Things to Pin Your Hopes On, Part 1: Andy Oliver
By Chris Hannum
Lest you think, based on my last post, that I see no hope for the Tigers this year I assure you that I have plenty of hope – just not faith. The Tigers are going to be a team that needs some things to go very right to make a playoff run, a situation that a lot of teams find themselves in. Fortunately, there are a number of things that could go very very right. This team does not have a low ceiling. This begins a series covering those things that could, just possibly, break our way big time in 2011. If we’re still playing in October, chances are one of these dreams has come true. First on my list is Mr. Andrew Oliver.
I’ve mentioned already the risk that Brad Penny will get hurt and that Phil Coke will simply fail. I don’t think these risks have escaped Dave Dombrowski either. It may well be that Phil Coke is considered, privately, to be somewhat of a long-shot within the organization as well as by yours truly. Perhaps the true ‘fifth starter’ isn’t Coke, or Penny, but Andrew Oliver. He has yet to prove himself worthy, so announcing the fact in January wouldn’t be very sensible. Any more than anointing Justin Verlander before Spring Training 2006 or Rick Porcello in 2009. That doesn’t mean he won’t be the guy on the mound come April.
This isn’t a prospect analysis piece. Andy Oliver is something of a known quantity anyway. It’s simply about the kind of player that has to contribute in a big way for a team like Detroit to do something big. Don’t be dismayed by Oliver’s 7.36 ERA in his 5 starts last season. Verlander had an ERA over 7 in his 2005 cup of coffee just the same. 2006 was a different story entirely. The 2006 Tigers came out of absolutely nowhere to make a playoff run, and the 17 wins and 3.63 ERA from Verlander was a huge reason why. Who saw that coming in February? The same can be said of the Tigers run in 2009, except that the unexpected contribution came from Rick Porcello. Pitchers can make an immediate impact, if they have the talent.
Now I know that Oliver may not have the ceiling of Verlander and Porcello, who were both top-25 prospects nationally before they were brought to Detroit. Verlander and Porcello both skipped AAA after simply carving up the low minors. They were great, but they were rushed. Oliver has at least seen some time in Toledo, and given us a 3.23 ERA at that level – in his first season in the organization. He’s no older than Verlander was, perhaps the reason that his minor league stats look less impressive is that he was not given the chance to feast on low minors hitters. He’s also a lefty, something we need to win games within the division. If a prospect is going to make a splash in Detroit this year and give us 3 extra wins from the slot where we need it most, chances are good that that guy will be Andy Oliver.