For the Detroit Tigers, consistent bullpen help has always been at the top of the wishlist. However, it has never felt like they have been able to find year-after-year consistency. This is where the new potential heroes of the future pen enter: Kyle Funkhouser and Gregory Soto.
Finding consistent year-by-year performers in the Detroit Tigers bullpen is quite difficult. Just when it seems like a player has found their stride (See 2018-2019 Joe Jimenez), they seem to fall apart (See 2020-2021 Joe Jimenez).
Enter Funkhouser and Soto. Both converted out of the starter role following some poor performance, and both were thrust into back-end bullpen roles as a result of extenuating circumstances. Now, both can be considered for the future of a competitive Tigers pen.
You might be skeptical about this, especially considering both show some concerning signs to future longevity. But both have also made the adjustments to make them effective in the pen already. For this, and the contributions of pitching coach Chris Fetter, I believe these two are due for long-term success.
Detroit Tigers young pitchers make adjustments
When looking at both pitchers’ conversions to the bullpen, the start of success came from throwing a single pitch more often-the sinker. Both throw it in different ways, and both see different results from it. However, its status as the primary pitch for both allows each to see greater ground ball rates and decreased hard contact rates.
For Funkhouser, the adjustments to his arsenal and sequencing have played a massive part in seeing sustained success. For starters, changing his four-seam fastball to primarily a putaway pitch has allowed it to play off of the sinker, resulting in more punchouts (27 on the 4-seamer alone) without really changing anything else about the pitch.
For Soto, he has been utilizing his power-pitching to its fullest extent. His sinker grades in the 99th percentile (better than 99% of the league, according to Baseball Savant) of average velocity, and his slider continues to generate whiffs and draw weaker contact than his sinker. The two-pitch combo plays off well for the profile of a late-innings power pitcher.
Both have shown off the ability to strike out batters, but the real key to both of their futures is limiting hard contact. Funkhouser, in his new role and with his improved sequencing, is limiting barrels in the top 7% of the league. Soto, with his powerful pitching, is keeping the ball on the ground or in weak pop-ups.
As both pitchers are seeing increased opportunities, both are converting at strong rates. Soto was 18/19 on saves this season, with 7 holds, while Funk had a single save and 7 holds himself. These two are on the right course to become the bullpen aces the Tigers desperately need in order to pull off the rebuild.