Oct 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (37) gets set to pitch during the third inning in game six of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers' Starting Pitching; A Breakdown

This is the third in a series of four articles analyzing the Detroit Tigers’ 2013 regular season performance. The first two installments looked at the defense and offense by position. Next Friday’s piece will review the relief pitching.

Sometimes the experts are right.

Going into 2013, the Detroit Tigers were projected to have strong starting pitching. The experts appeared to have done their homework well, as that’s exactly how the regular season played out.

Here’s a breakdown of Tiger starting pitching during the 2013 regular season:

Starting Pitchers

By any measure, Tiger starting pitchers had a dominant year. They were first in the AL in a host of categories, including wins, ERA, innings pitched, fewest HR’s allowed, WHIP (walks plus hits per inning), and strikeouts.

The Tiger stable of starting pitchers was arguably the best rotation in MLB. Let’s examine this elite group in order of lowest ERA posted.

Anibal Sanchez

Sanchez justified the considerable financial commitment the Tigers made to him in the offseason by winning the AL ERA title at 2.57. He set the tone for his season in late April by breaking Mickey Lolich’s franchise record by striking out 17 Atlanta Braves. He also carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins in May, only to settle for a complete game one-hitter after a one out single by Joe Mauer. Despite appearing in a rotation alongside Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, there were times when Sanchez looked like the Tigers’ number one starter.

Mixing an electric mid-90’s fastball with pinpoint secondary stuff, Sanchez was sometimes unhittable, as reflected by his .229 BA against, 202 strikeouts in 182 IP, and a 1.15 WHIP. Sanchez finished the year with a 14-8 record, and even garnered a vote for the Cy Young Award.

Max Scherzer

Scherzer joined teammate and AL ERA crown winner Anibal Sanchez in the winner’s circle by adding the Cy Young Award to his resume this week. Though the Tiger offense seemed to come alive with him on the hill, Scherzer held up his end of the deal. He posted a 21-3 won-loss record and was the only 20-game winner in the majors in 2013.

Scherzer came out of the blocks with ferocity, winning 13 consecutive games. He did not suffer his first loss until July 13th against the Rangers. On the year he pitched 214 innings, yielding only 152 hits. He struck out 240 opposing hitters, who managed only a measly .198 BA against his slants. His WHIP was a microscopic 0.97, best among AL starters. He finished with a 2.90 ERA.

Sporting an overpowering fastball ranging into the upper 90’s, Scherzer also used a deadly slider along with a curveball to neutralize hitters. As if that wasn’t enough, he complemented those pitches with a pinpoint change-up to keep hitters off balance.

Considering his electrifying 2013 season, it’s no wonder the vast majority of Cy Young Award voters only had “ayes” for Max Scherzer.

Justin Verlander

In view of his impressive body of work and a new lucrative long-term contract, Verlander under-performed in 2013.

The former Cy Young and MVP Award winner struggled at times with his velocity and location and suffered his worst year since 2008, when he was 11-17. Despite his struggles, he remained a workhorse by pitching 218 innings with a respectable ERA of 3.46. Though he yielded slightly less than a hit per inning (212), he walked 75, (by far the highest total on the Tiger staff), which elevated his WHIP to a pedestrian 1.31.

His strikeout total was still considerable at 217, but he gave up 19 HR’s and opponents hit .253 against him.

Make no mistake, though, despite his inability to re-establish his prior dominance, Verlander was still an above average MLB starter in 2013.

It just didn’t seem that way to Tiger fans, who had become conditioned these past few years to his overriding excellence.

Doug Fister

The steady Tiger right hander carved out another reliable 14-win season in 2013, posting a 3.68 ERA. Fister logged 207 Innings, one of three Tiger starters to exceed 200 innings on the year.

While he pitches to contact and thus surrendered more hits per inning than any other starter, Fister limited his walks to 44, which converted to a WHIP of 1.31, identical to power-pitcher Justin Verlander.

Although hitters nicked him for a relatively high .283 BA, Fister was adept at pitching out of jams to limit the big inning. As always, he fielded his position flawlessly.

While Fister sits around 90-91 with his fastball and has an impressive array of offspeed pitches, he’ll never be an overpowering arm. Nonetheless, he registered 158 K’s, won 14 games, and provided a professional presence on the mound every fifth day.

One could do considerably worse for a number four starter.

Rick Porcello

Porcello’s name regularly surfaced as the subject of trade rumors in the offseason preceding the 2013 campaign.

The Tigers are probably glad they retained him and other teams must regret not pursuing him harder. Overall, the still young Porcello (soon to turn 25) had an effective year in the number five starting slot, turning in a 13-8 record with a 4.43 ERA. Except for a couple disastrous starts, his ERA would have been significantly lower.

Though Porcello tended to have shorter and fewer outings than other Tiger starters, as evidenced by his 172 IP, he generally gave the Tigers an opportunity to win games when he was on the hill.

Whereas many teams migrate to a “revolving door” scenario for their fifth starter as the season progresses, Porcello’s stable presence in that position for the Tigers was a plus for the team. His velocity on his sinking fastball was in the low to mid-90’s and he added an effective curveball to his repertoire. The latter tended to get left handed hitters off his fastball, a luxury Porcello lacked in previous years. Accordingly, his ERA split against lefties, which had averaged about 5.25 in 2010 through 2012, dropped to 4.58, a significant decline.

All in all, Rick Porcello cemented the bottom end of the Tiger rotation in 2013, pitching effectively in most outings and lending stability to a rotation slot that is frequently in flux for many MLB teams.

Jose Alvarez

Alvarez was the final starting pitcher to perform for the Tigers in 2013. It is highly unusual for a team to have as few as six starters over the course of a season, as in the previous three years the Tigers had averaged ten starters per season, which is about average across the majors.

Alvarez pitched capably in a back-up role, starting six games and hurling 28 innings. He was 1-4 with an ERA of 5.14 and a WHIP of 1.43. Like most finesse pitchers, the left hander got hurt when his control wavered or the home plate umpire had a tight strike zone.

Conclusion

Overall it was a sterling season for starting pitchers adorned with the Olde English “D” on their caps, as much of the team’s success can be traced to the fivesome chronicled above.

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