In an article today at MLB.com by Jason Beck, Jim Leyland is quoted saying that the Tigers need more innings from the starters assuringly meaning that maybe the bullpen isn’t as much of a problem as I, and the rest of the Detroit blogs, have been saying.
“Everybody’s focusing on the bullpen,” Leyland said, “and the fact of the matter is, we need more innings from our starters. Everybody’s zeroed in on the bullpen and picking on the bullpen. I’m not picking on anybody, nor am I mad at any starters or mad at any bullpen guys. These are peaks and valleys in baseball, and you go through these. And the worst thing you can do is panic. I think it’s wrong for everybody to focus on the bullpen.”
“Everybody has issues,” Leyland added. “The Tigers aren’t the only team that has people hurt. But the fact of the matter is if your starters are going five innings with 90 or 100 pitches, it’s not good.”
I’d agree with Leyland that Detroit needs more from the starters on the team but not as a general statement but more because the bullpen is horrible. Right now Detroit starters are handling the bulk of the innings and, in fact, more so than most in the AL Central. Detroit relievers have handled a total of 33.44% of the overall innings load as compared with the leader, Cleveland, with 32.58%. Below is a breakout of the percentage of overall innings handled by each AL Central team’s relievers:
As another point of reference, the 2006 Tiger bullpen handled 32.56% of the overall inning load.
The Tigers stack up pretty well here overall, but it is true that some starters need to step up and handle more innings. Nate Robertson’s last 4 starts have been less than 6 innings but he started off the year strong lasting 7 innings, or a bit more, in 3 games. Chad Durbin has only lasted six or more innings in 3 of his 9 starts. This is certainly taxing on the bullpen but none more so than other teams are dealing with.
Let’s take a deeper look at the performance of the Detroit starters vs bullpen.
Asking more from the starters could be asking for more trouble. With pre-season worries about high use of rookie Justin Verlander and other young pitchers such as Bonderman the Tigers could bring a negative effect to the team by forcing more innings and higher pitch counts out of the starters. But this is all really pretty needles, the starters are continuing to pitch well and stack up very well around the Central division. Below are the top 10 starters in the American League Central by VORP:
Three of the top 10 are on Detroit which is the most of any team. It’s going to be hard to argue that a whole heck of a lot more can/should be expected out of the starting 5. Each certainly has their own issues to work with, but again, in aggregate, they are doing better than most starting squads.
On the other hand, the Detroit bullpen does not show up at all in the list of top 10 AL Central relievers by VORP with Todd Jones barely missing the list at 11 with a VORP of 5.5. Three have a negative VORP and those three are a rather important three in Rodney, Mesa and Grilli.
This is a pretty worrisome list with the top reliever being Todd Jones and the second on the 15-Day DL and it just goes downhill quickly after that. I agree with Leyland that panic is a bad thing and that it’s just May, but realizing where the problem lies is important and solving the problem before June/July is of importance as well. Requiring more innings of starters is an easy solution but at most only a short term solution with long term ramifications.
The Detroit bullpen needs the fixing and not the starters. I can only hope this is understood and where the emphasis will actually be.