November 9th, 2011

Alburquerque named Tigers Rookie of the Year

The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association has honored Al Alburquerque with the Tigers Rookie of the Year award, recognizing the right-handed reliever for a dominant summer.

Alburquerque was the logical choice in a field that didn’t include many rookies, though he wasn’t the only one. Andy Dirks made a good first impression as a fourth outfielder, though he seemed to fall down the list of options by year’s end. Duane Below had a good stretch in the bullpen, while top prospect Jacob Turner made a few starts.

None of them, however, could match the contribution of Alburquerque, who went from obscure free-agent signing last winter to late-inning strikeout artist by midseason.

The Tigers raised eyebrows when they signed the minor league free agent to a Major League contract last winter, having scouted his dominant stint in the Dominican Winter League. He hadn’t spent a day in the big leagues, but he had more strikeouts than innings pitched over four minor league seasons.

After fanning eight batters over four scoreless innings in a season-opening stint at Triple-A Toledo, Alburquerque got his shot. The results were beyond even what Tigers officials expected. After some wild innings upon arrival, he settled in and got on a roll. He walked 29 batters over 43 1/3 innings, but racked up 67 strikeouts.

His nine-inning ratios of 13.92 strikeouts and 4.36 hits allowed both were the best among AL relievers, as was his .142 average (21-for-148) allowed. They were all also the best marks for a Tigers reliever since at least 1946. With six strikeouts over three perfect innings of relief at Cleveland on April 30, he had a Tigers first since Willie Hernandez in 1984.

Alburquerque went 14 scoreless innings over 13 outings from May 21 to June 26, striking out 23 batters in the process. For the season, he stranded 28 out of 31 inherited runners, in part because opponents went 4-for-45 against him with runners in scoring position.

Alburquerque will receive his award during a pregame ceremony at some point next season.