Tigers throw a strike with Lyon

January, 27, 2009
The Tigers' 2008 bullpen was plagued by, among other things, a general lack of control, and their acquisition of Brandon Lyon addresses that flaw.

Lyon is an extreme strike-thrower -- 101 unintentional walks in 416 career innings -- who doesn't have a true out pitch, giving him trouble missing bats. Arizona pitching coach Bryan Price said last week that Lyon complicated matters last year by trying to work as a two-pitch pitcher.

If Lyon returns to mixing up his pitches and thus preventing hitters from so often guessing what he's throwing, he should be an asset even in leveraged situations. Plus, he pushes Freddy Dolsi, who has an outstanding fastball (plus velocity with plus sink) but limited command, out of higher-leverage roles in which Dolsi was too likely to fail.

I'm a little more bullish on this acquisition because of Jim Leyland's history of getting great seasons out of relievers with iffy track records. Jason Grilli was Triple-A cannon fodder before coming to Detroit: He had a career 6.19 ERA before Leyland arrived but became a viable big league reliever, posting a 4.40 ERA.

Bobby Seay put up a 2.33 ERA for the Tigers in 2007, walking 11 men unintentionally in 46 1/3 innings after walking 15 in his previous 26 innings. Todd Jones did have success in 2005 before coming to Detroit, but he was pitching on fumes; Leyland squeezed two-plus decent years out of him before the fumes ran out.

Wil Ledezma's only decent big league season so far is the one full year he pitched for Leyland. Leyland's track record with relievers dates back to his days in Pittsburgh, when mediocre pitchers like Roger Mason would throw up good relief seasons, often under heavy workloads, once they came to pitch for Leyland.

I don't know of a way to prove this statistically given the natural volatility in reliever performances -- for example, is the drop in Grilli's home-run rate a fluke, or a change in approach from his time in Detroit? -- but the anecdotal evidence seems to be in Leyland's favor.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer


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