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2023 Tigers player preview: Chasen Shreve has inside track to a bullpen spot

A strong spring from the veteran reliever has him leading the rest of the lefties vying for a bullpen role.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers Photo Day Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Reliever Chasen Shreve came the Detroit Tigers spring camp knowing there were bullpen openings for left-handers in particular. The departure of Gregory Soto in the offseason trade with the Philadelphia Phillies left a pretty big hole. In Soto’s wake, Tyler Alexander was the only southpaw reliever with a claim on the active roster. Shreve isn’t going to replace Soto in the late innings any more than Alexander could, but so far the 32-year-old has seized the pole position among the group of lefties Scott Harris assembled this spring.

The Las Vegas native has put together the textbook definition of a journeyman career since breaking into the majors with the Atlanta Braves back in 2014. Shreve has played parts of nine seasons with five different teams, including two stints with the New York Mets. He’s generally been effective but the stuff is hardly overpowering. He’s also coming off a lost year where he battled a shoulder injury and didn’t get healthy until the offseason.

Shreve’s 2022 numbers are pretty rough, but he suffered a shoulder strain early in the year and tried to pitch through it to miserable effect. Things fell apart in June as he got clobbered repeatedly and finally designated for assignment by the Mets as they cleared a spot to reinstate Max Scherzer. At that point Shreve got the diagnosis and went into rehab mode for the rest of the regular season.

If healthy and effective, Shreve can handle right-handers reasonably well, making him a viable left-handed option in this three-batter minimum era. From 2019-2021 he was in a solid groove and pretty consistently good relief option. The Tigers will be hoping he can put last season behind him.

Chasen Shreve 2020-2022

Season IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 ERA fWAR
Season IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 ERA fWAR
2020 25.0 3.99 33.3 11.8 1.44 3.96 0.1
2021 56.1 4.73 19.1 11.9 1.12 3.20 -0.1
2022 26.1 5.01 25.4 8.8 2.05 6.49 -0.3

As you’d expect from a pitcher with a 91 mph fastball, Shreve has a little funk to his game, relying on deception and a tricky pitch mix. The fastball has a little ride, but it’s also pretty straight and lacking any gains from extension or angle. Ideally Shreve is tying hitters up with it inside and then expanding the zone with the splitter or slider down to either side of the plate. He’s only rarely posted above average strikeout numbers, but when he’s in a groove and spotting his splitter-slider combination, Shreve will rack up his share of whiffs and weak contact. When forced to throw the fastball over from behind in counts, it tends to get whacked.

Like most pitchers of this ilk, Shreve’s game really lives and dies by the splitter. He throws a real dead fish that falls straight off the table. It’s never hit hard and gets plenty of whiffs when he’s locating it down and away arm side. At times he’ll lose the handle on it and struggle to locate, putting himself in bad positions in counts and forcing him to risk more heaters, but generally the split is a pretty nasty pitch that locks up both right and left-handed hitters.

Here’s a look at the split. There are a lot of nasty ones to choose from.

The slider typically comes in around 81 mph compared to the 83 mph average on the splitter, so he can work them in opposite directions in the same velocity band. Shreve’s breaking ball has sometimes registered as a curveball because it has above average drop and well below average horizontal movement. It’s a straight slider, used against lefties mainly, and while it draws a fair amount of whiffs, the real saving grace is that he’s only given up one home run off a slider over the past three seasons. It’s a solid breaking ball but nothing special. The Tigers would probably like to build a bit more horizontal break into it.

Facing right-handers, Shreve turns almost exclusively to equal doses of the fastball and splitter, while lefties get 40 percent fastball and 30 percent splitter and slider each. His career splits are really well balanced and that hasn’t changed in recent years.

The obvious small advantage for Shreve with the Tigers is a slightly bigger park to pitch in. Considering the small sample of innings a reliever pitches, if just one home run stays in the park that might go out elsewhere, Shreve’s numbers will look significantly better overall. Meanwhile, it will be up to Chris Fetter and his staff to find something to help Shreve keep the heater in the park.

Perhaps the design will be to use the slider more, even against right-handers, and simply cut the fastball usage even further. It’s probably too much to ask for a high 80’s cutter to be developed at this point in Shreve’s career, though that would be ideal. Fetter and company have shown themselves pretty adept at game planning over the past two seasons and that’s probably where any minor improvement in his results will have to come from.

We’ve only seen 4 13 innings from Shreve in spring camp this year and the roster battles are just heating up for the drive to Opening Day. He’s allowed one earned run while striking out seven, six swinging, with one walk issued. With Tyler Alexander struggling a little bit, and none of the other lefties Scott Harris added on minor league deals impressing, Shreve seems to have the inside track to the Opening Day roster. If he can recapture his pre-injury form he should be a solid middle relief option who occasionally works some high leverage innings against opponents’ left-handed hitters.