Turner Pitches Into Trouble, Marte Pitches Out

September 22, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jacob Turner (50) pitches during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

The Tigers won again today, 5-1 over the Braves to remain undefeated in spring training games.  In his first start of the spring, Jacob Turner struggled – with four walks (and two hits) against only four outs.  He didn’t get tagged for any runs, since Luis Marte got a couple of quick outs to finish off the second inning.

Turner was expected to pitch at least two, maybe three innings – but he didn’t get there.  Without allowing any runs to score, he still hurt his chances in the competition for that fifth starter job (which, as John Verburg mentioned this morning: they really want him to win) at least a little.  And I couldn’t be happier.  That’s right:  you can put me on the record as wanting Jacob Turner to fail.  In spring training that is, I still want to see him as a fixture in the rotation over the next decade.

You’ll hear a lot that Jacob Turner is ‘too young’, but that is really an oversimplification.  Dwight Gooden wasn’t too young at 20 and Turner doesn’t need old man wiliness to succeed in the big leagues.  You don’t need to spend time at AAA either: Turner has already made 3 more starts in Toledo than Justin Verlander ever did.  And if you’ll recall Verlander won 17 games as a rookie in 2006.  So I don’t think he’s too young and I don’t think he needs seasoning, but I still don’t think he’s ready for the big leagues.  What I’m concerned about is that Tigers brass are giving him the job to lose as long as he has a decent spring and that spring training may not, in any way, give an accurate picture of how Jacob Turner is likely to fare in games that count come April.

Now allow me to wow you with some small-sample stats:  In his three Toledo starts, Turner allowed 11 hits to lefties and only 4 to righties despite seeing fewer lefties than righties.  In his three Detroit starts (all at home and none against especially potent offenses) lefties batted .400 against him while righties batted only .241.  What’s worse – Turner had a .776 OPS allowed (still not that great) the first time through the order, a .993 OPS allowed the second time and a 1.071 OPS allowed the third time.  He only looks ready – right now – to get major league right-handers out and only get them out once (like Ryan Perry).  In games that count, big league teams are going to stack the lineup with lefties against him – but not in spring training.  He’s also not very likely to see the same guy twice in a spring training game, and he probably won’t see anyone three times until his last start of the spring (if then).

It seems pretty clear that what Turner needs is time to practice and polish his secondary pitches.  His repertoire is not limited and it isn’t one that screams ROOGY.  He isn’t a slider guy like Jeremy Bonderman, after all.  He throws a cutter, a curve and a change-up a significant portion of the time.  You expect a fastball-slider guy to have huge L-R splits and you expect a guy that leans heavily on his fastball (or one other pitch) to have a tough time getting anybody out twice and those stereotypes do not fit Turner.  The problem isn’t his pitch mix it’s that only his fastball is – at this point in his development – particularly good.  According to Fangraphs only his fastball had a net positive value, with the cutter, the curve and the change all negative.  There’s a little bit more to worry about too: according to some scouting reports, Turner has had a tendency to tire in the middle innings (which you won’t see in spring training) and problems locating within the strikezone (though he’s fine as far as walks go).

He needs to make lower pressure developmental starts to work on these pitches – it’s difficult to throw a subpar change repeatedly in the bigs and watch it go repeatedly over the fence.  What’s more, if a guy has trouble locating within the zone he’s going to wind up afraid to throw it in the zone at all – that’s the quick and easy solution and you need a quick and easy solution if you’re trying to avoid giving up 5 runs in every start.  We certainly don’t want him turning into a nibbler.  Or – if the Tigers hand him the job this April, he may become a guy that leans heavily on one pitch or two – stifling his development.  Or he may wind up back in Toledo in June without any confidence in his stuff.  I don’t want either of those things to happen, so I want somebody else – anybody else – to win the job.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to be possible for anyone else to do that simply by pitching well this spring – Turner his going to have to flounder.