Roundtable: Organizing the Postseason Bullpen

With the Tigers locking up their fourth straight AL Central title, attention now shifts to the postseason and the Baltimore Orioles. With the change in style of play, with more days off and every game of critical importance, what should the Tigers do in their bullpen?

Paul Wezner, Executive Editor

We don't really need to re-visit the struggles of the bullpen, as those have been well documented, but the question is, what can the Tigers do about it? Will redeploying largely the same cast of characters produce dramatically different results? Yes and no. The Tigers are not going to take Joe Nathan's closer role from him, and they're likely not going to move Joba Chamberlain out of his primary setup role. However, with the addition of Anibal Sanchez, they have the opportunity to utilize one of the best pitchers in the game in certain situations, and should use him exactly as such. The starter only goes 5 2/3 innings, and you need someone to bridge the gap? That should be Sanchez. Joba had a long outing the night before, and might not be sharp? Sanchez for the 8th inning. The upside of him not having a defined role coming in, is that you can define it as you go. In addition, the Tigers absolutely need to utilize Joakim Soria, more than they have over the past month in crucial late-game situations. Manager Brad Ausmus wants to stick with the guys that got him there, and there is some rationale for doing so, but there's simply no reason to not utilize arguably your best reliever more frequently, in high leverage situations. Taking those four guys to handle your tight and late game situations, you complete the rest of the bullpen with Al Alburquerque, who can be useful in specific situations, along with Phil Coke, who can be deployed in a similar manner after rebounding in the 2nd half. The final spot can go to either Blaine Hardy, who would be more situational, or Kyle Lobstein, who could more aptly fill a long relief role, in the event it's needed, and keeping Sanchez focused on late in the game. Hopefully, getting more use of Sanchez and Soria will give the Tigers enough of a boost to have serviceable bullpen that can help get them to the World Series crown they've been coveting.

Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting

To be completely honest, I'm not sure I would do much differently with the Tigers bullpen. For all their faults, the Tigers have gotten here with this bullpen and they have to run with what got them there. Maybe you turn to Joakim Soria in some critical situations instead of Joba or Nathan, but that's really the only change you're looking at. The best options among right-handers are the usual suspects, including Al-Al, and while it sounds intriguing to have Anibal Sanchez in the bullpen, there's really no way to know what they actually have with him in that role, it how rusty he is. The club shouldn't be running him out there in tight spots until they have a sense of what he can provide in shorter stints with his current health. From the left side, Phil Coke is a logical choice and then it comes down to the faith in Kyle Lobstein or Blaine Hardy. Personally, Hardy is the clear choice for me, though neither pitcher offers such a track record as to inspire considerable confidence. The Tigers bullpen will be adequate on most nights in the playoffs, and while it's construction and usage is of critical concern, the bigger and far more important consideration is just how far and how hard Brad Ausmus can ride his starting rotation.

James Chipman, Senior Lakeland Correspondent

Awesome. Let's build a postseason bullpen. Beginning with the backend, I'd probably go with Joe Nathan closing things out and Joakim Soria setting up in the 8th Inning. In a perfect world if Soria hadn't missed so much time due to injury and/or had actually received semi-regular work in a Tigers uniform I'd comfortably slot him in as the closer. Neither happened. With that in mind, much like the Tigers I'll throw a single bullet in the chamber and play Russian roulette with Nathan in the ninth; it's fun to live life on the edge. I actually don't have an issue with Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque bridging the gap in the sixth and seventh inning. However, I find it absolutely adorable that people are suggesting that recently re-activated Anibal Sanchez should close out games. If it were only that simple. Fiction can be fun. Sarcasm aside, I do believe that Sanchez could be a breath of fresh air in some captivity in the middle innings. After absolutely shoving for the better part of the last three months, Phil Coke appears to have come back down to earth -- allowing runs in each of his last three appearances. Regardless, slim pickings, you have to roll the dice with Coke and fellow southpaw Blaine Hardy. The final arm selected likely won't have much of an impact in the short best of five game series. Regardless, Jim Johnson and his gas can can stay at home as far as I'm concerned. Sorry, I'm not selecting Kyle Lobstein either. I'd rather see a more deserving and impactful arm selected like Evan Reed. So there you have it, similar to an island of misfit toys, there's my Tigers postseason bullpen.

Neil Weinberg, Senior Analyst

This is a pipe dream, but the Tigers need to completely reform the way they think about their bullpen in order to have success in October. First, the Tigers need to go to their best relievers sooner rather than later. The typical model calls for you to save your lock down guys for the 8th and 9th innings, but you should call upon the best guys (i.e. Soria and Sanchez) at the very first sign of trouble. If the starters go 7, then you finish with Soria and Sanchez rather than your "8th and 9th inning guys." You should never finish a close playoff game with your best reliever still waiting to pitch. Second, the Tigers need to do a better job thinking in terms of outs rather than innings. You don't have one-inning relievers anymore, you have 27 outs to get. Ultimately, exactly who pitches where isn't terribly important but who pitches is very important. Does it matter if it goes Soria-Sanchez-Nathan or Nathan-Soria-Sanchez? Not really. But it can never be Coke-Alburquerque-Nathan if Soria and Sanchez are fresh. And it can't be "well that was Joba's inning" when a lefty come up with two men on. Mid inning pulls should be more common. It's never going to happen, but it's the way to go.

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