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Shutdown Corner: Handicapping the Tigers Bullpen

During our breakdown of the different divisions, I basically stated that the Detroit Tigers closer situation is a crapshoot. With incumbent closer Jose Valverde potentially out of baseball, the Tigers are looking to pull someone out of their bullpen morass and anoint a new closer. Given that the Tigers look to be very competitive again in the 2013 season, fantasy owners want to draft this team's closer, as they chase their saves.

In an attempt to give you the best shot at squeezing value out of the Tigers' relief situation, I'd like to provide my own odds as to who is the closer for the brunt of the season. Most of this info is based on a combination of projected effectiveness, as well as projected use.

5% chance of closing: someone not mentioned below already in the Tigers organization

You've always got to put some money on the field, in cases like this. The Tigers have a number of people who are competing for a long-relief bullpen slot (Drew Smyly, perhaps Rick Porcello) or toiling in Triple-A. I wouldn't bet on any of these folks garnering time at the back of the bullpen, but you never know.

5% chance of closing: Phil Coke

Coke has done a pretty okay job as a reliever for the Tigers, but he has a few strikes against him. First, he's a lefty, and lefties don't close very often. Second, Coke doesn't have the wipeout stuff most teams look for in a closer. What he does have is tenure, and that appears to be valued by some managers. But more than likely, he'll be the primary lefty setup man, and not a serious contender for saves. (Holds are another matter entirely.)

5% chance of closing: Brayan Villareal

Villareal did a very nice job over nearly 55 innings last season for Detroit, posting a 29.2% strikeout rate and a 2.63 ERA. The real reason I don't see him getting so much consideration is that he's been dealing with some elbow soreness during the offseason. He's still kind of a young guy, so I could see someone with more experience getting the job over him ... and the top contender for the spot is like an amped-up version of him at this point. We'll get to that in a minute.

10% chance of closing: someone currently outside the Tigers organization

Last year, the Tigers waited until the "last minute" to add Prince Fielder to an already-stacked team. Who's to say that the team doesn't do something similar during Spring Training of this season. There've been rumors linking the currently-unemployed Brian Wilson to the team recently, and while I'm not sure that'll happen, it's a possibility. There's also the possibility that the team will make a deal mid-season, and that this person will end up leading the team in saves. When in doubt, say "I don't know" and move on.

10% chance of closing: Octavio Dotel

Each of the next three guys brings something to the table: strikeouts. In truth, Dotel gets a ton of Ks, but not as many as the guys after him on the list. Beyond that, he's a wanderer, having spent his career with nearly a dozen teams, his K-rate has dropped a bit, and he's entering his age-39 season. While the Tigers are likely to go with whomever is the best pitcher as closer, I'd have a tough time imagining that Dotel will get the position for full season, and then the Tigers might have to look again for options for 2014.

15% chance of closing: Al Albuquerque

Albuquerque has one thing in particular going for him: a righteous career ERA of 1.59. His FIP (2.11) tells the story of someone who didn't *quite* pitch that well, but those rate stats in his limited action of 56+ innings speak to real talent. But Albuquerque hardly pitched in 2012, and though his strikeout numbers are great, he may not be considered reliable enough to hold down the ninth inning.

25% chance of closing: Joaquin Benoit

Yawn. Joaquin Benoit is actually pretty boring, especially for a guy who strikes out a bunch of guys (29.2% K-rate last season), and gives up more than a few homers (1.77 HR/9 in 2012). But he's boring because he's relatively consistent on a season-to-season basis, and he's been around for a while. Though he had a down 2012, Benoit brings the combination of capability and tenure to a Tigers team looking for both, and that makes him an attractive option as an early-season closer. If he can stay consistent and maintain his recent increase in strikeout rate, I could see him riding out the whole season as the stopper for the Tigers.

25% chance of closing: Bruce Rondon

The prohibitive favorite for the position, Rondon brings prospect shine and the unearthly stuff to the discussion. Going into Spring Training, he's considered by many to be the likely guy for the ninth, despite having never thrown a major-league inning. Rondon brings 100 mph heat, but the problem is that no one is quite sure where the ball will end up after he throws it. The catcher's mitt, the third row, Ann Arbor ... your guess is as good as anyone else's.

Personally, I don't think Rondon will open the season as closer, and that Benoit will. Bruce'scontrol just isn't there yet, something he demonstrated in his most recent Spring Training outing. I'd obviously much rather pick the field over Rondon, especially to start the season. Nevertheless, if he heats up in Triple-A, he'll find himself on the major league roster soon, and his electric stuff will shift him into a ninth-inning role eventually.

In the end, I wouldn't go deeper than a 25% chance that any of these guys wins out. We'll need to get deeper into Spring Training before my confidence rises in Rondon or anyone else. And even then, as we all well know, things will definitely change during the season.

If you want to keep up-to-date with everything closer-related, follow @CloserNews on Twitter. And don't hesitate to drop me any questions on the Twitter machine, as you can find me at @bgrosnick.

All data from FanGraphs.


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