Leading up to the 2013 season, I'm going to write player profiles about key members of the Detroit Tigers. This is the fourth installment, featuring setup man Joaquin Benoit.
2012 Season: 73 G, 71 IP, 5-3, 3.68 ERA, 83 K, 22 BB
While Detroit Tigers fans are fixated on whether Bruce Rondon can handle the closer role, I strongly believe that the biggest worry at the back-end of the bullpen will be setup man, Joaquin Benoit.
In 2012, the Tigers' bullpen was ranked 10th out of 14 AL teams with an ERA of 3.79. Yet that statistic does not accurately describe how worrisome the bullpen was—when you look at the Tigers' ERA from the eighth inning on, it was the worst in the AL with an ERA of 4.07.
While most fans will blame last season's closer, Jose Valverde, he still converted 35 out of 40 save chances, and didn't implode until the playoffs. Valverde largely overshadowed Benoit, which helped Benoit escape fan criticism.
Benoit, 35, had an ERA of 3.68 to go along with 30 holds. This may sound great on the surface, but beneath the surface, some troubling statistics existed. Benoit's ratio of HR allowed per nine innings was 1.8, which increased from .07 in 2011. Opposing batters also had a .432 slugging percentage against him, which was the highest of his career as a reliever.
The setup man's main responsibility is to help bridge the gap from the starters to the closer, but Benoit had four blown saves in 2012 and didn't help to shorten the games. Batters had an extra base hit percentage of 8.0 percent, which was up from his 3.7 percent in 2011. This put added pressure on the defense and Valverde, which could have been avoided.
Should Joaquin Benoit be the Detroit Tigers' setup man in 2013?
The other main concern that the Tigers should have is that Benoit pitched 71 innings in the 2012 regular season—10 innings more than the year before. Benoit, who had torn rotator cuff surgery in 2009, needs to have his innings monitored.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland spoke on Jan. 26 about Benoit in response to a question about the closer situation, according to Tom Gage at the Detroit News, "Joaquin Benoit physically, I don't think he can do it. With all due respect to Benoit, he doesn't bounce back."
That quote is telling in the fact that Leyland admits the Tigers need to handle Benoit carefully.
While I don't believe Benoit should be the setup man, he could be more effective in middle relief. If he isn't counted on as setup man, then his innings could fall into the 50s, which I believe would be a perfect range for him.
One of the areas in which Benoit has worked hard to improve is his strikeouts, which showed with 10.65 K/9 in 2012. Even though that number is impressive, it causes him to average 17.0 pitches per inning. If Benoit could cut down on that total by trusting his defense more, then his workload wouldn't be as big of an issue.
I believe the 2013 season will be Benoit's last year with the Tigers, since he's a free agent after the year. For all of his negatives, he still has had success with the Tigers and has been able to stay injury-free. At 35 years old, I can't see Benoit changing his pitching style, but hopefully he gets back his form from 2011.
2013 Prediction: 55 G, 52 IP, 1-1, 3.35 ERA, 60 K, 18 BB