Detroit Tigers Must Address Bullpen Issues to Contend in 2014

By Kyle Keith
Phil Coke 2014 Detroit Tigers
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers‘ bullpen is bad. There’s really no way to put a nice spin on it. No lead is safe with the likes of Phil Coke pitching in the late innings. The only real bright spot of the ragtag bunch of relievers is 39-year-old closer, Joe Nathan. The Tigers starting staff is good, but they can’t go eight innings every outing, and the bridge between them and Nathan is rickety at best.

Sure, the Tigers are 20-10, which has them looking down at the rest of the MLB, but that record is largely due to unsustainable production from everyone one the roster who doesn’t wait for a phone call all game. The ugly truth is that a bullpen like this cannot and will not win a World Series. Something needs to be done to bolster this relief staff that currently owns the second worst bullpen ERA in the Majors.

To reinforce this disheartening point, I just need to look at the last 10 years. Since 2004, only one World Series winner had a regular season bullpen ERA over 4.00 — the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. You don’t need a dominant bullpen to raise a banner, but you can’t have a miserable one, as evidenced by the average ERA of the last 10 World Series champions, which is 3.54.

If those numbers aren’t enough, I’ll point you toward the Tigers’ bullpen ERA in the last 10 seasons. Since 2004, the Tigers have finished with a bullpen ERA below 3.80 just twice — in 2006 and 2012. If those years look familiar, there’s a reason. The Tigers went to the World Series in those seasons. Sure, the 2006 Cardinals had the worst bullpen ERA for a World Series winner in the last decade, but they surrendered just one earned run en route to their 4-1 series win. The Tigers relievers gave up three earned. In 2012, the Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants, whose bullpen allowed two earned runs in the first game, a two-run shot from Jhonny Peralta, and then didn’t allow another run to cross for the next three. The Tigers pen gave up five earned runs.

The Tigers obviously recognize that the bullpen needs fixing, and made an effort, albeit a risky one, to fix it by inking Joel Hanrahan to a one-year deal. Best case scenario, Hanrahan comes back early next month nearly as good as he used to be, but if Tommy John claims the arm of another pitcher, the Tigers will be in serious trouble. Man, I miss Joaquin Benoit.

Kyle Keith is a Detroit Tigers Writer for Follow him on Twitter @kylerkeith, or “Like” him on Facebook.

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