I think we’re all aware that the actual order of pitchers doesn’t really matter. What you really hope is that, by the end of the year, you’ve gotten your better pitchers into the most number of games. That generally means you want your pitchers stacked in order of quality (the earlier you throw your first game the more likely it is that you’ll get one more on the back end), but that’s not really any sort of big issue.
The Tigers announced their rotation order for the first week of the season, and it looks nothing like the order of pitcher quality.
If you were going by order of quality, Verlander would be one (as he is), but you’d have Scherzer, Sanchez, and Fister arranged next in some order (I think I like that particular order, but these three are fairly interchangeable). Porcello has been actually slotted in for game three, but no one would argue that he’s anything but the fifth best pitcher of the bunch.
Fister was tabbed as the starter for the home opener, so there’s a decent reason for him being slotted fourth, but Scherzer’s spot at the back end potentially raises some questions. Jim Leyland states that there’s nothing to read into though:
Scherzer, Leyland say Scherzer’s Game 5 start is non-issue. Scherzer feels good. Pitching today. “Back burner,” Leyland says of No. 5 slot.
— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) March 29, 2013
You’d typically want Scherzer to go third which could, perhaps, allow him to eventually squeeze in one additional start in September (depending on how things shake out all year), but there could be a fairly easy explanation as to why he’s not doing this. The first time you set the rotation is really the only time all year that you’re allowed to play with matchups. Leyland may be looking at the Twins-Yankees dynamic to start the year.
New York will be missing a couple of boppers in Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, but they still have a better lineup than the one Detroit will see in Minnesota. Giving Porcello the slightly softer matchup and Scherzer the tougher one may be setting the team up for more early season success.
So, instead of going Fister-Porcello-Verlander for the first home series vs. the Yankees (how we might think a 1-5 slotting would play out), the Tigers will be going with Fister-Scherzer-Verlander. Hard to argue with that.