The Tigers entered the offseason with a good core but three significant problems that hurt them in 2012. The first of those (though not in order of importance) was outfield defense – and this was addressed quickly with the signing of Torii Hunter to a two-year deal. Brennan Boesch is likely to hit better in 2013 than he did in 2012, Hunter is likely to hit worse and both predictions would have high variance and involve significant risks. What is certain is that Boesch would be a below average defender (he was one of the worst at his position in 2012) while Hunter would be significantly above average. Delmon Young is gone and though we don’t know who will be splitting time with Andy Dirks (if anyone) we can be fairly sure that he will be an actual outfielder and not an actual DH. Problem solved.
October 03, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcherDrew Smyly
(33) delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
But we have two more: next on the list is an alarming lack of depth for the rotation. Starters, on average, tend to miss something like 20% of their scheduled starts. Hoping for 10% (based on your guys’ ages and injury histories) still leaves something like 16 starts to be made by guys outside your top 5. It is not at all uncommon for a team to have 30 starts made by their “6th starter”, a guy who wasn’t even in the projected rotation at the end of March. The 2012 Tigers had to give 10 starts to Jacob Turner, Casey Crosby, Adam Wilk and Duane Below. Below was fine in relief, but in his one start he went 2 2/3 and allowed 5 earned runs. The four of them combined for 38 1/3 innings in those 10 starts (averaging less than 4 innings per start) and allowed 39 runs. The Tigers fixed this problem by trading for Anibal Sanchez, which made Drew Smyly the 6th starter to call upon when necessary – and they did when Max Scherzer ran into some soreness down the stretch. In Smyly’s 3 fill-in starts, the Tigers went 1-2 but Smyly could hardly be blamed (he only allowed 1 earned run). The best way to fix this 6th starter problem would be to re-sign Anibal Sanchez, since this worked so well in 2012. Either Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly could probably do very well out of the ‘pen too so long as everyone in the rotation stayed healthy. If the Tigers do nothing, we’re looking at needing to call up Adam Wilk or Casey Crosby again if Fister pulls a muscle or Smyly gets a blister – even if nothing catastrophic happens (as it did not in 2012). Wilk’s 2012 minor league numbers translate to a 4.55 major league ERA according to Clay Davenport, but as we have seen his stuff may not translate so well. The same goes for Casey Crosby (though his Toledo numbers would translate to a 5.52 ERA), but for a different reason (because the big leagues are awfully tough on guys that can’t locate). You can definitely live with a ERA of about 5, give or take, from your fill-in guys. But… you can’t live with an ERA of 9 from your fill-in guys. Are the Tigers going to do anything about this? Can they? The free agent market for mediocre starters seems extraordinarily robust this year, with even Joe Blanton getting a 2 year deal. I think the Tigers are going to have a tough time finding anybody reliably better than Wilk and Crosby to take a minor league deal with an invite or to insert on the 25 as a swingman. The best plan may be to take an overpaid 5th starter some other team is desperate to get rid of (more on this in the future).
For the Tigers second unresolved problem, you’ll have to check back tomorrow morning (how’s that for cliff-hanger?)…