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The Tigers Bullpen Is Actually...Decent [BLOG]

By Dan Jenkins

Now before you start saying that it's way too early to start judging the Detroit Tigers bullpen, let me say that I agree with you. But, with how this unit has been throughout recent history, it's okay to feel a little optimistic just 35 games into the season.

So far in 2015, the Tigers' bullpen record is 5-3. Those three loses belong to Tom Gorzelanny, Joba Chamberlain and Angel Nesbitt.

The bullpen ERA -- 2.93, good for 7th in the Major Leagues. Compare that to 4.29 (27th) in 2014. What about WHIP? This season, 1.16 (8th) compared to 1.48 (29th) in 2014.

So why has the back-end of the Tigers' pitching staff improved so much (so far) this season? The easy answer is that the closer position has been flipped, replacing "fan favorite" Joe Nathan with Joakim Soria.

Though Soria has been better in the closer role than Nathan was -- 11-of-11 on save opportunities with a team-best 1.13 ERA -- it's not the only reason that the relievers, as a whole, have been better.

The biggest change has been the way that manager Brad Ausmus has handled his bullpen this season. Instead of adhering to strict pitching roles -- i.e. 7th inning, 8th inning guys -- Ausmus has gone with the hot hand or a favorable match up.

No more throwing Chamberlain out there in the 8th just because it's his job. The Tigers have had seven different relievers pitch in the 8th inning so far this season.

Tigers Bullpen 2015
The pitchers who have pitched in the 8th inning for the Tigers so far in 2015 (
Tigers Bullpen 2014
The five pitchers who pitched the most innings for the Detroit Tigers in the 8th inning in 2014 (

The only bullpen role that is clearly defined so far this season is the closer's role, as should be when you don't have the personnel to have a dominant bullpen.

And I can only see the Tigers' bullpen getting better from here, with the addition of two more players down the road. Bruce Rondon is nearly back and so is Justin Verlander. Assuming Verlander comes back and is a solid starter, one of the current starters will likely move to the bullpen -- Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon or Kyle Lobstein.

Hopefully Ausmus won't try to be the smartest man in the room by placing Rondon firmly in the 8th inning spot, like he did with Chamberlain last season. Sticking to what he's doing now -- bullpen by committee -- would help him continue to successfully manage one of the MLB's top 10 bullpens, statistically speaking.

I'll take some of the blame if the Tigers' bullpen implodes, per usual, this season. I don't personally believe in jinxes, but I know many Tigers fans do.

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