I have spent the last 2 articles trying to “fix” the Detroit Tigers’ hitters. Part 3 of this series will take a peek at the pitching and see what needs mending.
The Tigers as a staff rank 11th out of 14 AL teams in ERA at 4.13. Take a look at the splits though and you’ll see that the starters rank 6th at 3.84 while the bullpen as a unit ranks dead last at 4.71. The pen has surrendered more runs than any other AL team and the highest opposing batting average. Their 61 walks in 130 innings comes in tied for 11th.
So yes, the pitching as a whole hasn’t been lights out, but the bullpen has been a literal train wreck. The latest member to join up is Luis Marte. Marte earned the gig in camp but got hurt on the 2nd to last day and has finally worked his way back. Marte joins Duane Below, Brayan Villarreal, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, and Jose Valverde to round out the revamped stopper unit.
Sadly, or rejoicefully, we won’t be able to pick on guys like Collin Balester in this series, because he is currently located right where he should be – AAA. Before we dig into the pen though, let’s take a look at the starters.
Parts 1 and 2 of this series broke down the offense, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.
Justin Verlander is as good as it gets
Justin Verlander – OK, this is a fix me article. He is 5-2 with a 2.15 ERA and 75 K’s in 75.1 innings. Next.
Doug Fister – Fister has had no trouble shaking off his pulled side muscle and is boasting a 1.84 ERA and a studly 22:7 K to walk ratio. Fister is stranding 90.3% of his baserunners, which is unsustainable, but he’s still a major asset. With these 2 at the top, one wonders how this team could be 4 games under .500. And then we get to…
Max Scherzer – Max has a dominant 63 K’s in 48.2 innings but is walking 3.51 batters/9 innings. The other shocking number with Max is that his opponents’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .394. His career mark is .313 so it is reasonable to assume that his unsightly 5.73 ERA is on the way down. Since coming to the big leagues in 2008, Max has thrown less fastballs each successive year. His career rate is 65.9% but this year he is throwing heat just 61.6% of the time. It’s good that he feels comfortable with his slider and changeup but when he is throwing 95-96 MPH he has been dominant. Right now he is averaging 93.7 MPH on his fastballs, which is higher than each of his 2 previous seasons with the Tigers, so the arm is fresh. My hunch is that if Alex Avila starts putting the old index finger down more often, Max would follow suit by going on a run.
Rick Porcello – Rick has worked his way into a home in my doghouse. I’m not sure how much of it is his fault though. I said it all spring and I’ll say it again now. At age 23, it is simply too much to ask a pitcher to throw almost exclusively fastballs and be consistently successful. Throughout his 4-year career, Porcello has actually thrown less and less fastballs each year and more sliders and changeups as a result. The problem is that his slider and changeup simply aren’t good. They are both below average pitches. Each season of his professional career he has watched hitters rake for a higher BABIP off of him than the year before. This obviously means that he isn’t fooling anyone and can’t come up with anything new to add to his mix to keep hitters off balance. He has always had great control (2.35 BB/9 ratio) but has never averaged even 6 K’s/9 innings pitched, which is a very average target to hit. Bottom line: this is as good as it gets until he learns to throw a devastating changeup or a big breaking ball. His career ERA is 4.61. If you’re expecting more with his current arsenal then you’re just fooling yourself.
Drew Smyly – It’s hard to break down Smyly since we still know so little about him. The most impressive thing he’s done in my mind is maintain his K/inning pace that he established in his only year of minor league ball. To accomplish that at the big league level as a 22-year old rookie is really impressive. Walking only 13 against his 44 K’s is a sign of more good things to come. He’s a rookie so don’t expect him to get to 15 wins, or maybe not even 10, but he’ll be a solid #5 all year long, if he’s not already the team’s #4 ahead of Porcello.
Jose Valverde needs to see the strike zone
Jose Valverde – The oversized potato is off to his worst start as a Tiger. Every stat that matters is going in the wrong direction. His walk rate is way up (6.61/9 – 3.90 for his career). His K rate is worse as are his groundball and left on base percentages. He is giving up homers and BABIP at a rate at or near his all-time highs. So he has either completely lost it and is doomed or he’ll get things rolling again. His fastball to splitter pitching splits are right on par with his monster 2011 season so there is no huge reason for concern there. If he gets his walk rate down he’ll be fine. First pitch strikes are the key.
Joaquin Benoit – He has already matched his walk total from his breakout 2010 season (11) and is rapidly approaching last season’s mark of 17. However, he is boasting a career high K/9 rate. He has fanned 27 already in just 17.2 innings (13.75 K/9). His career mark in this category is just 8.66. He is also inducing more groundballs (42.5%) than usual (35.1% career). Benoit may be the classic bad luck pitcher right now. His opponents’ BABIP is sitting at a crazy .415. His lifetime rate is just .279. Barring something unforeseen, expect Benoit to get on a nice roll.
Octavio Dotel – Dotel has been everything the Tigers hoped he would be and has even upped his game a bit in the strikeout, walk, and groundball categories. I guess when you’ve been at it since 1999 and are still getting big league contracts, something is working.
Phil Coke – Coke’s numbers are a bit bloated right now (4.26 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) but his K/9 and BB/9 rates are better than career norms but his BABIP is at an all-time high (.339). So hopefully this is nothing more than another case of some bad luck for Coke. He’s solid, and despite some fans calling for the guillotine, I think he’s here to stay and should be.
The rest of the bullpen has by and large been a revolving door making an in depth analysis sort of pointless. Going forward, expect Marte, Below and Villarreal to hold the fort down for a while. I think Jim Leyland wants some consistency in his back end group and until Al Alburquerque is ready in July, I’d expect this to be the collection of arms the team rolls with for a while.
In parts 1 and 2 of this series I analyzed and fixed the offense, click here for part 1 and here for part 2.
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