Jason Foley Gives the Detroit Tigers a New Look at Closer

After watching Alex Lange struggle in the closer role, the Detroit Tigers seem to be going in a new direction this year with Jason Foley.

Jason Foley
CLEVELAND, OHIO - AUGUST 19, 2023: Jason Foley #68 and Jake Rogers #34 of the Detroit Tigers celebrate the team's 4-3 win over the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on August 19, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

You often do not learn much about a team on Opening Day. Too small of a sample. Injuries and poor performance have not stacked up leading to new opportunities. However, the Tigers did show a new plan of attack that caught our attention.

After Tarik Skubal pitched an absolute gem (Cy Young tour starts now) allowing three hits and no runs across six innings, AJ Hinch went to his bullpen. Newly acquired righty Shelby Miller pitched a perfect inning, followed by an appearance from re-aquired Andrew Chafin in the eighth.

After a perfect eighth with a one run lead, many of us were envisioning the different ways Alex Lange could give us a heart attack. “Same old Tigers” was sitting in your drafts fingers ready to emphatically slam send. But, we did not see Lange.

Instead, Chafin took care of the lefty for out number one and Jason Foley came in to shut the door capping off a perfect three innings of five strikeout baseball from the bullpen.

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A new closer in Detroit.

I do not need to recap the Alex Lange struggles in great detail. They have been burned into your memory. Electric movement with no control led to a 15.6% walk rate in 2023. Having strikeout stuff is great, but if you cannot locate it you should not be pitching in the highest leverage situation.

Insert Jason Foley.

In many ways the opposite of Alex Lange. Less strikeouts, but a clean 5.3% walk rate across his career. His 56.5% groundball rate fell in the 93rd percentile in 2023, thanks to his heavy sinker usage. A pitch he can throw in the upper 90s with downward movement that batters can hit, usually into the ground.

As much as this is a lack of trust with Lange, it’s also a testament to how good Foley has been to earn this opportunity. In 142 career innings, Foley has a 3.11 ERA, 2.91 FIP, and only five home runs surrendered. Not only is he effective, but he limits the long ball, which in theory, will eliminate big blow up appearances.

Although Foley has not been a strikeout artist, he has the stuff to see an uptick in his numbers. In fact, his strikeout rate has improved by 3% each season since his rookie year. It’s nice to know he does not need to rely on it to get outs, but he has it the ability to strike someone out when needed.

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At the end of the day this change has more to do with confidence. Confidence in Foley and a lack of confidence in Lange.

The move to lower leverage situations for Lange could help him get back on track and I like the message it is sending. If you are not productive, you will no longer just be given opportunities.

The Tigers have been in an evaluation period the past couple of years trying to figure out just what they have in their players. While some of that is still present, winning finally has a higher importance. Foley gives you the best chance to win a close game and I’m glad to see him used in the highest leverage situation.