Friday, July 29, 2011

Tigers bullpen woes fall on Dombrowski

There have been many times this season when manager Jim Leyland has been criticized for the way he has handled the bullpen, but in reality, the culprit for the Tigers' relief pitching troubles has been general manager Dave Dombrowski.
In truth, Leyland hasn't had much to choose from.
The Tigers' farm system simply has not procured quality relief pitching. Nor has Dombrowski been able to garner effective relievers from elsewhere that were not costly.
The Tigers have four quality relievers. One is a high-priced free agent closer, Jose Valverde. Another is a high-priced free agent setup man, Joaquin Benoit. Phil Coke was acquired as a part of an expensive trade involving a premier player, Curtis Granderson. The only exception is Alberto Albuquerque, a journeyman minor leaguer the Tigers discovered in the Dominican winter league. And he's often been unavailable lately because of an arm ailment.
Two factors have killed the Tigers' bullpen this season. One was Dombrowski's decision to re-sign Joel Zumaya to a one-year, $1.4 million contract despite his history of injuries. It was risk that obviously didn't pay off. Another has been the lack of development by Ryan Perry, a first round draft choice from 2008. He has been, to say the least, undependable and is at Toledo.
The Tigers' first four selections that year were college relievers. Second-rounder Cody Satterwhite and third-rounder Scott Green missed last season with injuries and have just returned. Satterwhite is still in the rookie Gulf Coast League, but at least is throwing again. Green has moved up to the short-season New York-Penn League and has a 7.71 ERA in two appearances after pitching mostly in the Gulf Coast League this season. The Tigers traded fourth-round pick Brett Jacobson to Baltimore for Aubrey Huff. He has since been traded to the Twins organization. He has a 4.78 ERA in Double-A.
Dombrowski's theory is that the best bullpens are developed within - and I agree with that premise. But the Tigers aren't developing relievers. Look at the revolving door from the minor leagues this season. Lester Oliveros, Brayan Villarreal, Adam Wilk, Robbie Weinhardt. Those are your homegrown products.
Dombrowski did trade for David Purcey. He was OK for awhile. Lately, though, home plate umpires keep repeating the name of a famous baseball book when Purcey has been on the mound.
"Ball Four."
Winning a division, even one as lame as this version of the A.L. Central, is extraordinarily difficult without bullpen depth. It why you end up with Chance Ruffin making his major league debut with the bases loaded. It's a constant game of throwing stuff on the wall to see what sticks.
I've heard over and over from Tigers fans, "How could Leyland put that (name the reliever) in that situation."
Answer: Because he didn't have a choice.
That's not necessarily on Jim Leyland, but his general manager.



Blogger Larry Baker said...

I agree, book. At no time since following the Tigers, Pistons, Lions, and Wings have the state of the franchises seemed more directly linked to the "visions" of the GMs. But oddly, it is the LIONS and Wings who actually seem to have made sounder investments in personnel. The Tigers and Pistons have been hobbled by some really poor planning and signings, et the coaches have been the fall guys.

8:47 AM 
Blogger Fred Brill said...

Unless you're the Yankees or the Red Sox - who have ocean deep pockets and play the "win no matter what it costs" game - this task of securing players under the current market is F'ing hard to accomplish!

Especially when discussing bull pen staff. Face it, a pitcher is in the bull pen cause they didn't cut the grade of being a starter. I can't think of one reliever in my feeble memory (closers not included) who was a no-brainer to succeed! Relief pitchers are the flakiest of the bunch - and have bigger slumps and streaks put than any everyday position player or starting rotation thrower.

Bull pen guys - on average last far shorter up in the bigs than any other position (except bat boy).

You don't just drive to Pitcher's-R-US and pick up a few guys. And at the start of this season, we thought our Bull Pen was stronger than our starters.

Granted there are a lot of dumb signings (actually re-signings) that Dombrowski made that you can throw darts at him for - but reaching into the black box of available relief pitchers on the market and hoping you get one that really is effective consistantly is a bit ... well ... not fair.

That's my take on it anyway - who's the best of the guys who aren't good enough to start - there is a reason they're not starters.

12:28 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Could not be more spot on with this. That draft a few years back with Perry and all the other relievers looks even more foolish now than it did at the time. You do not draft college and high school relievers. You draft power-pitching starters with good to great stuff, and turn the worst of the lot into relief pitchers. As I'm sure anyone who's actually in the game will tell you, that's baseball drafting 101. The system is not as barren as it was under Randy Smith, but these recent gambles in the draft have been very damaging to the franchise.


1:15 PM 
Blogger Kyle said...

"Tigers bullpen woes fall Dombrowski"

Is that a sentence? I keep trying to parse it like a sentence, and I'm failing. Is there supposed to be an "on" in there?

3:34 PM 
Blogger henrique said...

what a excellent article! N0 one want to put the blame where it belongs. Everyone blame Leyland for everything.

Good Job

3:46 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disappointed that Dombrowski was not able to make a deal for even a risky middle reliever before this deadline.

Do us a favor, Pat. Some day let's take a long look on Dombrowski's performance (deals) over his tenure.

I think we would be surprised that this guy is over-rated.

Then again, maybe the knowledgable Detroit fans would NOT be surprised.

6:59 PM 
Anonymous woody said...

i don't fault dombrowski for signing zumaya, it's a risk that didn't pay off, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the proper move.

not a large investment, and the guy has so much ability that if he had pitched in 20 games, he'd have earned that salary. other teams in mlb would have signed him for similar amount if tigers decided to non-tender him.

likewise, it wasn't unreasonable to expect either Perry or Schlereth to succeed in their intended roles. however, they had no veteran option other than Thomas to fill in when both struggled. that's the roster slot they should have upgraded in the offseason. if I remember right, Knapp was highly involved in bringing Thomas to Detroit, and misreading his value hurt the team.

11:11 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Larry Baker,
No question that Dombrowski has had mixed bag of moves. But there have more bad than good in regard to bullpen. It's the Tigers' biggest weakness.

7:49 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Fred Brill,
In order to have a solid bullpen, you need to draft well. Depth in pitching. Dombrowski simply hasn't done that.

7:50 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

You are right on two fronts. One, it definitely went against the grain. And, two, it didn't work.

7:51 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Corrected it. Thanks for pointing it out.

7:52 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

It's not just on Leyland. Agreed.

7:52 PM 

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