Friday, April 02, 2010

Tigers on the mound

There is no doubt pitching is the area that could most impact Detroit, either positively or negatively. The Tigers had 12 pitchers make starts last season. Of that group, only two -- Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello -- remain that made more than seven. In fact, only 5 of the 12 remain on the roster. Edwin Jackson, Armando Galarraga, Jarrod Washburn, Luke French, Alfredo Figaro and Nate Robertson are gone and Zach Miner is injured.

Verlander was 19-9 last year and posted a 3.45 ERA. According to the Bill James Gold Mine, Verlander threw 300 more pitches than any other MLB pitcher last season and more than any AL pitcher in the last 10 years. Verlander has always been a workhorse. Hopefully it doesn't start to catch up to him.

Porcello was 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA. The Tigers need him to repeat that performance. He will need to improve his strikeout rate a bit (4.69/9) and he benefited a little from a .281 BABIP last season. He was helped by a 54% groundball rate and hurt by a 14% FB/HR rate.

Max Scherzer was acquired for Edwin Jackson. Scherzer might not put up the same numbers as Jackson last year (13-9, 3.62 ERA), but he could. He was 9-11 with a 4.12 ERA for Arizona, but goes to a better pitchers' park and will be backed by a slightly better defense. Expect to see his .323 BABIP drop. Put up a 9.19 K/9 last year.

Here's where it gets dicey. Jeremy Bonderman, who made one start last year, and Dontrelle Willis, who made seven largely unsuccessful starts, complete the rotation. Bonderman has made just 13 starts since 2007, when he was 11-9 with a 5.01 ERA. Willis has one win and an 8.27 ERA in his two seasons (14 starts) with the Tigers.

Given that Porcello and Scherzer are still young, and Bonderman and Willis have not been effective for at least two years, this could be interesting or ugly. If there's a bright spot, it's the fact Bonderman and Willis will be filling spots that were unproductive last season, so they won't have to be great to make an improvement. Of course, they'll still need to be better than they've been. We'll try to forget they're making $22.5 million between them.

Fernando Rodney is gone as the closer. Jose Valverde takes over. This is probably an upgrade, but relievers are tough to figure. There should be depth in the pen with Ryan Perry and a healthy Joel Zumaya. Eddie Bonine is working on his knuckleball and will work in long relief and can be a spot starter. Fu-Ti Ni and Phil Coke will handle the lefties.

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