Detroit Tigers 40-Man Roster Preview: Daniel “Van Man” Norris Has Found His Role

Detroit Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris fields ground balls Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.Spring Training
Detroit Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris fields ground balls Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.Spring Training /

Daniel Norris famously lives out of a 1978 Volkswagen bus, but what many fans do not know about him is he appears to have carved himself a role in the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen. When Norris was traded to the Detroit Tigers as part of the David Price deal, he was projected as a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. After three up-and-down seasons in which he went 14-30, former Manager Ron Gardenhire moved Norris to the bullpen as a long reliever to eat up innings. One rocky start pushed Norris’ overall ERA to 3.25, but over 13 outings as a reliever, his ERA sat at an effective 2.77 over 26 innings of work.

Contract Status with the Detroit Tigers

Norris signed a one-year deal this offseason worth $3,475,000 and will become an unrestricted free agent after the year. According to Spotrac, this makes him the 41st highest-paid relief pitcher in baseball, a great value for an innings-eating, consistent reliever like Norris.

Daniel Norris’ Game

The veteran is one the most experienced Tigers players, as he enters his sixth season with the team at age 27. Norris does not throw particularly hard from the left side, instead of relying on pinpoint location and off-speed pitches. Norris began his 2021 campaign against the Philadelphia Phillies, spinning two innings of no-hit baseball, including two strikeouts. Norris tossed 22 pitches, throwing 13 strikes and 9 balls.

The Ball to Strike Ratio should not be a concern and will likely begin to trend better as he regains command with repetition throughout Spring Training. His fastball sat at 92-93MPH, most of which were located on the edges of the strike zone. Norris mixed in his change-up and slider well, sitting at 86-88 and 83-85, respectively.

In an interview with Fox Sports Detroit after his outing, Norris mentioned that he is looking to work in the curveball more this year, after throwing just one last season. With these four pitches, Norris will be a nice weapon out of the bullpen for the Tigers and will help eat up innings for the young pitching staff.

Bullpen or Starter?

Daniel Norris has been regarded as a starter each Spring Training until 2021. After spending the majority of 2020 as a reliever, Spring Training 2021 brings uncertainty for the Southpaw. Should we disregard his one start last year, Norris would have posted an ERA under three for the first time in his career, after two consecutive years being well above the 4.00 mark.

In addition, the Tigers have multiple prospects they are looking to give opportunities to this year: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matthew Manning are all projected to spend time in Detroit. Matthew Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Julio Tehran, Spencer Turnbull, and Jose Urena will all be making starts for the Tigers this year as well.

As a proven reliever, Norris’s best opportunity with the club is likely to come out of the bullpen and make spot starts throughout the year. Should Norris pitch exceptionally well and one of the starters is struggling or ends up on the Injured List, he will likely see his starting role increased.

ZiPS Projections

ZiPS projects that Norris will go 7-7 in 30 games with 20 starts. They project his ERA to be 4.79 while average 8.26 K/9 and 3.06 BB/9.

My Take

I think that Daniel Norris has the potential to be a very solid performer for the Detroit Tigers this year. With the host of young Starting Pitchers the Tigers have, Norris will likely hold the role of a long reliever with a few spot starts. Should Norris continue to pitch well, he could fight for a job at the back end of the starting rotation, especially with rumors of AJ Hinch entertaining the idea of a Six-Man rotation. That being said, I think Norris will find his niche at the front end of the bullpen and will pitch valuable innings for this Tigers team. Norris could find himself in a 2013 Drew Smyly type role, who pitched extensively and successfully in the long reliever role after being moved from the starting rotation.