How the Tigers Can Take the Central Crown. Hint: His Name is Cliff Lee

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While the Tigers’ relatively strong defense has the effect of making Tigers’ position players look a little weaker than they actually are – based on offensive metrics alone – it has the opposite effect on our perceptions of Tigers pitching.

Though the defenses behind them were the worst in the AL, the pitching staffs of the Twins and Sox were the best in the AL: good for 22.7 and 22.5 WAR respectively. Tigers pitching didn’t come close, at 8.4 total WAR. All three teams had a solid top two in their rotations, with Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano giving the Twins 9.2 WAR, John Danks and Mark Buehrle giving the Sox 8.4 and Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer giving the Tigers 7.4. I wouldn’t want to argue that Verlander and Scherzer are, in fact, 1.8 wins worse than Liriano and Pavano – and if we’re looking towards next year I would consider it at worst a wash (assuming the Twins actually resign Pavano, which is not a given).

The back end of the rotation is another story entirely. The Twins got 3.6 WAR out of Baker, Blackburn and Slowey, and another 3.7 WAR out of swingman Brian Duensing. The Sox got 8.3 WAR out of Jake Peavy, Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia. Compare that to the Tigers’ -1.2 WAR from Rick Porcello, Armando Galarraga, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Andrew Oliver and you see a big reason why we only won 81 games.

Replacing Bonderman’s -1.5 WAR with, potentially, 1.0 WAR from Phil Coke makes a difference – but we’re still far behind. Porcello was barely better than replacement level last year… can we expect 2-3 WAR out of him next year? Personally, I’d consider that optimistic. Galarraga’s 0.9 WAR was better than the rest of the lot, and most people I talk to don’t see a role for him on the 2011 squad. If Oliver takes his place… will he be ready to contribute next year (when he clearly wasn’t this year) or do we give him the ball and pray?