season, and a 5.36 ERA in the last 30 days. That's fourth-worst and tied for dead last in MLB, respectively. However, their FIP tells a completely different story. They have a 3.69 FIP (No. 8) for the year, and a 3.31 FIP (No. 2) in the last 30 days. That's more than a slight difference ... that's colossal. And the defense aren't the only culprits in this case. Exhibit A: Mark Lowe.
|Tigers relievers since May 24|
4.17 since 5/25
1.38 since 5/31
|Bruce Rondon||2.14||4 total||2 total||4.2||3|
That's not a misprint. Lowe's ERA is in double-digit figures. He hasn't pitched in a week for a reason: he has been awful for most of the season and the team is trying to limit using him. Meant to be the Tigers' setup man, he has been stashed away for blowouts because he can't be trusted with anything else. But just how much of an effect has he had on the bullpen stat-wise? Well ...
Subtract Lowe from the above team numbers for the last 30 days, and the ERA drops from 5.36 to 4.28, No. 15 in baseball instead of last. On the year, their ERA without him would be 3.94. In short, the Tigers' bullpen has been dependable and those numbers include the two-week stretch of bad baseball. Given the Tigers' defense and the in-flux state of the starting rotation, a solid bullpen is sorely needed.
It's been quite some time since the Tigers have had a dependable 'pen, and they've done so with a heavy workload, particularly in the last couple of weeks. On Thursday alone, Detroit used four of their seven relievers, and only Rondon gave up a run -- a solo homer.
Even with that home run, another plus for the bullpen has been how few they've allowed. In te last month, they have an 0.51 HR/9 -- best in the majors -- and a 0.76 HR/9 on the year, second-best in MLB. Realistically, the Tigers' bullpen isn't as bad as ERA indicates, and it's not quite as lights-out as FIP makes the argument for. However, it's pretty close, and as the year progresses it should even out.
At some point the team will need to do something about Lowe if he doesn't improve, because they cannot continue to avoid him beyond low pressure situations -- any move other than an injury would result in the organization eating his contract, as he's unlikely to accept a minor league demotion. But with shakier relievers back in Toledo, the bullpen has become a strength for Detroit in 2016.