Going into play on Monday, the Detroit Tigers own a 5 game lead over the Cleveland Indians with 13 games remaining and a magic number of 9. Barring a collapse that would lead to the firing of basically everyone, the Tigers will make the playoffs. Once the Tigers clinch their postseason spot, they will need to set their playoff rotation.
If the rotation stayed the same today until the end of the season, it would end with Justin Verlander pitching the final game of the season which would set up a rotation of Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Verlander for the playoffs with Rick Porcello going to the bullpen as the long reliever. We all know that this will not be the postseason rotation, so let’s look at how Jim Leyland could set up his rotation. First, we will look at how the rotation would be based purely on the numbers.
Based on ERA: Sanchez, Scherzer, Verlander, Fister
Based on WHIP: Scherzer, Sanchez, Fister, Verlander
Based on FIP: Sanchez, Scherzer, Fister, Verlander
Based on xFIP: Sanchez, Scherzer, (Porcello), Fister, Verlander
Based on WAR: Scherzer, Sanchez, Verlander, Fister
The numbers are split as to who should be the number one starter between Sanchez and Scherzer. Verlander is nowhere to be found as the number one starter and not even the number two starter. People who have watched this team on a daily basis would agree with that, and if you are reading this article, I’m going to assume that you have watched more than 3 games this year.
So what should the playoff rotation look like? The game is not played just based on the numbers, but the number have done a good job at setting up the rotation.
1) Max Scherzer
This is more of a 1A and 1B with Scherzer and Sanchez than a 1 and 2. Their numbers are practically identical. The main difference in their season are the wins. I know that pitchers’ wins are a stat that don’t always show the quality of the pitcher, but it is the difference between Scherzer and Sanchez. In the 29 games that Scherzer has pitched this season, the Tigers are 22-7. In the 26 games that Sanchez has pitched this season, the Tigers are 17-9. According to baseball reference, Sanchez has actually received more run support at 5.76 than Scherzer at 5.63. As of now, it is the best debate that any team could have going into the postseason: which AL Cy Young contender should we start in game one?
2) Anibal Sanchez
Outside of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sanchez would be the first starter to pitch for any other postseason team. Sanchez leads the American League in ERA and may win the ERA. He battles better than most pitchers I have watched pitch. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he will still give the Tigers 7 innings of 2 run ball. This is a complete coin flip with Scherzer. I feel confident putting Sanchez out there against any other pitcher in any league and that includes Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. If Sanchez makes strong starts his last two starts, he would edge out Scherzer for the AL Cy Young and the first spot in the playoff rotation.
3) Justin Verlander
Verlander has just had a down year. The hope is the postseason will turn around whatever has been wrong with him this season. No one knows truly what has been wrong with Justin this season. After Verlander’s 2011 MVP season where he had an ERA of 2.40 and a WHIP of 0.92 and his 2012 season with a 2.64 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, he has posted a 3.66 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. In Verlander’s postseason career, Verlander has an ERA of 4.22 with a WHIP of 1.24. In 2012, those numbers were a 2.22 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. The hope is the postseason atmosphere can turn Verlander’s season from the disappointment that is has been to a strong postseason. If he can improve, Verlander can be elevated to the #1 or #2 spots. Just because he is Justin Verlander, he does not deserve to be a top two starter, you have to earn that and he has not earned that this year.
4) Doug Fister
Doug Fister is the best 4th pitcher in the game. Fister should pitch in the first series which will be against Oakland unless something odd happens with Boston over these next two weeks. The Tigers will not go to a three man rotation because on any given day Fister could beat the ace of any team provided he is actually given any run support by his offense which goes anemic while Fister is on the mound.