DETROIT, MI: Manager Jim Leyland pulls Al Alburquerque #62 of the Detroit Tigers in the eighth inning of Game Four of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
In Game 2 of the ALCS, a relief pitcher with a 5.35 ERA during the regular season gave up a grand slam in the 11th inning, while rookie phenom Al Alburquerque never left the bullpen. Why?
There's a pretty good chance we'll see Al Alburquerque tonight in Game 3.
Just not if Jim Leyland can help it.
During the regular season, Jim Leyland's two favored right-handed relievers were primary setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde; both made good money, and both acquitted themselves well in battle. Leyland's favored left-handers were Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth; they weren't as impressive, but ultimately were good enough.
That's only four relief pitchers, though, and you need more than four.
Here were Leyland's other two favorite relievers, both of them righties:
IP BB SO HR
Mr. A 43 29 67 0
Mr. P 37 21 24 1
Welcome to the big time, Al Alburquerque and Ryan Perry.
Alburquerque's performance this season was phenomenal in two areas: he was a strikeout machine, and he didn't give up a single home run in his rookie campaign. Perry's performance was a bit more, um, pedestrian, but he did somehow manage to allow just one home run. So, you know, bully for him.
Anyway, fast-forward to Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. It's the 11th inning, the game's deadlocked at three runs apiece, and Leyland has already used Valverde, Benoit and Coke. Here, he prefers to use a right-handed reliever, understandable considering that the Rangers' next four hitters -- Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz -- all bat right-handed.
Of course, Leyland chose Ryan Perry and the result was disastrous for the Tigers.
But why did Leyland choose Perry instead of Alburquerque, who pitched so much better during the season? Why has Perry pitched in Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS, while Alburquerque hasn't left the bullpen?
There are three obvious reasons, the latter two related possibly related...
One, Al Alburquerque does not actually exist. This is known as "The Francesa Theorem".
Two, Alburquerque did not pitch well against the Yankees in the Division Series. In Game 1, he entered with the bases loaded and his team already down 4-1, and -- remember, Alburquerque didn't allow a home run all season -- gave up a grand slam to Robinson Cano. In Game 4, he faced two batters and didn't retire either of them.
The Tigers both of those games, 9-3 and 10-1, and we might guess that when Leyland subconsciously assigns blame for both of those blowouts, his mind alights on Al Alburquerque.
But Alburquerque faced exactly four batters in the Division Series. Should his failure to retire three of them disqualify him from meaningful action for the rest of this month? According to The Book: "If a pitcher has pitched poorly for seven appearances in a row, if he is otherwise physically and mentally fit, we can expect him to continue to pitch at his usual (long-term) level of performance."
Is Alburquerque mentally fit? We cannot know. Perhaps Jim Leyland can.
Is Alburquerque phyiscally fit? He did deal with injuries in August, pitching only three times that month. However, he pitched seven times in September, didn't allow a run, and recorded 10 strikeouts against only two walks. Alburquerque seemed to be hitting on all cylinders as the Tigers entered the postseason.
The Tigers entered this series with decided disadvantages in hitting, fielding, starting pitching, and relief pitching. There's not much Jim Leyland can do about any of that. But when Leyland is relying upon his relief pitcher with the 5.35 ERA rather than the reliever with the 1.87 ERA, his job gets just a little bit harder.