When the Tigers got Ian Krol in the trade for Doug Fister, there was a significant amount of optimism about him and what he’d bring to the table. The club thought he’d immediately step in as the team’s top left-hander, and be a high-leverage, go-to reliever, especially against left-handed hitters.
Krol started the season off pretty well, with an ERA of 2.33 through May, with 13 strikeouts and just four walks. But things started to go downhill in a hurry in June, as he gave up seven runs in five innings and was on the DL by late June with inflammation in his shoulder. The Tigers brought him back a couple weeks later, but his struggles continued and he eventually ended up being optioned a couple more times during the season.
Krol finished the year with a 4.96 ERA in 32 2/3 innings, worth -0.6 fWAR, or in other words, the Tigers were better off with using any of the replacement-level relievers from Toledo. His strikeout rate was solid at 7.8 K/9, but he walked 3.6 batters per nine, and gave up a home run on nearly 18% of the fly balls he allowed. It was a performance indicative of an up-and-down reliever, not of the go-to left-hander the Tigers thought they were getting.
The season caused Krol to re-evaluate everything, saying “This off-season I got to thinking, I just needed to stay on my workout regimen a lot better than I did last season. And I need to keep myself healthy.” He also dedicated himself during the off-season with his workouts and physicals therapy.
On his thoughts on this upcoming year, Krol summarized: “My mindset is really to stay healthy and do everything I can to stay healthy. But at the same time, I want to push through the end of the season I’ve never gotten to have success at the end of my season as a reliever. I’ve always sprinted through the first half and cooled off in the second half.”
While he’s had only two years of big league experience, his summary is absolutely correct. He’s pitched fewer innings, at a much higher ERA, in the second half. Krol has thrown 41 1/3 innings in the first half of 2013 and 2014, at a respectable 3.48 ERA. In the second halves though, he’s thrown just 18 2/3 innings with a 6.75 ERA. His wOBA against in first half was .326; the second half was .438.
The injury was another matter – the dreaded “dead arm” syndrome. Asked about the injury, Krol said, “I had dead arm in my shoulder, the rotator cuff area,” continuing, “I’d have my 94-96 MPH fastball, and then the next day, I’d be 90-91, but I wouldn’t feel anything wrong with my arm, it would just be dead and I couldn’t get anything out of my delivery.”
To fix the shoulder, he put in additional work this off-season. “I went to rehab in the off-season, 25-30 times, and the shoulder feels good now,” Krol said. He also came down to Florida a month early, working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton to further prepare for the grind of a season.
While most guys are just building up their arm strength in mid-March of spring training, Krol is already there. He’s been sitting 94-96 MPH with his fastball, and even hit 97 on the gun, a first for him.
Beyond what he did in the off-season, Krol is also aware that he needs to do more during the season to ensure he’s staying healthy and strong. “I need to keep up on my workout regimen, I shied away from it last year, I did everything I could for my arm last year, but as far as working out in the weight room, I didn’t do as much as I should have.”
So, they physical issues were obviously at play in his performance. But beyond that, Krol alluded to the need to take his job more seriously. Being young and not ready for the spotlight likely influenced his demeanor and approach to the job. “Some days I would find myself sleeping in more than usual. But other than that it was really just being young, and really just not having a grasp on the Major League thing just yet. He [Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus] just wanted to reiterate to me what we’re trying to do here, what the big picture was.”How’s he changing that this year, especially on the field? “I’m trying to pay attention to everything along the way now. Last year I don’t think I picked up on things as quick as I did this off-season, I didn’t pick up on things that maybe I could have done to improve this or that. But there are certain things that I’ve regained confidence in, like throwing my off-speed pitches for strikes, knowing what pitches to throw in what counts, doing all the little things in the weight and training room. I didn’t really pay attention to that stuff last year.” Of course, after Krol’s tough season, the Tigers made other plans, signing left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, in addition to returning guys like Blaine Hardy that stepped up in Krol’s absence last year, forcing him to have to earn a spot on the Tigers’ roster, or face being sent to Toledo. Does the prospect of returning to Toledo rattle Krol? “I’m not thinking about it [making the big leagues] right now. It’s definitely a goal and it would be awesome, but that’s not really in my head, all I’m trying to do is have success. If I start the season in Toledo, I’ll just work as hard as I can, and hopefully be up in Detroit soon enough. If I start in Detroit, I’ll still be working as hard as I can and hopefully be putting up good numbers and help the ball club win some games.”
Whether Krol starts out in Toledo or Detroit, he’s clearly taking a new approach with a renewed focus to his job this season.
“My head is definitely in the right place right now, I feel really good where I’m at.”
Tigers’ fans hope his good place results in good results.