Detroit Tigers 40-Man Roster Preview: Spencer Turnbull
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull looks to build on a successful rookie campaign last season
The Detroit Tigers have generated a lot of buzz with their high-end pitching prospects which have now reached the cusp of the major leagues, but Spencer Turnbull showed last year why he deserves to be in the conversation for the starting rotation for years to come.
Turnbull was exactly the Tigers’ type. He was drafted in the second round in 2014 as a lofty starting pitcher with a live arm that pitched in the SEC. Despite being a second round pick, however, Turnbull was always somewhat under the radar as a Tigers prospect as he weaved his way through each level. His strike out rate would hover around 8 per 9 innings until 2018 where he would spike that number to 10 per 9 innings; which ultimately earned him three starts in the majors in 2018.
2019 was much of the same; striking out nearly a batter per inning and producing 2.3 bWAR across just 148.1 innings for the major league club. Between strike out artist Matthew Boyd and now Turnbull, the Tigers have two exciting pitchers in which the “stuff” far exceeds the actual results they have been able to post on the field thus far; although Turnbull’s 3.99 FIP compared to his 4.61 ERA suggests some shoddy defense or bad luck.
Turnbull oddly seems to find as many bats as he does miss them. In 2019, while averaging a strike out per inning, he would also average over a hit per inning last season–leading to a less-than-stellar 1.436 WHIP. Defense could have played a small role in this fact as well, but much of it had to do with the fact that Turnbull’s pitches move so much that I am not always convinced he is even sure where the ball is going to end up.
Turnbull has spoken candidly this spring about the value his rookie season had–including how he handled stressful situations and the difference in how he prepares now versus his rookie season. Pitching coach Rick Anderson was interviewed on Thursday nights’ telecast and told fans to expect a different ‘Bull’ in 2020.
Beyond the amount of hits he gives up, keeping his health will be a key to his 2020 success. Pitching Turnbull much beyond 150 innings in his rookie campaign likely would not have been the safest move any way, but Turnbull went on the 10-day IL with shoulder inflammation; an injury which he also suffered in the minor leagues on a larger scale; and a back injury just three weeks later. In a shortened season, the Detroit Tigers will not have to fret as much; but pitching, regardless of frequency, comes with risk.
An emerging debate among Tigers fans recently has been around the issue of trading Turnbull provided he has a strong 2020 campaign. Moving him at the trade deadline is unlikely given the uncertainty associated with a shortened season along with the fact that playoffs are expanded, which would dilute any teams’ chance of winning a World Series. After the season, however, the idea of attaining a 3 WAR pitcher with four years of control remaining would be appealing to many teams.
On the other hand, four years of a strong starting pitcher during a window in which Detroit hopes to begin their contention window would also be valuable. Trading from a strength in the system might not be a bad idea, but considering their pitching prospects are still just that, a move might be detrimental if an injury or poor performance influences the trajectory of some of their top talent.
Regardless, Detroit now has a solid #2 starting pitcher in Spencer Turnbull for 2020. Provided he stays healthy and given the performances he has turned in this summer camp, it is fair to expect “Red Bull” to turn in a strong year.