Detroit Tigers 2016: Pitching Staff Locks, Maybes and Likely Departures
After Monday’s bullpen implosion, the Detroit Tigers pitching issues were once again brought to light. Al Alburquerque, Tom Gorzelanny, Neftali Feliz and Guido Knudson’s collective time on the mound saw a Tigers win turn into a blowout loss.
Sadly, this is nothing new. Maybe not allowing 10 runs in an inning, but certainly allowing enough runs to lose the game. Only three teams have allowed more runs than the Tigers, while Detroit is tied for the league in number of home runs allowed with 144.
This year’s staff has been predominantly ineffective. That means changes in the offseason—lots of changes. With that in mind, here’s a look at what pitchers are locks to stay, which pitchers are uncertainties and which pitchers are likely departures.
Verlander isn’t going anywhere, not with his contract. This makes him the biggest lock (pitcher-wise) on the team. It doesn’t hurt that he’s regained his old form. The ace owns a 1.67 ERA and a 40/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last 43 innings. He’s back ladies and gentleman—and barring a massive addition, will open 2016 as the Tigers’ ace.
Verlander may be the team’s ace of the present, but Norris looks like a candidate to be the staff’s leader in the future. The centerpiece of the David Price trade, Norris has the look of a future front-line starter. He could start realizing that potential sooner rather than later.
While still in Double-A, Fulmer may make his debut this season as a September call up. If he does, look for him to stick in the rotation in 2016. Acquired from the New York Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes trade, Fulmer has been dominant in the minors. In 20 starts in the minors the pitcher has struck out 113 batters in 115.2 innings while only walking 28. He’s 9-3 with a 1.95 ERA as well as touting a mid-90s fastball, a nasty slider and an improving changeup.
Another pitcher acquired in the Price deal, Boyd looks the part of a dependable rotation arm moving forward. He’ll constantly live up in the zone, but that’s ok given he’ll start half of his ballgames in Comerica Park.
The Washington-native owned an ugly 14.85 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays, but has posted a much better 4.88 ERA (4.37 FIP) with the Tigers.
Bruce Rondon had a tough start to the season, which is much of the reason why his ERA is 5.66. However, recent form suggests a promising future. The flamethrower has struck out 19 batters over his last 13 innings while holding opponents to a .159 batting average. His ERA over that span is 2.77. Rondon’s FIP is a sparkling 2.98, suggesting that he’s been much better than advertised. Unless he implodes down the stretch (we’re talking volcanic implosion folks) and implodes again during Spring Training, Rondon will be on the Tigers Opening Day roster in 2016.
In a season devoid of too many positives, Alex Wilson may be the Tigers’ MVP—at least on the mound. Wilson has done just about everything imaginable for Detroit.
Save a game(s)—check.
Start a game—check.
Pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen—check.
In case you need any more convincing on Wilson, here are his numbers: 60.1 innings pitched, 47 appearances, two saves, one game started, 1.79 ERA.
Where the Tigers would be without Wilson, no one is sure. Barring the unforeseen, he’s playing an integral part on the team next year.
Blaine Hardy has officially proven that last season was no fluke. The former Royals farmhand is the proud owner of a 2.68 ERA (his FIP is only 2.73) over 53.2 innings. He’s struck out 47 batters over that span and is just about as much of a lock as Wilson is.
For as much as the Tigers’ bullpen has struggled/been lambasted, Al Alburquerque has developed into some of an “old-reliable” type. The reliever has posted a career ERA of 2.99 and his FIP has never eclipsed four. He’ll be back.
Anibal Sanchez may be having a down year—or he may be regressing, it’s hard to tell. If anything, he’s certainly not the pitcher he was in 2013 when he led the American League in ERA, FIP and home runs allowed per nine innings (0.4 to be exact). Sanchez ERA this year is an unsightly 4.99 while he’s allowed a Majors-leading 29 home runs. His FIP? 4.72.
With a contract that calls for $48 million over the next three seasons, Detroit could trade him for another bad contract to fill a different need. The Tigers obviously are thin in the starting pitching department, but if Sanchez continues to allow home runs at the rate he’s at, the team may as well let someone like Fulmer loose than continue trot out Sanchez every fifth day.
Former Rangers closer Neftali Feliz has a world of potential, but has been inexplicably awful for the Tigers. In 16 innings he’s allowed 19 earned runs while posting an ugly 11.93 ERA. Whether he makes the team next year will depend on how much bullpen help is added in the offseason and if the team thinks he can turn it around.
Buck Farmer and Kyle Ryan
If either of these pitchers are in the Tigers’ rotation in 2016 on a consistent basis, it will either be because the team isn’t contending, or because one of the two has turned a corner in their development.
Neither has shown the ability to be a consistent starter in the bigs, with Farmer the owner of a 7.80 ERA and Ryan sporting a 5.94 earned run average. Given the number of young arms near or at the major league level (Norris, Fulmer, Boyd and Luis Cessa), Detroit may be hard-pressed to find a role for either Farmer or Ryan. A year of seasoning in Triple-A wouldn’t hurt either.
Wolf will only be on the Tigers’ roster next season if he doesn’t retire after the season, can be effective down the stretch, and if Detroit wants him back. Given the team’s young arms and the likelihood that they’ll add a starter (or two) in the offseason, Wolf could find his way back to the team as a swingman.
One-time Nationals pitcher Ian Krol is running out of opportunities to stick in Detroit. He’s only 24-years-old, but owns a 5.67 ERA in a Tigers’ uniform. His FIP isn’t much better at 5.30.
Things have only become worse for Krol, whose earned run average this year is 6.75. He’s also walked nearly as many batters as runs allowed. Not a pretty stat when your ERA is close to seven. Like Feliz, he’s not a goner purely based on potential and age.
The Tigers seem to believe in Greene long-term, ergo his place in the “maybes” section. If anything, he may spend the year refining his craft at Triple-A.
His numbers have been all kinds of ugly this year—6.88 (!) ERA, 103 hits allowed in only 83.2 innings, 13 home runs allowed, 5.13 FIP… the list goes on. In fact, if you take out Greene’s phenomenal start, during which he put up an ERA of 0.39, his ERA jumps to 9.35 in 60.2 innings. Opponents hit .351 off him during those games. Here’s hoping he can turn it around.
Lobstein’s injury absence may be one of the least talked about aspects of the Tigers season.
The man who Brad Ausmus once called “Lobber” had a respectable 4.34 ERA to go along with a 3-45 record in eight starts before hitting the disabled list. If Lobstein had absorbed some of Greene/Farmer/Ryan/Alfredo Simon’s rough starts, Detroit would be in a much better place right now. Lobstein may be relegated to a swing-man role next season. He’s in a good spot to make the team next season, but isn’t a lock given the fact that Al Avila will likely sign/trade for two new starters.
Guido Knudson and Drew VerHagen
If the above-mentioned duo make the team next year it will be because they showed well down the stretch and in Spring Training. The rest of the season is their audition.
Despite Simon’s stellar start against the Rangers, he’s struggled too much to be asked back next season. Racking up 11 wins is a positive, but not when your ERA is 5.85 since the start of June. His contract is up, and unless he wants to become a reliever again, he’ll be leaving Detroit.
Another player on an expiring contract, Gorzelanny has also struggled in Motown.
Pick whatever synonym of ugly that you like and that word describes Gorzelanny’s run prevention on the mound this season. His ERA is an atrocious (you win a prize if that was your ugly synonym) 6.21 while he’s walked 19 batters and allowed 21 runs in just 29 innings. The former Pirate simply hasn’t had his best stuff this season.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.