Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball.
After that you have some question marks. I don’t think the pitchers who follow Verlander two-through-five are bad, there are just some concerns.
The first concern is Doug Fister. Like I said, it’s not as big of a concern with him as it might be with some other pitchers. At the very worst Doug Fister is going to be a reliable number three option in the rotation. At the very best however, you’re looking at a shutdown number two option that can cause opposing fans to throw their TV remotes through windows in frustration. You know, due to the fact that Detroit would be up two games to nil in a playoff series, after Verlander and Fister each win.
Last year we saw total brilliance. In the second half of the 2011 season, the best pitcher in baseball, at the time, was a member of the Detroit Tigers. And it wasn’t Verlander. Down the stretch, Fister posted a stellar 8-1 mark with a desirable 1.79 earned run average. Combine that with the fact that through the little-over 70 innings that he threw, he struck out 57 batters to a modest four walks. Holy Smoltz. That, if you didn’t major in some form of math at an Ivy League school, equates to an 11.40 strikeout-to-walk ration. I’m going to say it again, holy Smoltz. I should mention the fact that he gave up the fewest home runs per 9 innings among all qualified pitchers with a 0.5 per game clip. Some of that is probably attributed to the fact that he pitched in two of the bigger parks in the league (Safeco Field and Comerica Park), but most of it is due to fact that he can pitch.
This year however, the numbers and results haven’t been as encouraging. Almost every statistical category’s numbers have ballooned. He gave up 11 homeruns all of last year, eight with the Mariners, in 216.1 innings pitched. This season he’s given up the same number he gave up in a Seattle uniform last year. However this year he’s thrown only 67.2 innings. The concern is there, but so is the potential.
Look at his earlier start against Seattle in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year. It was Fister’s first full start of the season after going down with a side injury in his opening week start against the Red Sox. He threw 7.0 innings of four-hit ball, sent three of his former teammates back to the dugouts on third strikes , but was the victim of a botched save attempt by the bullpen and saw his win and two run lead vanish in the ninth as the Mariners scored three runs. I was at that game, and it was a travesty to see him not factor in the decision positively.
But overall, Fister’s so-so numbers are a victim of a couple bad starts and bad run support.
After the Seattle disappointment he took the mound in Oakland and gave up one run and five hits over 6 innings while fanning 8… and was charged with the loss. After that he gave up four runs (three earned) in six innings against Minnesota, charged with the loss. He again put up a solid start in his next outing, but let the wheels fall off at the end as the Indians scored twice in his last inning to spoil the game. Overall, he gave up a mere six runs in his first 29.1 innings but was knocked around for that same number against a potent Boston offense during the next outing. The point here is that the ERA is where it’s at because of three bad starts against Texas, Boston and the Twins. A rough go around is explainable against the first two clubs, but not the third. Then again, everybody has a bad day right?
Moving on after that long analysis.
At number three in the rotation is Max Scherzer. He really hasn’t pitched all that bad despite spotting a 4.84 ERA. A lot of that is probably attributed to the beating he took in the opening series against Boston. He was the victim of 7 earned runs in a mere 2.2 innings pitched. And, as stated, it seems his ERA is gradually, with the exception of one start, coming down from that.
Rick Porcello is another kettle of fish entirely. He’s probably the one pitcher that I’m more than a little worried about. Let me come off that ledge a bit. I’m not saying he needs to pack his bags for Toledo, he just needs to throw with some consistency. His only terrible-ish starts were against LA of Anaheim, Seattle and an ugly one inning affair against the Rangers where they crossed the plate 9 times (8 of those runs earned) in the one inning. Again, LA and Texas are explainable, but he had a bad game against the Mariners.
Which for some odd reason happens a lot — the Tigers struggle against Seattle. That’s awesome, because I live in the greater Seattle area, more or less.
Again, moving on.
We’ve seen Drew Smyly be outstanding holding down the fort as the fifth starter at times. We have also seen a slightly more sporadic Smyly throw the ball. We’ve seen good things from Casey Crosby as well as flashes of brilliance from Jacob Turner. We’ve also seen Adam Wilk and the occasional Duane Below. The underlying theme here is that we could probably use another starting pitcher.
Here’s a sample size of the market for starters as it is-
- Cole Hamels, Phillies
- Zack Greinke, Shawn Marcum, Brewers
- Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Cubs
- Jason Vargas, Kevin Millwood, Mariners
- Bartolo Colon, Athletics
- Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
Take the list in, go ahead, I’ll wait. Are you done thinking of trade scenarios? Good. Ok, these guys obviously aren’t the only pitchers that will be available. Jeremy Guthrie and Francisco Liriano could be options as well, but these are the main guys, probably. That is unless some contender who wouldn’t normally be in it, but is thanks to this new wild card mumbo jumbo, goes 0-10 in the next two weeks and falls miserably out of it. Then they might sell.
Moving on, Guthrie and Liriano are probably too wild to warrant either serious interest or investment. The selling-the-farm tactic is probably a no-go for Dave Dombrowski and friends as they develop their system. So that’s two more “NOs” on missers Hamles and Greinke. Garza and Marcum would be worth a look, but might cost a top pitcher like a Smyly or Crosby. So again. No. Wandy Rodriguez is probably a little expensive for the Tigers’ taste, so for the umpteenth time… No.
That leaves Dempster, Vargas, Millwood and Colon.
I’d say no to Colon mainly because the A’s will need him if they’re still in it come whenever. If I were Dombrowski, I’d probably only invest a PTBNL or an A-ball pitcher two on Millwood, or frankly Colon for that matter. That whittles it down to Vargas and Dempster. You’ve seen the Seattle-to-Detroit pitcher pipeline work out brilliantly. See my above paragraphs on one Doug Fister, and horribly, see Jarrod Washburn.
I would think that each could be had for a price, and I would think that that price wouldn’t be too obnoxious. I’d say a B-level prospect or two would probably get it done either way. Let’s also not forget that if we get Dempster, he’s bringing a 33-scoreless-innings-pitched streak to Comerica. Can I get a “Winning”?
As I write this, Doug Fister now has won his third start in a row. So maybe they don’t need to give up the farm for a Cole Hamels-like pitcher. But regardless, pitching help is needed, and in that case Dempster’s the guy.