Thursday, May 3, 2012

Detroit Tigers - Looking at the Rotation

Wrapping up the AL Central would be the Detroit Tigers who are using no less than 3 of the same starters as they did in last year’s run to the playoffs. They have sent Brad Penny packing, and by all accounts that’s probably for the best. The team is awaiting the return of their No. 2 starter Doug Fister and are in the meantime saddled with a somewhat more unpredictable cast of starters.

Rick Porcello’s stat line doesn’t quite look up  to his two most recent seasons, but most of that comes from his last 2 starts in April. Those two nights notwithstanding he’s put together 3 quality starts and eaten a lot of innings for the Tigers. Porcello has been walking about 1 batter fewer per 9 than he has over his career and his strikeout rate is consistent. He has however given up 36 hits in his 30 & ⅓ innings. Porcello has actually been relatively lucky with pop ups but home runs have been his undoing. He’s keeping the ball on the ground well, and could well put together a season that’s more reminiscent of his 2009 season than the last 2 if things start to break his way a bit more. I wouldn’t be surprised if this year turned out a fair amount better than it looks at the moment. He’s given up a lot of extra base hits (13), and if a few of those doubles and triples had been caught, or played cleanly his ERA might reflect more of the 3 very good games he’s had rather than the 2 rough ones.

Max Scherzer has recorded 2 quality starts so far, and even then they’re the very definition of the rule. Scherzer has not looked pretty so far this year, and by the looks of things, his command isn’t where it should be. He’s striking out a lot of batters (27) but he’s walked 13 already in only 24 & ⅓ innings. His BABIP is an intolerable .453 and if that doesn’t change, Scherzer might be looking at bus trips and crappy locker rooms sooner than later. Scherzer’s just giving up hits (37) and not doing much to mitigate the damage himself. This may be a down year for him, or maybe he’s just having a very rough start, but as it stands Scherzer’s season is not looking pretty but aside from giving up an awful lot of hits, most of his other stats are looking okay, so perhaps some of this can be laid on the defense behind him, but he does need to make adjustments himself to keep runners off the base paths.

I’d write something here about Adam Wilk, but given that he’s been awful, and the Tigers have already sent him back to AAA we can all pretend like those 3 starts never happened.

Doug Fister absolutely dominated last year between Seattle and Detroit after two years of league average pitching. Maybe something just started to click for Fister as he didn’t really lower his already excellent walk rate (37 walks over 216 & ⅓ innings) but he only gave up 11 home runs all year as well. He did also pick up the pace with his strikeouts (146). He looked pretty good last year and most of his stat line should be very repeatable upon his return. Fister will be leaned upon heavily to stabilize this rotation behind the reigning Cy Young and MVP winner.

Justin Verlander picked up more or less right where he left off last year, and in 6 starts has compiled 45 & ⅓ innings and 42 strikeouts against 9 walks. Even in the one game he pitched against the Yankees where he didn’t exactly have great stuff, he managed to go 6 innings, and the Yanks tagged him for the only 2 home runs he’s given up this year. I don’t know how much statistical analysis needs to be done on Verlander, almost nothing has changed, His strikeout rate is a tiny bit lower, and he’s getting more infield fly balls. He doesn’t have a single double play behind him, but with his 0.860 WHIP that’s to be expected. Verlander has pitched great, even when he hasn’t been at his best this year, and I don’t see that changing. He’ll probably be in line to collect quite a few Cy Young votes again this year, and he’ll probably deserve the vast majority of them.

Drew Smyly is perhaps the most frustrating pitcher I’ve seen so far to analyse. Being a rookie he has no major league experience to discuss, and having only spent last year in the minors, there’s not much to go on there, either. Looking at his minor league stats, you’d believe that the only bad game he’s pitched in his entire life came this year for Toledo, but aside from that, he strikes out a lot of batters, doesn’t walk many and doesn’t give up a lot of hits either. The most I can say is that of the 3 runs Smyly’s given up, they’ve all been on solo homers so I guess he’s kind of lucky that he gave those shots up with no one on base? That all said, Smyly’s very new to just about everyone seeing him, so this may all be a smoke and mirrors game, all anyone has as far as a scouting report on him is from a brief stint in the minors, and his 4 years in college, not exactly a ton to go on. Maybe Smyly’s the real deal, and he has certainly looked it so far, but I would imagine he will come back down to earth at least somewhat) as the season progresses and teams can better prepare for him.

The Tigers have upgraded their offense even if that is at the expense of their defense. They are certainly poised to have another run at the post season, especially if Smyly and Fister can produce either as we’ve seen so far, or nearly as well as last year respectively.

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