On Tuesday, the Detroit Tigers signed left handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny to a major league contract. Given the problems Detroit has had in the past with their bullpen, signing a quality arm like Gorzelanny could pay some dividends.
In order to clear room for Gorzelanny, right handed reliever Luke Putkonen was designated for assignment by Detroit. At first glance, Putkonen might not appear as an attractive option. But a closer look shows that he is the type of arm the Phillies could use in their bullpen.
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Putkonen was selected by Detroit in the 3rd round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of North Carolina. He never shined as a starter in the Tigers minor league system (career 9.3 H/9 in 553 innings), and was eventually moved to the bullpen, where they hoped that his mid-90’s fastball and a decent curve would help him succeed. Putkonen never made any top 10 prospect lists, and always hovered around as just another arm.
After a brief ‘cup of coffee’ MLB debut in 2012, Putkonen threw 29.2 innings in the 2013 season, striking out 28 while walking just 8 batters. He did give up 30 hits, so his bat-missing ability was still questionable. But he did have some giddy-up on his fastball again, averaging 95.1 mph on the pitch.
He also was able to keep the ball on the ground, recording a 55% groundball rate, so it would appear that he might not be affected too much by the cozy dimensions of Citizens Bank Park.
2014 was a washout, as Putkonen underwent surgery for bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Reports say that he should be fine for 2015. Particularly coming off the surgery, with just a history of modest success and turning 29 years old this coming May, Detroit simply felt he was expendable on signing Gorzelanny.
So, that begs the question: why should the Phillies be interested?
The Phillies have built a bulllpen that will likely be a strength for the team heading into 2015. Jonathan Papelbon has been everything the Phils expected when they signed him as a free agent. Ken Giles, Jake Diekman and Justin de Fratus form a strong, young backbone that lead to Paps at the end of games.
Justin de Fratus part of already strong bullpen mix
(Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
A main feature setting them apart from past Phillies bullpen combinations is that they all throw hard. Last season, Giles and Diekman were two of the 20 hardest throwing pitchers in baseball, as per Fangraphs (min. 30 IP), and Justin de Fratus was no slouch himself, averaging 91.5 mph on his heater.
Adding an arm like Putkonen to the mix could give the Phillies another fire-balling option to shut down innings. Throwing him into an open competition with Luis Garcia, Philippe Aumont, and whoever loses the 5th-starter battle will help determine how the bullpen is constructed.
Since his move to the bullpen, Putkonen has shown a marked increase in the ability to strike hitters out (6.3 K/9 in the minors vs. 8.5 K/9 in his first real taste of MLB in 2013.) While it is a small sample size, it is something a rebuilding team like the Phillies should be looking at – inexpensive arms that throw hard. Especially considering all of the factors leading to his Detroit release, signing Putkonen shouldn’t require much more than a minor league deal with a spring training invite.
With an offense that ranked just 23rd in baseball in scoring runs during 2014, one that appears likely will struggle again this coming season, the Phils will need all the help they can get preserving leads. Having a lockdown bullpen is how it is done – just ask the Kansas City Royals. Luke Putkonen would certainly appear worth taking a hard look at adding to their current group.