Okay, we get it. The Tigers bullpen is to the team’s championship aspirations as an anvil is to a skydiver.
But what, pray tell, if it’s not?
I, for one, refuse to buy into the bullpen as Achilles’ heel conspiracy theory, and here are three reasons why:
- Healthy starters
- Dave Dombrowski
- Zach Miner
1. Healthy starters. Among the many problems last season, the one that stands out most prominently for yours truly is the regularity with which Jim Leyland had to go to his bully in the sixth inning or sooner. Not only did it wear a path from the dugout to the hill, it prevented the bullpen from getting the rest required to be fresh when it was really needed. Instead, by Aug. 1 the Tigers bullpen was spent and Joel Zumaya‘s return proved to be too little, too late.
Oh, we’re all concerned that the Tigers staff has lingering questions including Kenny Rogers‘ age and ability to pitch deep into games — and the season. There’s concern over Dontrelle Willis‘ declining stats the past two seasons and whether he’ll pitch closer to 35 rather than his actual age. And, let’s not forget Fungo-favorite Nate Robertson. Can he at last shed the Tough Luck Nate label and win some close games?
By all acounts, Jeremy Bonderman‘s elbow is sound and should be helped by the change-up he’s supposedly improved — if not mastered. That leaves Justin Verlander. So far, so good and let’s keep it that way.
In all, the only health concerns surround Rogers and he appears good to go. The healthy outlook of the starting five should mean more quality starts, more starts lasting into the seventh or eighth innings and a more-rested relief corps.
2. Dave Dombrowski. Let’s assume â€” for a moment â€” that the bullpen underachieves. Then what? I’m betting that Dave Dombrowski will find the right arms (or, I suppose, left arms) to keep the bullpen afloat until either Zumaya or Fernando Rodney get healthy.
By now hasn’t Dombrowski proven to Tigers fans that, with the exception of Neifi Perez, he’s pulled the trigger on the right deals for the Detroit Nine?
And let’s not forget that Dombrowski has a potentially rock-solid chip to parlay into bullpen depth: Brandon Inge. Whether it’s May 1 or July 31, Inge will be gone and you can bet in return the Tigers will have acquired the reliever they need.
And who knows, Francisco Cruceta might have resolved his visa issues by then and logging valuable work in the seventh and eighth.
If I had to have GM at the wheel in this scenario, I’d want it to be the Tigers’.
3. Zach Miner. I’m a Zach Miner Fan Boy. There. I said it. Miner, in my view, is the Tigers most versatile and under-appreciated pitcher. All he’s managed to do since he came to Detroit is eat innings and fill the roles of spot starter and middle-relief guy with aplomb. Sure, he cratered in the second half of the 2006 season â€” his first in the bigs â€” but according to Baseball Prospectus 2008:
Miner kept the ball down on the way to an effective  season, posting a 2.3 G/F [groundball to flyball ratio] and allowing just 14 extra-base hits in 232 opponent plate appearances. Miner was also effective with runners on, stranding 24 of the 30 he inherited. Of the Tigers three garbagemen, Miner has the most upside.
(In their assessment of Miner, BP included Chad Durbin and Jason Grilli as the others in the Garbage Time Trio.)
Granted, it’s not a rousing endorsement but if nothing else, the Baseball Prospectus folks do their homework. If they thought Miner was a dog, they’d say it.
Bottom line: If the first two in my recipe fail to hold up their end of the bargain, I feel considerably better knowing that Zach Miner is around to start, mop up or close shop.