Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 6/24/13
The Tigers bullpen has been a running punchline for a while now, and if you were to identify a flaw on their team — besides corner infield defense, anyway — you’d point out their shaky ninth inning options when being asked to hold a lead. Bruce Rondon showed he wasn’t ready for the gig, then Jose Valverde tried and failed once more, so now it’s Joaquin Benoit‘s chance to hold down the closer role. However, the modern singular focus on the closer as representative of a team’s bullpen strength can be misleading, and Detroit is a prime example of why the guy getting the save doesn’t have to be your best bullpen pitcher. The Tigers might not have a closer, but in Drew Smyly, they have something even better: an old school relief ace. Smyly has appeared in 26 games this year, which isn’t a remarkable number. In fact, 26 appearances ties him with Cesar Ramos and Kyle Farnsworth for the 124th highest total on the season. However, Smyly has pitched multiple innings in 17 of those 26 appearances, tying him for the fifth most multi-inning appearances among MLB relievers this year, and of the relievers ahead of him, only one — Pittsburgh’s Justin Wilson — is regularly asked to hold leads. Jim Leyland is deploying Smyly in the role that relievers used to play 30 years ago, and it’s working really well. Here’s Smyly’s last three outings, as an example of how he’s being used: June 17th, vs Baltimore: Comes in to begin 7th inning with a 5-1 lead, Smyly retired nine straight batters to finish the game. June 20th, vs Boston: Comes in with two on/no out in 8th inning, team trailing 3-2, strands both runners, pitches two scoreless innings, Tigers win 4-3 on ninth inning walkoff. June 23rd, vs Boston: Comes in to begin 6th inning, team trailing 4-3, throws 2 2/3 scoreless innings, Tigers win 7-4 after taking lead in eighth inning. Because of the messed up hold/save statistics that do less to inform understanding about a player performance than just about any other statistics in any other sport, Smyly’s performances in these three games are barely noticed. He got a Save for holding the 5-1 lead against Baltimore, but only because he pitched the final three innings, and that was the least useful outing of the three. Because he entered with the team trailing in both of his two outings by Detroit, he doesn’t get credit for a Hold, even though his performance was critical in keeping the gap at one run so that the team could mount a late inning comeback. Smyly, though, got credited with a Shutdown for all three outings here on FanGraphs, bringing Smyly’s total for the season to 10 shutdowns against just two meltdowns. Those 10 shutdowns rank second on the Tigers — Benoit has 13 — and are all the more impressive because of the quantity of batters Smyly is facing in getting those shutdwons. 10 times this year, Smyly has entered a game in the 6th inning or later and faced at least eight batters in that appearance, and the Tigers are 8-2 in those 10 games. Because they don’t have a lot of bullpen depth outside of Benoit, the safest way for Leyland to preserve middle inning leads has been to ask Smyly to bridge the gap between the starter exiting and the ninth inning, and Smyly has been excellent in that role. His numbers speak for themselves. He’s racked up 46 strikeouts against just 12 walks in 46 innings, and he’s allowed just one home run all year, so his FIP comes out to 2.19. Given that he was similary excellent as a starting pitcher last year, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Smyly has performed well in relief. He’s probably somewhat wasted in that role, and there’s no question that other teams will be asking for him in nearly every trade conversation Dave Dombrowski has over the next month. However, the Tigers should rebuff those advances. While Smyly should get another crack at the starting rotation at some point in the future, he’s turned himself into a highly valuable member of a bullpen that can’t afford to lose him. In his last three outings over the last week, Smyly has racked up 0.41 WPA, the eighth highest total of any reliever in baseball during that stretch. In this role, as a multi-inning bridge, Smyly is a highly valuable weapon. While I’m sure some will raise concern about Smyly’s “heavy” usage, we should remember that this is how relievers were used for the better part of baseball history. This year, only 27.3% of all relief outings have been multi-inning appearances, but 30 years ago, that number was 59.9%. In 1983, Dan Quisenberry finished second in the Cy Young voting by racking up 45 saves and posting a 1.94 ERA, but he threw 139 innings and had 51 multiple inning appearances that year. That was part of a four year run where “The Quiz” threw between 129 and 139 innings each season and finished in the top four in Cy Young voting all four years. The game was different back then, sure. The Tigers probably shouldn’t ask Smyly to throw 130 innings in relief. But what’s wrong with 100? He threw 99 in the big leagues last year after throwing 18 in the minors, and he threw 125 in the minors in 2011, so it’s not like his arm can’t handle throwing that many pitches in a year. Bullpen innings probably aren’t the same as starting innings, due to the higher stress and effort exerted on each pitch, but Leyland has done a good job of giving Smyly days off, as he’s only pitched in back-to-back games twice all year. The Tigers could use another quality reliever as they march towards October, but they shouldn’t give up Drew Smyly in order to get a “proven closer”. The old school relief ace is just as valuable pitching multiple innings earlier in the game, and with the way Leyland is deploying him lately, Smyly is a piece that the Tigers can’t afford to be without.
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Rams WR Stedman Bailey in hospital after being shot in head

Furious Brad Stevens blasts Celtics after lackluster game

Did Bryce Harper deserve the MVP?

Duke 5-star commit posts moving message after successful surgery

Ex-LSU commit still supports Les Miles

Report: Ray Lewis gave Bills pregame pep talk


Report: Marshawn Lynch out a few weeks to recover

Peyton Manning to miss at least two more weeks

Notre Dame DT: Committee 'spit in our faces' with ranking

LaRon Landry suspended indefinitely by NFL

Don’t blame Mike Pettine for benching Johnny Manziel. Blame Johnny.

Danny Ainge: Celtics’ Marcus Smart has shown ‘propensity to get injured’

Nick Young seems to take shot at Kobe Bryant

WATCH: College basketball player makes 3-pointer while wobbly from concussion

The five most overrated teams in the Week 13 coaches' poll

Clemson WR calls South Carolina fans 'rude'

Jonathan Lucroy trade market bolstered by weak catching market

Michigan State lists two starting QBs on depth chart

10 storylines for Week 13 of the college football season

LISTEN: Browns fan cries on radio while ripping Johnny Manziel

Texas A&M QB Kyle Allen says he was injured vs. Alabama

Report: Maple Leafs are no longer the NHL’s most valuable franchise

Ranking the 10 best games of 2015 college football rivalry week

Did a Chipotle employee convince Danny Ainge to trade for Isaiah Thomas?

Bud Black joins Angels organization as special assistant to GM

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The five most overrated teams in the Week 13 coaches' poll

10 storylines for Week 13 of the college football season

Ranking the 10 best games of 2015 college football rivalry week

Examining the Mavericks' hot start

Johnny Bench(ed): Manziel demoted to third string

Mike Trout, four years in

Tom Brady on ‘Rex Ryan!’ line call: It’s ‘in the playbook’

Five NFL teams trending downward

Not so fast, USC: Eagles Chip Kelly buys Philly-area home

The five best hockey fights from Week 7

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker