I like numbers. To me, one of the great things about baseball is its cooperation with and encouragement of mathematical analysis. Sometimes, though—and this pains me—the popularly quoted arithmetic gets certain things wrong. To this point in the 2012 season, the Detroit Tigers’ rotation is one of those things.
Previous to Rick Porcello’s start on Sunday afternoon, the Verlander-led starting staff had compiled a 4.09 earned run average—fifth-worst in the American League. Porcello himself had a 5.64, a figure which is now down slightly to 4.91. His partner in uncertainty, Max Scherzer, is, improbably, worse represented by a 6.32 ERA. While those integers from presumed third and fourth starters can in no way mean all is well in Detroit, they don’t tell the whole story.
In six opportunities, Porcello has posted four quality starts, all of which resulting in Tiger victories. A couple of them could be labeled gems. On top of those, he’s had one passable start—when he allowed three first innings runs to the Seattle Mariners before settling in to go almost seven innings—and one horrid collapse at the hands of the juggernautish lineup of the Texas Rangers. ERA aside, it’s not hard to see Porcello, reclaimed old school delivery and extra velocity in tow, taking a hefty step forward in his development this year.
It’s harder to jump on board the Scherzer bandwagon, but you have to be encouraged by his effort Saturday, which saw him strike out nine over seven innings of one-run baseball, on the heels of a minor rotation tweak. Subtracting a single Scherzer start—that at Yankee Stadium where he walked seven in 4.2 innings—he’s walked just six batters in 26.2 frames; that’s 2.02 walks per nine, far better than the major league average of 3.13. He has lethal stuff. If he can control it, he can be a stellar pitcher.
Even if just one of Scherzer and Porcello can keep things together, there’s plenty to like about Detroit’s rotation. Obviously, there’s Justin Verlander. The club is about to get budding star Doug Fister back from injury. In case you haven’t heard, Drew Smyly is on a tear—one of the best runs a Tiger rookie starting pitcher has had in recent history. If someone falls apart, the organization has the best insurance policy conceivable waiting in the minor leagues in the form of the golden right arm of Jacob Turner. If he’s not ready when needed, Detroit could reach as deep as seventh on their depth chart to Duane Below for quality starts.
Those who hold to the belief that pitching and defense win championships can take solace in the fact that the Tigers are going to be good in at least the former of those departments. Now that you’re at peace about their rotation, I’ll leave you to go worry about offense.