There is no question that over the last couple of years the bullpen for the Detroit Tigers has been the Achilles Heel for them. Just two years ago, Jose Valverde just completed a regular season where he went 49/49 in save opportunities, but saw him struggle in the postseason has he gave up 9 runs in 2.2 innings pitched. In 2013, Detroit had the opportunity to take a commanding 2 games to none lead against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS as their starting rotation completely dominated the Red Sox hitters. Jim Leyland without a doubt misused his bullpen as he saw his pen blow a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning. Tigers’ closer Joaquin Benoit gave up a game-tying Grand Slam to David Ortiz as Torii Hunter went flying into the Boston bullpen. The Tigers would give up a run in the 9th to allow Boston back into the series and eventually would lose the series 4-2.
It was clear that the Tigers were going to address their bullpen problem in the off-season and that is exactly what they did. Everyone knows that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski is one of the more aggressive General Managers in baseball and he decided to go out and solve the bullpen problem by going out and acquiring the active saves leader in baseball in Joe Nathan. They signed him to a 2 yr / 20 million dollar deal with a team option for 2016. Everyone thought that this move would put Detroit over the hump but to say that the 39 year-old has struggled this season would be an understatement. This season Nathan is 20/25 in save opportunities. 5 blown saves doesn’t sound all that bad but when you look at the statistics it has been ugly. His 5.89 ERA is the highest in his 14 year big league career and his 1.527 WHIP shows how difficult each inning has been this season.
Late Wednesday night the Tigers went out and got a huge insurance piece in Joakim Soria for 2 minor league pitchers. Soria was in his 2nd season with Texas and converted 17 of his 19 save opportunities for the struggling Texas Rangers. His 2.70 ERA and .870 WHIP is an encouraging sign for Detroit fans. Soria was one of the best closers in baseball for a 3 year stretch before he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. He has recovered nicely from TJ surgery as his average fastball velocity is 90 mph, which is only down 1.5 mph since he broke into the big leagues and still has that sharp breaking ball. Soria still has great stuff as his strikeouts per 9 innings is 11.3. Soria goes from baseball’s worst team to one of the best teams in the American league.
The concern with Soria, if there is a concern, is that he has zero postseason experience. He spent 5 years with the Royals, who we know haven’t been to the postseason in forever (1985) and with Texas the last 2 seasons, in which they have slowly been on the decline. So the question is how will Soria perform when the lights are at their brightest? That’s a question that only time will answer. It is impossible to predict how a player will perform in the postseason, especially closers who have a high pressure job in trying to secure the end of the ballgame. Detroit knows all too well how closers can struggle come postseason time as Benoit was 24/26 in save opportunities during the regular season but the postseason was no walk in the park for him. Tiger fans should be happy with this move as it provides much needed insurance to a team that has seen their dreams crushed at the end of games. If Soria can continue to be the pitcher he has been in the past, he will be closing out games soon and should be a big part of the Tigers trying to get back to the ALCS.