When the Detroit Tigers placed Daniel Stumpf on the disabled list and recalled righthander Johnny Barbato on Tuesday, they found themselves in rare company. According to awesome Tigers fan Eddie Bajek — an absolute must-follow on Twitter — this is the first time in over 40 years that the Tigers will be without a left-handed pitcher in their bullpen. Stumpf had been acting as the main lefty out of the ‘pen for most of the season, with Chad Bell (now in Atlanta) and Blaine Hardy (rotation) filling in occasionally.
Now, the Tigers find themselves with a seven-man bullpen comprised entirely of righthanders. Shane Greene, Joe Jimenez, and Buck Farmer have been around for most of the season already, with Warwick Saupold filling in occasionally. Barbato will join (fairly) recent call-ups Artie Lewicki and Louis Coleman as the new-ish guys in the ‘pen, ones that will be counted upon in the middle innings to get important outs with runners on base.
These situations have just gotten a lot more interesting without Stumpf or another lefthander in the mix. The Tigers may change things around soon, but with Ryan Carpenter reportedly heading to the rotation, the club will need to get creative in how they handle the middle innings — and matchups with left-handed hitters, in particular. There are a number of different ways the Tigers could approach this obstacle; here are a few of the most likely ways they try to get by until Stumpf returns.
Option #1: Just use righties against left-handed hitters
The easiest way for the Tigers to attack left-handed hitters with their bullpen is one fans have desired for years. Instead of using a mediocre lefthander in those situations, they could just use a righty — hopefully one with decent splits — against tough left-handed hitters in the late innings. Even with Stumpf and their other lefties, the bullpen hasn’t been very good against left-handed hitters this season. Detroit’s left-handed relievers have allowed a .356 wOBA against left-handed batters in 2018; meanwhile, their right-handed relievers have allowed a .338 wOBA to lefty batters.
The best option to fill this “LOOGY” role would be Joe Jimenez, who is already entrenched in an eighth inning setup role. Jimenez has limited lefties to a .171/.227/.293 line this year, and has 14 strikeouts to just two walks in 45 plate appearances. Assuming Jimenez stays in his current role, the Tigers could use Louis Coleman and Artie Lewicki in these situations. Coleman has limited lefthanders to a .221 wOBA in a handful of appearances. He was also great against lefties in the minors last year, holding them to a .571 OPS. Lewicki’s .296 wOBA allowed against lefties is fifth-lowest on the active roster. He also held lefties in check in the minors last year, allowing a scant .292 on-base percentage.
Option #2: Use Ryan Carpenter and Blaine Hardy in relief
Ron Gardenhire hasn’t been afraid to use Blaine Hardy out of the bullpen in the days between his starts, and for good reason. Hardy has been on fire this season, and is probably the best left-handed reliever in the organization right now. He has limited left-handed batters to a .283 wOBA this year, and a .287 wOBA in his major league career. However, he would only be available for one appearance between starts, leaving the Tigers without a lefty reliever in their other four games.
Carpenter hasn’t been quite as good against lefties in the majors this year, but has previously done well against them in the minor leagues. He too could be used between starts, but would face a similar restriction as Hardy. However, since Gardenhire has been quicker to pull both lefties when in the rotation, they could likely withstand the extra workload since they are throwing bullpen sessions between starts anyway. Matthew Boyd could theoretically be used in the same way, but given his performance as a starter this season, the Tigers might not be willing to change his routine between starts (and rightly so).
Option #3: Use Victor Reyes
I mean, he’s not doing anything else...
Option #4: Call someone else up
This one would be a little more tricky. The Tigers only have one healthy lefthander on their 40-man roster who isn’t already in Detroit, and that’s prospect Gregory Soto. The 23-year-old has been scuffling somewhat in High-A Lakeland, and isn’t ready for MLB action. Plus, if the Tigers really wanted to use him, they likely would have called him up over Johnny Barbato already.
Any other moves will require a corresponding move to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. The Toledo Mud Hens have three lefthanders on their active roster: Josh Turley, Caleb Thielbar, and new signee Kevin Chapman. We may yet see the Tigers purchase the contract of one of those players at some point, but they will have to try to squeeze someone through waivers (or move an injured player to the 60-day disabled list) to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.