Tuesday, May 08, 2012

How the Tigers bullpen problems and hitting slump go hand-in-hand

The past week, the Tigers bullpen, and the way manager Jim Leyland has handled it, has been criticized. It's justified. Jose Valverde's been alarmingly shaky this season. Joaquin Benoit has not been much better. The save Valverde blew against Chicago Saturday was disturbing. Monday night at Seattle, it was understandable why Leyland didn't use Valverde with a 2-0 lead in the ninth. He had pitched the previous three days. But why not Benoit instead of Octavio Dotel? Well, Dotel had been the better pitcher up to that point of the season, but he pitched poorly Monday. He started walking hitters, the onslaught ensued and the Tigers lost. It was the second time in three games their bullpen couldn't hold a lead.
While the woes of the bullpen are likely the Tigers' biggest long-range concern, it wouldn't have become this much of a factor, this early in the season, if the Tigers were hitting better.
For a lineup that is supposed to be among the most productive in baseball, the Tigers hitters have been below average.
 Their .249 team average is below the American League overall mark of .250. The Tigers also below the American League average in runs scored, hits, OPS and doubles. In their last five games, the Tigers have scored two runs three times, three runs once and five once. The Tigers haven't necessarily been seeing the best pitching, either. None of Seattle pitchers that worked against them Monday, for example, had an ERA of under 4.00 entering the game.
It's not just one segment of the lineup that isn't clicking, either. It's the entire lineup, including the big guns, Miguel Cabrera (0-for-3 with runners in scoring position Monday) and Prince Fielder have been under-performing, although Fielder has shown signs the last couple days of snapping out of it.
Slumping Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch are other key factors. I know Andy Dirks is a fan darling, and so far he has done OK in the second spot in the order, but he must maintain his performance better than he has in the past when he has been streaky.
The Tigers have won two of their last five games - despite their lack of hitting. Their pitching isn't that bad, but their fortunes are based on offensive production. They are not built to help their pitching staff with speed and defense, but rather with run support.
The sooner the Tigers start to provide that run support, the better their bullpen will become. Ideally, Dotel would have been used in a mop up role Monday with Valverde unavailable. I do expect the Tigers bullpen to stabilize, but it won't happen until it is not forced night after night to be the deciding factor.


Blogger Fred Brill said...

The old adage - Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting - falls apart when there is no run support. This rotation deserves better - Fister and JV especially.

I don't pin this on Leyland though - his reasoning sounded sane and well measured.

I blame this instead on the Brandon Inge curse - the hex he put on the dugout before he left - turning all Tiger hitters into .235 at best swingers.

Okay - I'm kidding - and I'm sorry I invoked the name of Inge.

But one thing for sure - it's hard to justify staying up on a weeknight for closing pitching like that to undo a good game.

12:46 PM 
Blogger Barry said...

Pat, I not worried about their hitting. Boesch is better hitter than his 209 average, Raburn is a better hitter than 127. DY is better than 221. DY has the shortest lease because he is in the line-up to hit. Tigers have to continue to develop a 2B because there is nothing in the 2013 free agency mark at 2B or ss. I am more worried about the bullpen, I think the Tigers will have to do a trade at the trade deadline to get another reliever. Benoit should be straighten out soon because he still throws like he did last year. Dotel and Coke are great 7th inning guy. I think the Tigers need an A for getting Dirks in LF almost everyday because he can actually play the field and keep Young off the field. Young is a DH and should be a good one. If Young doesn't work out move Boesch to DH and get Kelly some playing time.

1:00 PM 

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