One of the few bright spots for the Detroit Tigers in the first half of the 2022 season has been their bullpen. Detroit’s relief corps has posted the third lowest earned run average (ERA) in the major leagues. The Tigers’ 3.09 bullpen ERA is bested only by the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros.
The Tigers bullpen also ranks:
- Fourth in fWAR
- Fourth in fielding independent pitching (FIP)
- 5th with a .218 batting average allowed
- 19th in strikeouts per innings pitched
- 15th in walks per innings pitched
- Second in home runs per inning with a minuscule 0.52 HR/9 ratio
- Eleventh with a 45.1% ground ball percentage
- 9th with 1.12 walks plus hits per innings pitched
- Third with a 77% save percentage
- 10th with 29% of inherited runners scored
The fact that the home run ratio is so low means that they can survive by putting more runners on base. They are saving leads when given the chance and keeping the team in the game.
Individually, the numbers are even more impressive. Ten Detroit relievers have worked at least ten innings with an ERA below 3.50. Seven of those are under 3.00. Nine Tiger relief pitchers have a Home run ratio below 1.00 HR/9. Seven have a WHIP under 1.20.
Things could have gone much differently. Andrew Chafin, Jose Cisnero and Kyle Funkhouser, three pitchers who were penciled in for late-inning relief work, began the season on the injured list. Cisnero and Funkhouser have yet to pitch this season. Wily Peralta had visa issues and also missed time on the injured list. Tyler Alexander also spent time on the IL.
The depth of the relief corps in the Tigers organization has shown itself to be real.
Gregory Soto, the Tigers’ all-star along with Miguel Cabrera, has 18 saves with a 2.59 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and strikes out 9.19 batters per nine innings. He has a lofty walk rate of 4.31 BB/9, which gets the heart rate going, but he allows only 0.29 HR/9. As we see repeatedly with this team, you can get away with more base runners when you keep the ball in the yard.
Michael Fulmer has 16 holds, while posting a 2.38 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and has held opponents to a .165 batting average. His 4.76 BB/9 is high — he throws a lot of sliders off the plate- but his 0.26 HR ratio more than compensates. He’s eligible for free agency after this season, so he could be a prime trade candidate.
Andrew Chafin is doing what he was signed to do, posting a dozen holds with a 2.22 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and has never blown a lead as a Tiger. He strikes out 10.8 batters per nine, and walks just 2.59 per 9 innings. The Tigers have him signed through the 2023 season.
Joe Jimenez has had a resurgence after being optioned to the minors in 2021, posting a 3.48 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, striking out twelve batters per nine innings, walking just 2.14- a great improvement for him, and posting a 0.80 HR/9 ratio. He has become a valuable member of the bullpen.
Alex Lange has also recorded twelve holds, pitching to a 2.29 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP. He strikes out 11.21 and walks 2.59 batters per nine frames, and has not blown a save opportunity all season. His HR ratio is a tiny 0.25 per nine innings. His 56 percent ground ball rate is the highest on the team. He has been getting late-inning duty as well.
Will Vest was lost to Seattle as a Rule 5 pick two seasons ago and returned to Detroit. This season, he has pitched 34 innings with a 3.41 ERA, striking out 9.7 hitters per nine innings, walking 2.88/9 and allowing 0.79 HR/9. Those numbers would qualify him for more high leverage duty in a lesser bullpen. In Detroit, he is just another very solid reliever.
Tyler Alexander has seen both starting and relief duty this season, being pressed into spot duty when the rotation has a void. He works in long relief when in the bullpen and has the lowest BB rate on the staff at just 1.50. Pair that with a home run ratio of 0.50 and you can see where he gets a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings of relief. He doesn’t strike a lot of hitters out, but he is much better in the bullpen, where he is a valuable reliever.
Jason Foley has yet to allow a home run this season in 33.1 innings, pitching to a 3.24 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and walking just 2.16 batters per nine innings. He has allowed the highest batting average at .295, and whiffs barely five batters per nine innings, but he keeps the ball in the yard which makes him effective in average to low leverage situations.
Rony Garcia (7) and Drew Hutchison (5) have each made some spot starts. Like Alexander, Garcia had better results when pitching in relief while Hutchison has fared slightly better starting. Rony has pitched 14 innings of relief with a 2.57 ERA, striking out 11 batters per nine innings, walking less than two hitters per nine, and allowing a 1.29 HR ratio that is the highest in the team’s bullpen- but not bad at all considering his other metrics. Hutchison would be the low man on the totem pole in the bullpen, which explains being designated for assignment seemingly every other week.
There is a consistent theme running through the Tigers’ bullpen. They keep the ball in the ballpark, keep runs allowed to a minimum, and keep a team with an inept lineup in the ballgame.
With the trade deadline approaching, the Tigers will surely look to swap some of their relief pitchers, who tend to be overvalued by contenders in July, for young hitters who might shore up a lineup that needs run production more than relief pitching.