The Detroit Tigers project to be contenders once again in 2015. They will head into the new season as favorites to clinch the American League Central Division title for the fifth straight year.
The Tigers will sport a slightly different look to last year after a few nips and tucks this offseason. Significant alterations include the additions of outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Anthony Gose, as well as starting pitcher Shane Greene. Passing them on their way out were veteran starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
Lost in all of these wheelings and dealings was a golden opportunity for Detroit to add a very special player to its ranks.
Andrew Miller was arguably the premier relief pitcher on the market this winter. His numbers during the past three seasons show why:
|Miller's relief stats 2012-2014|
|K/9||13.64||1st in AL|
|SIERA||2.05||2nd in AL|
|Batting average||.178||3rd in AL|
Outside of the otherworldly Aroldis Chapman, the 6’7” left-hander has claims to be the best southpaw reliever in the game.
Miller also offers something that Detroit’s relievers have generally lacked in recent times—the ability to deliver when under pressure. Billy Chuck of GammonsDaily.com unearthed some eye-popping stats for Miller during clutch situations in 2014: “Batters hit .133 against him with men on; .151 with men in scoring position; .036 with two outs; and with RISP and two outs, batters hit .077.”
For those still not convinced, check out last year’s postseason numbers: 7.1 innings pitched, one hit, one walk, zero earned runs and eight strikeouts.
The guy is unequivocally awesome.
Unfortunately for Detroit, Miller decided not to return to the team that drafted him in the first round back in 2006. Instead, he will be suiting up in pinstripes for the next four years after inking a $36 million contract with the New York Yankees, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
This is the signing that Detroit really had to make.
The chronic failures of its bullpen stretches back a long way now. As the table below shows, its ERA has finished 10th or worse in the AL in seven of the past eight years:
|Detroit's bullpen stats|
The playoffs have been even worse. The acrid taste of Shane Victorino’s grand slam off Jose Veras in 2013 and Delmon Young clearing the bases off Joakim Soria last year still linger on the palates of Detroit fans.
The bullpen’s overall postseason numbers in its current four-year playoff run tell a lucid story:
|Detroit's postseason bullpen stats|
It’s ugly, and it appears to be getting worse.
To be fair to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, he has kicked down more than a few doors in his attempts to get the bullpen right.
Joe Nathan—MLB’s active leader in career saves—was signed last winter. Also, after dominating with the Texas Rangers early last season, Soria was picked up during the summer. After struggling mightily in 2014, both return this year with their combined services costing the team $17 million.
Veteran Joel Hanrahan was re-signed, and flame-thrower Bruce Rondon also comes back into the fold for Detroit. However, they remain big question marks, as neither has pitched in a game since 2013 after both undergoing Tommy John surgery. The signing of Joba Chamberlain this week also provides the team with more depth.
But the pen still lacks a dominant figure; somebody who can be trusted to get outs whenever the team needs them.
Miller could have been that go-to guy in Motown.
His capture made sense on many levels—a genuine stud arm; durable and young; a successor to Nathan as closer; good under pressure; great in the postseason; and formerly one of Detroit’s own.
On top of that, he’s a lefty. Jason Beck of MLB.com noted recently that a second southpaw in the pen is the Tigers’ final roster void. An internal candidate will probably fill it now. However, with all due respect to Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy and the others, Miller dwarfs them all—both literally and figuratively.
Detroit still has plenty of upside to its roster. The offense could lead the league in runs this year, and the starting rotation still looks very good, especially with a strong top three. But if the bullpen hemorrhages again, Tigers fans are advised to avoid peeking at Yankees box scores and wondering what could have been.
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