Here’s how the Tigers can make their improved bullpen even deeper

Alfredo Simon has had prior success as a relief pitcher.

Free agent Alfredo Simon, who started for Detroit in 2015, has had prior success as a relief pitcher.

The Detroit Tigers are fixing their leaky bullpen.

Just as with the rest of their off-season acquisitions so far, it hasn’t been by adding marquee names. But getting Francisco Rodriguez as the closer makes sense—and so does the acquisition of Mark Lowe as a set-up man.

At two years and $11 million, the thirty-two-year old Rodriguez is a solid short-term fix. When he’s been healthy, Lowe has been consistently solid. With 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.8 walks in his career, he gets the job done. His lifetime ERA is 3.80 and his career ERA-plus is 112 (league average is 100).

Lowe is coming off the best year of his career. In 2015, he split time with Seattle and Toronto, pitched fifty-five innings, and had an ERA of 1.91 and a WHIP of 1.05. His ERA-plus was 2.15, and he walked only twelve batters. In other words, he was dominant. The Tigers will gladly take a performance anywhere near that level.

Lowe has battled a variety of health problems and injuries over his career, but he passed a rigorous physical. If you throw out the four years he wasn’t healthy and he struggled to pitch at all, with disastrous results— 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2014—Lowe’s career ERA declines to 3.49.

With Lowe and Alex Wilson, the Tigers now have two men in their pen whose 2015 seasons were equal to the very best among MLB relievers. You can’t expect Wilson to repeat his great rookie campaign—2.19 ERA, 1.03 WHIP—but again, anything close to it would be wonderful.

Detroit is improving its relief staff by subtraction as well as addition. Thankfully,  Neftali Perez is gone. Also, no longer will Tigers fans have to suffer through the nibblings of Al Alburquerque. The Dominican can get strikeouts when he can find the plate, but watching him pitch is like watching a faucet drip, drip, drip. A walk here, a walk there, and then someone connects and boom! AlAl was going backward last year, with a 1.55 WHIP.

As for the rest of the bullpen, Detroit is hoping Blaine Hardy can continue on his path toward becoming a solid lefty—and Avila might yet find another southpaw. And who knows if the enigmatic Bruce Rondon will return to the reservation?

In any event, Detroit now has a decent back end of the bullpen—solid if not spectacular.

Here’s a thought on how to improve it even more: Alfredo Simon isn’t going to attract much interest as a free agent starter, so Detroit should consider signing him to a contract more appropriate for a reliever on the wrong side of thirty. Simon has been a decent reliever as recently as 2013 but can’t handle a full starter’s load.

In 2012 and 2013 with Cincinnati, Simon had ERA-pluses of 156 and 132 while pitching well under 100 innings a year. Then, out of desperation, the Reds made him a starter in 2014, and his ERA-plus declined to 107. Then the Tigers, even more desperate, had him pitch 187 innings in 2015, and his ERA-plus plummeted to 78.

Simon clearly wore down as both seasons wore on. In 2014, he managed to do well through 131 innings, and at the end of July his ERA was 2.84. However, in August it was 4.98 and in September 4.34 as he struggled through an additional sixty-three innings.

Last year Simon hit the wall in mid-June. His ERA was 2.58 for his first seventy-seven innings. Then, his last two starts in June were disasters, and his ERA in July and August was over 7.00, and it was 5.57 in September. Simon would often pitch well for the first couple innings, then fall apart.

So why not re-sign Simon for cheap and pit him back in the pen where he belongs? His track record shows he’d be fine in that role. He could be a multi-inning man when needed and help complete the repair job in the Tigers bullpen.

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