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Detroit Tigers: Predicting the Starting Rotation by Season End

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 27: Michael Fulmer #32 of the Detroit Tigers throws a second inning pitch while playing the Kansas City Royals during the home opener at Comerica Park on July 27, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 27: Michael Fulmer #32 of the Detroit Tigers throws a second inning pitch while playing the Kansas City Royals during the home opener at Comerica Park on July 27, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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It appears the Detroit Tigers will have more options than spots in their rotation by the end of the season

There has been a buzz about Casey Mize; whether the Detroit Tigers should call him up, if he is indeed the best prospect in the organization, if there are actually things for him to work on as GM Al Avila alluded to. But Mize might represent just the first of many conversations to be had by the end of the season. Detroit still features Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, and Franklin Perez all in Toledo and all perhaps ready to hit the big leagues by season’s end.

While rosters are currently at 30, that number will decrease to 28 by the end of next week and down to the normal 26 two weeks after that for the remainder of the season–so getting crazy creative with openers or six-man rotations is likely out of the question; especially considering adding members to the rotation only dilutes an already-small sample size for starting pitchers relative to a 162-game schedule.

DETROIT, MI – JULY 14: Detroit Tigers coaches look on and watch as Casey Mize #74 of the Detroit Tigers warms up in the bullpen.. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI – JULY 14: Detroit Tigers coaches look on and watch as Casey Mize #74 of the Detroit Tigers warms up in the bullpen.. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Pitchers would normally aim for 30 starts across a full schedule; but in a 60-game sprint, pitchers are only likely to find the mound 10-12 times, assuming health. Add to that the fact that we have yet to see how teams decide to strategize around the litter of seven inning doubleheader days and it becomes even harder to get starting pitchers their work.

For the Detroit Tigers, Daniel Norris is scheduled to take the mound on Sunday for the first time in 2020 after his own dealings with COVID-19. The Tigers hope this will help solve one of their opener slots, considering the team has been using both Rony Garcia and Michael Fulmer in opener roles; an experiment that has not shown dividends thus far. Garcia would give up three runs in three innings his first start, while Fulmer gave up four runs in two and one third innings his first outing.

Opener Opportunities

The opener has become a hot new trend in baseball recently. For some, the opener was simply designed around the skill set of the pitcher; perhaps their particular pitcher did not have the stamina to match their stuff across a typical start, or the numbers showed their starter performed significantly worse when travelling through the order a second or third time through.

For other squads, such as the Detroit Tigers last season, the opener was deployed simply out of necessity. The Tigers lacked starting pitching options for one, but they were also coming up on an innings limit for Daniel Norris. Rather than ride Norris as long as they could until he reached the limit, the team decided to start Norris in three-inning stints, thus allowing the club to stretch him for the remainder of the year.

In 2020, the Detroit Tigers have been using this with Fulmer and Rony Garcia as mentioned above. Considering health, strength, and promotions–this strategy is likely to be phased out by the end of the season. The hope is that Michael Fulmer will work his way up to a full workload by the end of the season as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. Likewise, Casey Mize is due to take one of those roles himself. It remains to be seen how aggressive the team will be with Norris’ workload, but it is fair to assume he would be up to full strength by the end of the season as well.

Between all these factors, coupled with the idea that Detroit could very possibly be in a position to compete for a playoff spot toward the end of the year, expect a limited use of the opener by the end of the 2020 season.

How to Handle Fulmer

Michael Fulmer was reportedly back to full strength in summer camp. Although I love to be proved wrong if it ends up helping the Detroit Tigers, my skepticism on this particular issue proved itself in Fulmer’s first start. The right-handed starter admitted he was “amped up” a bit for his first start, but it wasn’t ideal for a team who is counting on him to eventually achieve full strength.

I have thrown the idea around of pairing Fulmer with Daniel Norris as they continue to build arm strength to sustain a major league start, but with Norris prepared to start Sunday, it appears they may operate separately at least to begin. Again, by the end of the season, the hope is that both will be on the hill every fifth day prepared to throw six or seven innings.

Predicting the Rotation

Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have both cemented themselves as rotation pieces; so that solves 40 percent of our problem. Ivan Nova is on a one-year deal, and while he has pitched passably for Detroit thus far, if he prevents a player more integral to their future from entering the rotation, he may be the odd man out.

Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer both hope to be at full strength as well by the end of the season, but given Fulmer’s early struggles and Norris’ success in shorter stints, it is fair to question whether both actually will be. I believe the Detroit Tigers themselves would say that Rony Garcia is better-suited for a relief role rather than the starts he has made for the club; same goes for left-handed pitcher Tyler Alexander.

Given the uncertainty of performances and health, predicting the rotation even six weeks from now would be a tall task–but given what we know so far, here is my guess at the way it plays out:

  1. Matthew Boyd, LHP
  2. Spencer Turnbull, RHP
  3. Daniel Norris, LHP
  4. Casey Mize, RHP
  5. Michael Fulmer, RHP

Just Missed

  • Ivan Nova

As I mentioned, having players in starting roles who will be more vital to the future of the club would make the most sense. Nova would still be valuable in a long relief role and they would likely need him in such a spot with Norris, Mize, and Fulmer all likely limited in terms of their ability to travel through the order a third time, but Nova feels like a natural odd-man out.

  • Tarik Skubal

It is completely possibly for the Tigers to include Skubal in their rotation by the year’s end, but given the load of options they have along with the fact I think Skubal would thrive in a relief role, I see his easiest path to Detroit in the bullpen this year.

  • Matt Manning

I am a huge fan of Manning and I believe he will be a big part of the rotation for years to come, but finding a consistent third pitch will be vital for Manning to succeed as a starting pitcher in the major leagues. The best place for Manning to work on that pitch is Toledo in intrasquad games, not in Detroit learning it on the job.

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