Todd Jones has more saves, 235, than any man in Tiger history. Detroit traded for the reliever in a nine player deal with Houston. The trade worked well for both clubs with the Tigers landing a closer. Jones tended to drive fans and managers crazy with fits of wildness. Despite the inconsistency within the game, he usually managed to close out the opposition. He could have rated much higher on this list if he was not so wild.
The Astros drafted Todd Jones in June 1989 and signed him within a month. He debuted four seasons later as a setup man. Eventually, Houston let him close games and Jones totaled 17 saves in 1996. Overall, he saved 39 games in four seasons for the Astros.
The Tigers liked what they saw in Jones and acquired the right hander in a nine player swap. The Astros received an All-Star catcher in Brad Ausmus, a future 20 game winner in Jose Lima, and three others. The Tigers solidified the back end of the bullpen with Jones as closer and Doug Brocail as the setup man. Detroit also received shortstop Orlando Miller and outfielder Brian Hunter. The trade worked for both teams.
The 1996 Tigers lost 109 games and might have been significantly worse than the 119 loss 2003 team. The pitching staff posted a 6.38 ERA and the bullpen saved 22 games all season. Jones and Brocail helped iron out the bullpen issues and Detroit improved 26 games in the standings in 1997. Brocail went 3-4, with 2 saves, 3.23 ERA, and 16 holds. Jones saved 31 games and finished 51. The closer went 5-4, posted a 3.09 ERA, but had a relatively high 1.357 WHIP.
Jones and the Tigers took a step backward in 1998. Management began trading salaries and the on-the-field product suffered. Jones saved 28 games, but his ERA ballooned to 4.97 and WHIP increased to 1.484. Detroit finished 65-97.
Detroit and Jones continued to struggle in 1999. The franchise’s troubles were forgotten for a brief time with Comerica Park scheduled to open in 2000 and Tiger Stadium’s swan song in 1999. Jones saved 30 and improved somewhat from 1998. In April, he notched his 100th career save and he struck out Carlos Beltran to close the ballpark that September.
Comerica Park seemed to resurrect the Tigers somewhat. They lost 92 games in 1999, but challenged .500 in 2000. They fell just short at 79-83. Jones enjoyed his finest season as a professional. The righty won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year and made his only All Star appearance with 42 saves. The Tiger closer also received Cy Young votes for the only time in his career.
Jones could not keep the magic of 2000 alive in 2001. He was hammered around the ballpark and the Tigers traded him. The pitcher expressed regret that he could not bring more in return for the franchise. The trade initiated a five-year odyssey for the reliever. From 2001-05, Jones toiled for Minnesota, Boston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Florida. He was especially impressive in Florida in 2005. He went 1-5 with a 2.10 ERA, 1.027 WHIP, and 40 saves. Despite the success, Florida agreed to trade Jones back to Detroit for the 2006 season.
Detroit won the pennant in 2006. Jones solidified the closer’s role making the run possible. In May, he passed Mike Henneman as the Tigers all-time saves leader. Overall, the pitcher saved 37 games in the regular season and four more in the postseason. The Tigers lost the World Series in five games to the Cardinals, but Jones did not allow a run.
Jones pitched two more seasons, but age finally caught up with him. The 40-year-old lost the closers role to Fernando Rodney in 2008. He announced his retirement that September. Jones went 23-32 with 235 saves, 1.456 WHIP, and 4.07 ERA in eight Tiger seasons. The “Roller Coaster” made the most of his talent and parlayed it into a 16-year big league career. However, his best years were spent with Detroit.