2015 Player Previews: RHP Al Alburquerque

Everyday Al as he became known as in 2014 pitched in a team-high 72 games and was one of the few bright spots in a much-maligned bullpen. As the Tigers hope for better results in 2015, can Alburquerque be a part of that solution, possibly in an increased role?

2014 In Review – Al Alburquerque

2014 Stats
Detroit 57.1 72 3-1 0.1 3.33 3.78 2.51 .275 9.9 3.3 45% 13%

With the Tigers struggling defense last season, most pitchers had the unfortunate line of having an FIP much lower than their ERA, but not Alburquerque, who had an ERA more than a full run lower than his FIP, which was a respectable but not nearly as impressive 3.78. That helps explain why despite having a great ERA and strong peripherals, he was only worth about a tenth of a win in terms of WAR. That also shines some light on just how dire the bullpen was, that such a performance would be viewed as a bright spot.

The upside for the Tigers and Alburquerque was that he pitched in more than 70 games, a team-high for the season and a career high for him. He also avoided the disabled list, where he had been a mainstay all too frequently over the first few years of his Tigers career – proving to be a reliable and available arm on an almost daily basis.

Along with that, he still had his deadly slider that helped him strike out nearly ten batters every nine innings, and became a key reliever to be called upon in middle relief when the Tigers needed a couple of outs. In fact, nearly half of his appearances had him pitch less than one inning of work, and he only threw two full innings twice all year. This was a shift in utilization from prior years, when he had at least a handful of outings where he went two innings or more.

This limited usage can obviously cause some issues in ERA, due to how its calculated and who is responsible for baserunners. But, Alburquerque had an outstanding left on base, leaving almost 90% of baserunners stranded.

So, the health and the strikeout rates were good, and his utilization was varied and deployed in a way that helped keep him healthy. He also dramatically lowered his walk rate, which for his career is still over five walks per nine innings, but came in at a much more manageable 3.3 per nine.

Overall, it was a successful season for Alburquerque, proving to be a reliever the Tigers could count on, in a season where they all too frequently didn’t have that available.

2015 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service G IP WAR ERA FIP BAbip K/9 BB/9
ZiPS 58 50.2 0.1 3.73 3.70 .319 11.0 3.9
Steamer 55 55.0 0.2 3.65 3.52 .290 9.8 3.9

Both projections are largely in agreement that Alburquerque’s low ERA was a bit of a mirage, and his FIP was more in line with his realistic performance. In turn, they expect a jump in his ERA, coming in the mid-3 range, still not bad, but not exactly a sign of a guy that could take on a greater, higher-pressure role in 2015.

They’re a bit more divided on his average on balls in play and strikeouts – ZiPS expects a return to his double digit K rate, with 11 K’s per nine, but a much higher BAbip at .319, something he’s only approached in one of his four years. Steamer on the other hand expects a much lower average (.290), but a similar K rate to 2014, when things were toned down in both his walk and strikeout rates.

The TigsTown Take

Alburquerque was good for the Tigers last year, and hopefully can fill a similar role in 2015, helping get a couple of key outs in the sixth and seventh innings. But despite his success, the underlying metrics indicate he’s not poised to step up into a late-inning role – his FIP and xFIP, along with the 2015 projections indicate there was some good fortune involved in his performance, and he’s not likely to repeat it this year.

That means that while the Tigers are in need of reliable, late inning relievers, it’s probably not going to be Alburquerque to fill that role.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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