After last night’s return to tragic form/heartbreaking performance in mop-up relief, it is safe to say Jose Valverde is no longer a high leverage option for the Detroit Tigers. Based on his performance over most of the second half of the season, it should not come as a shock to anyone around the Tigers. There is something “not right” with Valverde right now, meaning Jim Leyland and the rest of the Tigers must proceed without one of their key relievers.
It is not the end of the world for Detroit. Their bullpen is hardly a position of strength and, given their superlative group of starters, the need for a deep bullpen isn’t quite the same as their World Series opponents. The Tigers must address the shortcomings in their pen if they want to win this series and we got a glimpse of how they might do so last night.
In the 8th inning of a blowout, Jim Leyland did something for just the second time since the playoffs began: he called on Rick Porcello to pitch. Rick Porcello is a starting pitcher, or at least he has been for the duration of his career to this point.
Porcello pitched the
ninth eighth inning last night, getting the Giants in order in the lowest of low leverage situations. While Porcello doesn’t have the big arm and gaudy strikeout rates associated with modern relief pitchers, he might just represent an upgrade over their current relief corps.
Unless the Tigers are able to manufacture an injury for deposed closer Jose Valverde, they are stuck with the relievers currently on their playoff roster. Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, and Joaquin Benoit make up their true relievers while regular season starters Porcello and Drew Smyly also give Jim Leyland options: options he must strongly consider.
To be charitable, this is a mixed bag of relievers. Leyland mixes and matches the best he can, sliding former lefty specialist Phil Coke into the closer’s role against the Yankees to great, albeit risky, affect. Like Coke, both Dotel and Benoit have significant platoon splits worth monitoring – not that Leyland especially does. No harm, no foul thus far.
Would using starting — and ostensibly better — pitchers like Porcello and Smyly give the Tigers an edge, like invaluable playoff performances of starters moonlighting as relievers boosted the Cardinals this year? Would it at least give them options their very veteran group of relievers does not? Not exactly.
The number one thing the Tigers can really learn from the Cardinals is “draft better pitchers.” The Tigers do not follow the same type of development model as the Cards, no teams boast the type of hometown pitching depth of the Cardinals (who are golfing/watching from home, it bears mentioning.)
Rick Porcello is no upgrade over Dotel in the “gets killed by lefties” category. Porcello comes with rather pronounced splits, featuring one of the worst wOBAs allowed against LHB over the past three seasons. Drew Smyly, however, does not come complete with the same wince-worthy splits, though he has far less experience than Porcello. Might Smyly provide some key innings when the Tigers need them most?
That word “experience” is a key factor for a team like Tigers. They are coached by veterans, staffed with veterans and quite obviously place great importance on experience in nearly all facets of the game.
That is their prerogative and, considering they’re currently competing for the World Series, difficult to argue with their results. With a short-handed bullpen and, ahem, their backs against the wall, there is no reason not to pull out all the stops.
The Cardinals are loaded with big armed goons perfectly suited for short bursts of strikeout-happy relievering (totally a word.) The Tigers have neither the existing staff nor the arms on hand to slide an otherwise untested starter into a new role in the middle of the World Series, no matter how much their bullpen could use an infusion of new blood.
Manager Jim Leyland and his Detroit Tigers rode in on guts and veterans and they will only go as far as Leyland’s guts and the leveraged stylings of Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit will carry them. What the Tigers cannot afford is another short outing from one of their vaunted starters. Though, if that is the case, the performance of the bullpen is a secondary issue at best.