Detroit Tigers: Predicting the Pitching Staff
Spring Training is back. For the Detroit Tigers that means another spring of position battles. Here’s who should start the season on the team’s 25-man roster where the pitchers are concerned.
The Detroit Tigers head into Spring Training with very few question marks. Most of the camp’s position battles will take place between position players.
Cameron Maybin and Anthony Gose are likely to platoon in center field, but either could earn more playing time with a strong spring. Elsewhere, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Bryan Holaday will duke it out to determine who deputizes for James McCann. There will also be some competition for other bench spots, with Tyler Collins, Steven Moya, Andrew Romine, Mike Aviles and Dixon Machado in the mix for other reserve roles.
However, there will be spots on the pitching staff up for grabs. Some combination of Daniel Norris, Shane Greene, Matt Boyd or Michael Fulmer will occupy the fifth spot in the rotation. What’s more, there could be multiple bullpen places up for grabs depending on how many relievers the team initially decides to carry. After Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy and Justin Wilson there is little certainty.
Here’s a look at who should fill out the pitching staff for the Detroit Tigers.
First to the obvious in the rotation.
In terms of obvious decisions, this probably takes the cake. Verlander was back to his old ways as the team’s ace down the stretch last season. Verlander held batters to a .194 batting average, a .536 OPS and a 2.12 ERA over his final 11 starts. Over that span, the right-hander also eclipsed seven strikeouts in a game seven different times. In total, he punched out 73 batters over his final 76.1 innings.
Verlander will start on Opening Day for the eighth time in his career.
The next man on this list is widely expected to slot in behind Verlander in the rotation.
That man is obviously Jordan Zimmermann.
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In 178 career starts, the former Washington Nationals pitcher owns a 3.32 ERA (3.40 FIP) and 70 wins in 1,094 innings pitched. Zimmerman’s best season came in 2013 when he made the All-Star team while racking up 19 wins and a 3.25 ERA. Additionally, the pitcher has averaged a 4.2 WAR over the last two seasons.
The one-time Washington ace was partly victimized by poor defense in 2015. Last season was considered a “down” season for the pitcher seeing as he went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA and only 164 strikeouts in 201.2 innings pitched.
He should thrive with a good defense behind him with the Tigers.
Like Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey joined the Tigers as a free agent. Also like Zimmermann, Pelfrey signed a multi-year contract. The similarities don’t stop there, as Pelfrey too was the recipient of poor defensive play while with the Twins last year.
Per FanGraphs, only Gio Gonzalez and A.J. Burnett had a higher BABIP than Pelfrey in 2015.
Based on that, and the fact that the former Minnesota pitcher had the lowest home-run-per-nine-inning rate in the Majors, he should find more success with Detroit.
Based on his near-immovable contract and rebound potential, Sanchez isn’t going anywhere. He should follow Verlander and Zimmermann as the team’s third starting pitcher.
The Tigers are likely hoping the 31-year-old veteran can find the form that allowed him to post a 3.10 FIP from 2010 to 2014. Of those years, 2013 was Sanchez’ best. During that particular campaign, the former Marlin posted the lowest ERA+, FIP and home-run-per-nine-inning rate in the league.
Based on the fact that he has history of keeping the ball in the yard, it was odd to see Sanchez allow the most home runs in the majors in 2015. If he can allow even half of the 29 bombs he surrendered last year, he should be in much better shape.
While there will be competition in Spring Training, Norris seems like the most likely candidate to claim the final rotation spot. He was significantly better than Greene and Boyd in 2015, and has more experience than Fulmer.
There’s also the fact that he has the upside to be a frontline pitcher.
Norris made eight starts for Brad Ausmus’ club last season, posting a 3.69 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched. While he’ll likely claim the final rotation place, the 22-year-old shouldn’t be saddled with the full workload of a starter. Expect Greene, Boyd and maybe even Fulmer to make some starts in 2016 in an effort to preserve Norris’ arm.
