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Ryan Perry – Linchpin of the Bullpen

I’m getting excited about the start of spring training and I like the Tiger’s chances this year.  While they’re probably not the best team in baseball, they’ve made enough solid moves to where they should compete for a division title.  The White Sox and Twins are also good, so this will be an interesting race.

If you take a look at a lot of championship teams, there’s usually a mix of the guys who are paid to perform, a breakout young player or two and an aging veteran having one last season in the tank.  The 2006 season was the perfect example.  Guys like Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez did their job while Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander burst onto the scene.  Throw in the last hurrah for Kenny Rogers and it made for a potent mix.

2011 won’t be any different.  If the Tigers are going contend, they not only need their typical production from guys like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, but they also need a guy or two to breakout.  If you look at the pen, you should expect Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde to be your best relievers because their being paid to be there.  Joel Zumaya is a wildcard because of his injuries and that’s why I think the guy the Tigers need to step up is Ryan Perry.

The Tigers first round pick in 2008 (21st overall), Perry signed too late to make his debut that season but in 2009, he broke camp with the Tigers with fellow rookie Rick Porcello and made the Tigers team.  By the end of April, one bad game (which can cost a reliever early in the season) made his ERA look mediocre but he also began walking batters including three in a one inning appearance on April 29.  In May he was able to shave almost a run off of his ERA and ever better, he began to strike out more guys then he walked.  June wasn’t so good though and after three rough outings in the middle of the month, the Tigers decided to send him to Toledo for some fine tuning.  He came back about a month later with mixed results and he finished the season with 60 strikeouts, 38 walks and a 3.79 ERA in 61 2/3 innings.  He had a rough time against left handed batters (.841 OPS against) and that ultimately cost him in the numbers department.

2010 was a little more of the same with a slight twist.  This time he had an even rougher first half and in early June he hit the disabled list with elbow tendinitis.  He came back just before the All Star Break and and he pitched fairly well, getting his ERA down from 5.82 (pre-DL) to 3.59 (season’s end).  From September 1 on, he was particularly effective and he held batters to a .132 batting average over 57 plate appearances.  His strikeout rate came down (but mostly because his rough first half, he struck out almost a batter an inning in the second half) but his walk rate also went down.  Oddly, he was awesome against lefties (his Achilles heel in 2009) with a .485 OPS against but not so good against righties (.792 OPS against).

So, you have a small sample size (two seasons) but some nice trends (strikeout to walk ratio is going up, ERA and WHIP coming down).  Now we’ll just have to see if he can put it all together in 2011 and be a vital cog in the pen this year.  Perry has been labeled the closer of the future in the past and I can see him in a role this year very similar to how the Tigers used Joel Zumaya in 2006.  He’s a hard thrower that could be called on in the sixth inning to get the critical strikeout with men on base.  He also has some motivation because with Jose Valverde’s contract expiring at the end of 2012 (I’m assuming they pick up his option), that gives Perry a couple of years to get ready to become the Tigers top reliever.

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