Tigers pitcher getting hyped up as AL Cy Young candidate adds excitement to 2024

Detroit Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal throws during spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla. on
Detroit Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal throws during spring training at TigerTown in Lakeland, Fla. on / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Despite a stunning blowout loss against the Yankees to open the Detroit Tigers' spring training run, and a carnival of errors that led to an easy inside-the-park home run against the Rays, the Tigers were still running 1-1-1 (that game against the Rays ended in a tie) before their split-squad games on Tuesday, and optimism is still high. Both the team and fans know there's still a lot of work to do, but there have been reasons to get excited about Tigers baseball.

Prospects and NRIs have come up in a big way — Justyn-Henry Malloy and Colt Keith are both mashing — and we've seen a couple of spotless innings from both potentially worrisome pitchers (Jack Flaherty) and expected standouts (Tyler Holton) alike.

One big name has yet to make his spring training debut this year — Tarik Skubal. Skubal was only able to give the team 80 innings last year before needing to undergo flexor tendon surgery that shut him down, but he's in camp and we should expect to see him any day now. He came out of 2023 with a 2.80 ERA and will be invaluable to the Tigers' rotation as their only lefty starter.

MLB Network's Jon Morosi is already hyping Skubal up as a potential AL Cy Young candidate if he can stay healthy and build off the promise he showed last year, and Flaherty seems to agree.

Could Tarik Skubal be the Detroit Tigers' first Cy Young winner since Max Scherzer?

A glance at Skubal's Baseball Savant page alone will yield every reason to be excited (we'll disregard his breaking ball for the purposes of this argument). Nearly every category made him an elite pitcher in 2023, and he had an expected batting average against of .197, putting him in the top 6% of pitchers in the league, and a .290 expected slugging against, which put him in the top 4%.

The last Tiger to win a Cy Young was Max Scherzer in 2013, when he pitched almost 215 innings for a 2.90 ERA. Those early 2010s Tigers were just built different, and Scherzer ran ahead of Yu Darvish, who came in second in voting that year, by miles. Comparing the 2024 Tigers to the 2012-2013 Tigers would be unfair, but if Skubal can look anything like Scherzer did in 2013, it's good news for the team.