When you have a really good team with one really obvious weakness, it stands to reason that you’re going to attempt to solve that deficiency. On Friday, the Tigers made an attempt to do so, signing free agent reliever Joel Hanrahan to a one year deal worth $1 million (with $2 million in incentives).
Put it this way, in 2008 and 2009, he was a solid reliever. In 2010 and 2011, he was very good. In 2012, he was alright and in 2013 he was terrible in very limited playing time. He was a workhorse reliever with shades of greatness during his time with the Nationals and Pirates, but relievers have a shelf life and his elbow needed to be rebuilt last season.
The Tigers bullpen, however, can use all the help it can get. They have a 5.37 ERA and 4.27 FIP in 70.1 innings this season, and that includes useful appearances from Drew Smyly, who is actually a starting pitcher.
Given that the salary isn’t crazy, this is a perfectly fine move for the Tigers to make. They need bullpen help and he’s one of the few available players who belongs in an MLB bullpen. But it’s important to consider that reliever rarely maintain form and they especially don’t do so after major surgery. Hanrahan is probably going to make the bullpen better, but it’s not likely that he’s going to come in and be a shut down reliever who makes them a lot better. This is a smart move, just don’t expect him to be a savior.
One thing of note is that over the last couple of seasons he’s been better against lefties than righties. We probably don’t know enough to say he has a reverse platoon split, but we do know enough to say that he can handle hitters from both sides. Maybe it doesn’t knock Phil Coke out of town, but it’s plausible that it could.
He’s a high velocity, fastball/slider guy, but he’s coming off an injury and was only ever a great reliever for a short period of time. Hanrahan will help, but he won’t move the needle too much. For that to happen, the pitchers the Tigers have in the organization are simply going to have to figure things out. Luckily, the starters and bats are covering for them for now.