Tarik Skubal makes impressive jump on The Athletic's pitcher rankings for 2024

After a fantastic start to the 2024 season for the Tigers, Tarik Skubal is getting some well-earned hype from The Athletic.
Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers / Duane Burleson/GettyImages

There are a lot of expectations riding on these 2024 Detroit Tigers, but perhaps none more than Tarik Skubal. A flexor tendon issue then surgery kept him to just over 80 innings last season, but he threw them for a 2.80 ERA, which led to hopes that he might be the first real Tigers ace in a long time. At the beginning of this season, as excitement for the entire team started to build in a relatively open AL Central, Skubal even received some nods as a dark horse AL Cy Young candidate.

In his first four starts so far, he's been living up to the hype. He's pitched almost 24 innings for a 2.28 ERA, and two of those starts have been shutouts over five and six innings.

The Athletic's Eno Sarris updated his starting pitcher rankings now that we're 20 or so games into the season. Skubal debuted at No. 6, already an impressive showing among some expected heavy hitters Spencer Strider, Corbin Burnes, Gerrit Cole, and so on. Given his first 24 innings, Skubal jumped from 6 to No. 3, behind Burnes and Zack Wheeler (subscription required).

Tigers' Tarik Skubal jumps to No. 3 in The Athletic's starting pitcher rankings after early season performance

Skubal's Stuff+ (a FanGraphs stat that measures a whole host of physical characteristics about a pitcher's arsenal) is 101, which actually ranks him higher in that metric than Wheeler, Sarris' No. 2. Skubal's changeup has been absolutely nasty to start the season, with a .160 batting average against so far versus a .199 expected batting average, and has been his primary strikeout pitch.

His jump in the rankings can also be attributed in some part to the pitching injuries that have taken over starting pitchers; Spencer Strider was Sarris' previous No. 1, but went unranked because of his season-ending UCL surgery. Skubal has struggled with injury himself in the past, but we can hope that he's crossed a bridge and will be able to avoid any more problems this year.

The rest of the Tigers' rotation around Skubal has been okay but not outstanding (Kenta Maeda was lit up in his Thursday start against the Rangers), and so Detroit needs Skubal to anchor everything and keep pitching like he has been. He might be able to give Burnes a real run for that Cy Young at the end of the season if so.