Oct 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) reacts prior to the first inning against the Boston Red Sox in game five of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Triple Aces--Tiger Trio Stacks The Deck

A number one starting pitcher, the proverbial ace of the staff, is arguably the most treasured and highly sought quarry in baseball. An authentic ace is expected to dominate teams when he’s at his best, while giving his team a chance to win during those relatively few outings when he does not have his good stuff. He is also the “stopper”, someone who can consistently post a win in the face of a team losing streak. If you don’t have one of these thoroughbreds in your stable, don’t even bother applying for a passport to the postseason. It ain’t gonna happen.

The Detroit Tigers currently possess three of these crown jewels, a true embarrassment of riches, in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez.

Pitching is generally regarded as 75-80% of the game of baseball. Another way to look at it is that over the long haul, other things being equal, the quality of a team’s pitching staff will determine the outcome of three of every four games played. Given that strong starting pitchers average between six and seven innings per outing, their importance cannot be overstated.

With that in mind, let’s look at the Tigers’ tremendous trio of right handers to determine what we can expect from them in 2014, using immediate past performance as our guidepost. To account for single season variations in performance, I have consolidated their 2012 and 2013 regular season statistics, which appear below. (*note–Sanchez pitched a portion of 2012 for the Florida Marlins)

Wins
Verlander 30
Scherzer 37
Sanchez 23

ERA
Verlander 3.04
Scherzer 3.29
Sanchez 3.24

IP
Verlander 456
Scherzer 402
Sanchez 377

Hits
Verlander 404
Scherzer 331
Sanchez 356

BB
Verlander 135
Scherzer 116
Sanchez 102

SO
Verlander 456
Scherzer 471
Sanchez 369

WHIP
Verlander 1.18
Scherzer 1.11
Sanchez 1.21

The data starkly reflect the dominance of these three pitchers over a two year period. Verlander is 30 years old and signed through 2019, and Sanchez, at 29, is under contract through 2017. Only Scherzer, also 29, is in imminent danger of leaving, as he becomes a free agent in 2015 and has been the focus of trade rumors during this offseason.

As a validation of their lofty status in Major League Baseball, each of these stars has received significant awards in the recent past. Verlander won the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011. Scherzer garnered the Cy Young award for his 2013 campaign, and Sanchez was the AL ERA king last season.

Though Verlander was uncharacteristically erratic throughout much of the 2013 regular season, he returned to vintage form in September and the postseason. Scherzer and Sanchez remained consistent throughout the year. As each of the three is healthy and in the prime of his career, in 2014 as a group they can reasonably be expected to approximate their performance over the past two years. That would place them in the 14-20 win category, with ERA’s 3.00 to 3.30. Strikeouts should settle in the range of 180 to 230, with WHIP’s around 1.10 to 1.20. Should it play out that way, the Tigers will once again be pressing hard for the postseason, where the top three pitchers on a team become critical due to the shortened October rotations. Advantage Detroit.

In view of their health, career point, and established track record, it’s obvious the Tigers possess three dominant starting pitchers, each of whom could serve as a number one starter for many teams. Versus the rest of the league, the Tigers are in an enviable position with this solid core of hurlers, which rarely manifests itself on one team. (By contrast, remember 2003, when soft-throwing nice guy Mike Maroth was the Tigers’ Opening Day starter? He finished the year 9-21, with a 5.74 ERA).

Despite the offseason loss of Doug Fister, these are heady days for the Detroit Tiger starting pitching corps. Assuming none of these three aces is re-shuffled to another team, as a group they should contribute to many winning hands for the Tigers in 2014. And if the cards are played just right, maybe they’ll even win the whole deal.

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