Detroit Tigers: Starting pitching rotation projections 1.0

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 28: Matthew Boyd #48 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the third inning during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 28, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 28: Matthew Boyd #48 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the third inning during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 28, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Pitchers and catchers report to Detroit Tigers spring training on February 17. As spring training goes along, expect us to highlight the various position battles that will be going in camp. Today, we are focusing on what the starting rotation may look like on April 1 when they take on the Indians.

This may be cut and dry on what the starting rotation will be but it could be possible Detroit may add another arm before they break camp. There are several names still on the free-agent pitching market we have discussed, ranging from Taijuan Walker to Rick Porcello that could be added so that is why we are going with the “1.0.” For now, we will work with the current 40-man roster and throw in some predictions on who could make a start from the bullpen within the first month of the season.

For each starter, there will be listed the FanGraphs projections, the PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus, and just an educated guess on my part on how the 2021 season will go. The guesses will change as spring training rolls along.

Number one starter: Matthew Boyd

ZiPS projections: 11-11 4.55 ERA FIP 4.29  K/9: 9.80 BB/9 2.68 fWAR 2.7

PECOTA projections: 9-8 3.86 ERA FIP 4.16 K/9: 9.38 BB/9 2.98

It was recently reported in the Freep that Boyd pitched through a hamstring injury and then plantar fasciitis towards the tail end of the season. Those types of injuries would affect your follow-through motion towards the mound as you use your lower body to drive the ball. Credit to Boyd to power through those types of nagging injuries.

His K% dropped his 2018 numbers of 22%, compared to a career-high 30.2% in 2019, and only went six innings just three times in his 12 starts. Home runs were an issue like they were in 2019, leading the league in home runs allowed with 15.

My prediction based on him coming back from injury and working with new pitching coach Chris Fetter, Boyd will win at least 10-12 games, have a FIP near 4.25 and give the Tigers over 160 innings and produce at least a 2.0 WAR season. Detroit will need a bounce-back season from Boyd to stay at least competitive in a tough AL Central.

Number two starter: Spencer Turnbull

ZiPS projections: 10-9 ERA 4.51 FIP 4.72 K/9 8.77 BB/9 3.68

PECOTA projections: 8-9 ERA 4.54 FIP 4.43 K/9 9.04 BB/9 4.25

Turnbull was the team’s best pitcher in 2020 by keeping his home runs allowed down, which has been his calling card since he has been in the majors and gets hitters to ground out. Another unique characteristic about Turnbull is the lack of run support he has received.

What has not helped Turnbull’s win and loss record is the lack of run support he has received in the last two seasons. As Chris pointed out in his article back last August, he is the only pitcher with fewer than 3 runs of support on average. The Tigers offense heading into 2021 looks to be the same even with the additions of Robbie Grossman and the resigning of Jonathan Schoop but I like the ZiPs projections of 10 wins and I will guess that his K/9 goes up over 9. I think he will take advantage of the slow starts that occur in April and May.

Number three starter: Michael Fulmer

ZiPS projections: 6-6 4.67 ERA 4.60 FIP K/9 6.88 B/9 2.80

PECOTA projections: 5-6 4.42 ERA 4.42 FIP K/9 7.87 B/9 3.37

Fulmer is the wild card here as he was limited to three innings per start last season as he was coming back from Tommy John. He was hit hard last season as hitters barreled up to a career-high of  9.7% and around a hard-hit percentage of 44.7%. His MPH dropped from his last full season in 2018 in which he was hitting 96 MPH to 93 in 2020

However, there were three starts in which he did not allow a run, and that included one at home against a very good Chicago White Sox offense. His slider was an effective pitch for him and was his go-to whiff pitch.

Overall, as I mentioned back when the season ended, the sample sizes I used for the pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery indicated a strong second season. I think he beats both projections and has a FIP near 3.75 and if he is healthy, he could lead the team in quality starts.

Number four starter: Tarik Skubal

ZiPS projections: 7-8 4.91 ERA 4.64 4.90 FIP K/9 9.74 B/9 3.60

PECOTA projections: 5-5 3.88 ERA 4.14 FIP K/9 10.66 B/9 3.31

You have to like the PECOTA projections for Skubal with a lower ERA, FIP, and a high K per 9. He showed in just 32 innings of work why prospect fans were buzzing about Skubal. He struck out 27% of the batters he faced and his FIP (4.81) was slightly lower than his ERA. (5.63)

The Tigers will monitor his innings closely but just from what I saw last year, I think you could pencil him for the back of the rotation and taking a small step forward and I believe closer to PECOTA’s numbers. Like Turnbull, his win and loss record may suffer based on the Tigers’ projected offense.

Number five starter: Daniel Norris

ZiPS projections: 7-7 4.79 ERA 4.51 FIP K/9 8.26 B/9 3.06

PECOTA projections: 3-3 4.27 ERA 4.32 FIP K/9 8.96 B/9 3.38

"“Yeah, my goal is to start again,” Norris said to the media last month “I’m training as a starter. It’s always easier to get built up and back off. It would be tough to train as a bullpen guy and need to start. I’ll be ready for whatever.”"

The Tigers are unsure how they will use Norris in 2021 but ZiPS has him starting at least 20 games while PECOTA has him strictly as a bullpen arm. But seeing how free agent signing Jose Ureña has pitched just over 100 innings in two seasons compared to Norris, who has 173 innings in the same time frame, I am going to go out on a limb and say he will grab a spot in the rotation.

Did he pitch out of the bullpen better? Yes, the numbers indicate that including his last five appearances where he just allowed one run over 5.1 innings of work.

From all accounts, Ureña has recovered from his fractured forearm and he could end up being the sixth starter but just an educated guess, I say Norris gets the nod over Ureña with Casey Mize nipping at both heels after getting some innings down in Toledo to start the season.

Why did I pick three lefties in the rotation? Outside of Chicago, who hit .285 with 27 home runs in 2020 and a wRC+ of 142, here’s how the rest of the division faired against lefties.

Kansas City: .245/.306/.414 ISO of .169 wRC +94

Cleveland .229/.303/.380 ISO of .151 wRC+84

Minnesota ..236/.309/.349 ISO of .113 wRC+81

There has not been a lot of roster turnover offensively speaking so which is why I went with that projection.

At the end of this month, we will revisit how this is shaping up after a few weeks of spring training.