In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson
Rather than paraphrasing what I wrote last week to introduce the Justin Wilson post, I’ll pull a quote about why the new Tigers relievers matter:
Everyone knows the Tigers bullpen was a weak point during the Dombrowski era and Al Avila went into the offseason with only two real locks for the 2016 pen: Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy. While Wilson and Hardy were good in 2015, they aren’t exactly guys you want to point to as your best two arms. Sure the Tigers had some interesting potential like Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen, etc, but they needed relief help this winter, and relief help is something they got.
In order to compete in a tight AL Central, the Tigers need to pitch better at the end of games. We’ve already talked about Justin Wilson, and we’ll get to K-Rod, but the Tigers new RHP1 is going to be a critical piece of the 2016 re-tool. If Mark Lowe really has remade himself and the 2015 version is the version he truly is, the Tigers are going to be in a much better position in the 7th and 8th innings than in recent seasons.
There are two key things we should monitor when it comes to Lowe. First, he found his early career velocity again in 2015. Keep in mind that in 2013 and 2014 (and 2010) he didn’t throw many innings.
Career relievers don’t often magically learn to throw harder at 32, but if all we’re looking at it a guy who finally got healthy, this could be a very real difference that allowed him to pitch much better. He also lowered his arm slot a touch as well.
The big difference for Lowe was that he started using his slider a lot more to lefties and righties in 2015. Same 2010/2013/2014 sample size applies, watch 2008-2009-2011-2012-2015 for the best idea.
The 2014 spike is 7 innings, so you can see how it became a much larger part of his arsenal in 2015 compared to years past. More strikeouts, fewer walks, fewer dingers, fewer runs. He was the whole package.
It’s likely that health is a key factor for Lowe, but even in the seasons in which he seemed to be healthy, he was never as good as he was in 2015. Last year was clearly his best year, and how the Tigers perform in 2016 will be partially dependent on how much of that was a real shift toward greatness and how much was a blip.
Is Mark Lowe really a great reliever, or is he simply a solid arm who had a good year? Even if he’s just a solid bullpen piece, but stays healthy, he’ll make the team better. But the team was awful in 2015, so a little better isn’t a terribly exciting move. If his slider-heavy approach and high velocity fastball are here to stay, the Tigers have themselves a late-inning reliever who can prevent leads from slipping away. If he can’t stay healthy or his 2015 success was mostly noise, it will be much harder for the team to keep up with Kansas City, Cleveland, and perhaps Chicago.