For all the closing problems the Detroit Tigers have had over the past few years, Rodriguez is clearly assured a roster spot. It doesn’t hurt that he has 82 saves, 135 strikeouts and a 2.66 ERA in 125 innings spanning the last two seasons.
The 28-year-old Wilson has the potential to be a dynamic reliever for the Tigers in 2016. That alone speaks to the former Yankee’s quality, as the statement didn’t exactly make sense in relation to some of the team’s past bullpen arms.
Wilson post a 1.4 WAR last season to go along with a sparkling 3.10 ERA. Not only did he post strong numbers, the reliever is the rare pitcher who can get both righties (career .209 batting average against) and lefties (career .235 batting average against) out.
To top it all off, the left-handed relief ace posts high strikeout totals (193 in 199.1 career innings) and throws a 95 mph fastball.
Wilson will be a difference maker in 2016.
With the bullpen collapsing around him, Alex Wilson excelled. One of the few holdovers from a horrendous 2015 bullpen, Wilson is back after pitching to a 2.19 ERA in 70 innings pitched.
The former second-round pick turned in a higher WAR than Jose Iglesias, James McCann and every Detroit pitcher not named Justin Verlander or David Price.
While Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson figure to be Rodriguez’ setup men, expect Alex Wilson to thrive wherever he pitches. The new additions figure to take the pressure off the incumbent Wilson, who pitched in nearly every close game. There is likely significant stock in the theory that the reliever was overworked last season.
This time around, he’ll be used (at least comparatively) on a more selective basis. This should benefit all involved parties.
For two years, Blaine Hardy has been the most unheralded reliever in the Detroit bullpen. He posted a 2.54 ERA in 39 innings during his debut season in 2014, before improving his numbers despite a larger workload. Last season, the Edmonds, Washington native’s ERA was a sparkling 3.08, while his FIP was even more impressive at 2.89.
Like Alex Wilson, Hardy should benefit from being used more selectively.
With the Seattle Mariners last season, Lowe dominated with a fastball that averaged 95.3 mph. He’ll bring that heater, along with a 10.0 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate to a Detroit bullpen that has been craving more relievers.
The 32-year-old will form a lefty-righty setup platoon with Justin Wilson.
Now we get to the unknowns.
Parnell was recently signed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Despite the competition, the former New York Mets reliever stands a good chance of making the Detroit bullpen if he can perform.
The owner of a diverse pitching arsenal that includes a fastball, slider, cutter, knuckle curve, changeup and splitter, Parnell has found success pitching as both a setup man and a closer. That versatility will do wonders for the Tigers.
When every professional sports’ respective draft comes around, there is always the argument of talent versus need. Do you pick the best overall player, or the one that best fits your team?
The Tigers should go with the former here—go with the best and figure it out later. In this scenario, Michael Fulmer is the best pitcher available. The 22-year-old has yet to pitch above Double-A, but his pitching ability and potential place him among elite top prospects in the league.
Fulmer throws a blazing fastball, along with two nasty off-speed offerings.
With Detroit, he would serve as the last reliever on the depth chart at first, pitching sporadically to limit his innings. However, if he excels like Drew Smyly did, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t pitch in some more meaningful games. The former first-round pick can also make a handful of starts if needed.
Like Norris, the Tigers will need to limit his innings. However, Fulmer has all the tools to succeed in the bullpen. What’s more, Detroit can always send him to Triple-A if he needs to transition back to the rotation.
Next: Best Unheralded Move Roundtable
If you’re counting along at home, that means the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff will consist of the following players: Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Blaine Hardy, Mark Lowe, Bobby Parnell and Michael Fulmer.
Should this scenario play out, it will mean pitchers like Shane Greene, Matt Boyd, Bruce Rondon and Drew VerHagen won’t make the team. However, if last year taught us anything, it is that more than 25 players will be needed over the course of a full season. Pitchers like the aforementioned four will get their shot.