Detroit Tigers: Learning from the Tampa Bay Rays 2020 bullpen make-up

(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Detroit Tigers, Nick Anderson
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The Tampa Bay Rays are a unique pitching staff as a whole, but the make-up of their bullpen has allowed them to win ball games after manager Kevin Cash takes the ball from the starter.

They have pieced together a versatile and stacked bullpen through draft picks, trades, and some signings. They choose to use the opener strategy and will use righties and lefties who all come out of different arm slots, varying from hard-throwing righties to a soft-throwing lefty.

Every bullpen has its variety and combination, but if the Detroit Tigers are smart, they will adopt how the Tampa Bay Rays built their bullpen. Let’s be honest with ourselves; the Tigers do not have the money to throw around millions on a back-end bullpen similar to what the New York Yankees have.

Remember, they have about four players who could arguably be closers or at least very effective high-leverage guys all across the league. They have other reliable arms on top of that, but it can be a bit costly.

Pursuing the strategy the Rays use, a combination of arms that plays well off one another, with two to three “stars” or go-to arms that can be used whenever. While Nick Anderson has not looked nearly as good in the postseason, he was a trusted reliever for them throughout the 2020 season. The organization also has Diego Castillo and José Alvarado whom they rely heavily on.

But one thing to note, they are NOT afraid to call upon their closer in the sixth or seventh inning to keep the game close or keep them ahead by one, going to another arm to close things out officially in the ninth.

In this 2020 World Series, the Rays relievers have allowed ten runs to the Dodgers, where their starters have allowed 15 for a total of 25 runs against. During the regular season, the bullpen was even more effective, with strict relievers (pitchers who did not have a game started) allowing just 51 runs as a collective unit, the Rays in total allowed 229 runs against during the 2020 season.

Earlier in October, Jayson Stark tweeted out statistics regarding the Rays dominance in the bullpen when they are given the ball with a lead in the ballgame’s later innings.

If the Tigers are truly going to adopt this model, they can use arms that they groom for the bullpen, starters who are better served as one or two-inning relievers, or even a three to a five-inning long reliever.

After that, they can go out and get a “lockdown” reliever to be their “closer” and then work from there. Building a cost-effective bullpen like the Rays, where they have the versatility and can use arms in a plethora of different situations, is something the Tigers better consider.