The following is the second article in a three-part series that will offer a 2012 season preview for the Detroit Tigers.
March 31st – Projected Lineup and Bench
April 2nd – Projected Starting Rotation and Bullpen
April 3rd – General Season Outlook
April 5th – Detroit Tigers’ Season Opener vs. Boston Red Sox
Projected Starting Rotation
1. Justin Verlander, RHP – I hope people can understand what Justin Verlander did to earn AL MVP as a pitcher; He led the league in starts, wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, and batting average against! The Tigers coasted to the AL Central title in 2011, and J.V. was the main reason. He’s been the Tigers’ ace for quite some time, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Some people forget that he is only 29 years old, but I remind myself of the fact every time I doubt his ability to get to the now modernly inconceivable feat of 300 wins.
2. Doug Fister, RHP – Put him in a ghillie suit, and he could star as the beanstalk in a big screen version with Jack and the giant. All jokes aside, the California native was unstoppable in a Tiger uniform in 2011. Fister has excelled this spring as well, logging a 3-0 record with a 2.03 ERA and 11 K’s in 13 and 1/3 innings pitched. If Scherzer pitches near the ceiling of his capabilities, I could understand Leyland putting Fister third in the rotation. However, as it stands right now, I think Fister has demonstrated enough sustained success as a Tiger to maintain his spot in the #2 slot of the rotation.
3. Max Scherzer, RHP – Have they diagnosed Max Scherzer with bipolar disorder yet? No? Well, I’m going to go ahead and diagnose his pitching (and his eyes) as bipolar. I’m fairly certain Katy Perry wrote the song “Hot n Cold” after she saw Max Scherzer on the pitcher’s mound. It seems like Scherzer can never truly get into a grove from game-to-game; he’ll go out and twirl a 7+ inning gem, then follow it up with a sub-five inning debacle. If he can find a way to have consistent command of his Slider in 2012, he’s capable of being a 20-game winner. I don’t see it happening; I’m just saying that he possesses that sort of talent.
4. Rick Porcello, RHP – Calm down ladies! Now that Brandon Inge is (hopefully) off the roster, every jersey-chasing fan girl will have to resort to their second-favorite dreamboat. I’ve been a fan of Slick Rick ever since he tossed Kevin Youkilis’ fat ass to the ground at Fenway. However, if he wants to continue to maintain possession of my fandom, I expect him to approach his freshman effort from 2009. The fact of the matter is that his ERA the past two seasons has approached 5, and I expect more out of a 1st round pick.
Duane Below Drew Smyly, LHP – Just when I was starting to come around on Jacob Turner, he went and got hurt. Turner was in the running for the final spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation, but he came down with a bit of shoulder tendinitis earlier this month and wasn’t able to recover in time. That made it a three-horse race between Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly, and Duane Below for the fifth spot in the Tigers’ rotation. Oliver’s abysmal spring performance made it easy for Jim Leyland to eliminate him from contention. If the race for the fifth starting spot is based solely on spring training performance, go ahead and give it to Smyly. Smyly has been consistent in his 4 outings, registering a 2.84 ERA with 10 K’s in 12 innings pitched. On the other hand, Below has had frequent command problems this spring, issuing 10 walks in his 15 and 2/3 innings pitched. Regardless of who the Marlboro Man goes with to start the season, I expect Jacob Turner to be the Tigers’ #5 by mid-May, at the latest.
Collin Balester, MRP – Playing the role of new kid on the block, the Tigers were able to obtain Balester’s services during the offseason by unloading Ryan Perry on the Washington Nationals. I don’t know much about the 6’5” 25-year old, but I’m not exactly impressed looking at his career stats. His career statistics through 2011 include a 5-16 record, with a 5.17 ERA; I can only hope Jeff Jones can get him straightened out. If spring is any indication, he’s headed down the right path – Balester is sporting a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings pitched. Still, I don’t expect Balester to be called out of the pen in close games early in the season; Leyland will probably want proof that he’s capable of pitching in low-stress situations before he throws him into the gauntlet.
Phil Coke, MRP/LRP – Last year, Coke was the victim of being forced into the fifth starter position by a coaching staff that was dead set on having a lefty in the rotation; everyone that watches the Tigers remembers how that move worked out. It took until June for Jim, Jeff, and company to permanently move Coke back to the pen. Once they did, he settled back into his role as a middle to long reliever and lefty matchup man. In 2011, Coke’s ERA as a starter was 4.91; his ERA as a reliever was 3.41. I think it’s safe to say he’s found his niche as a Tiger.
Luis Marte, MRP – Who’s that short, fiery Dominican that’s ringing up batters left and right for the Tigers in the Grapefruit League? Wait a minute…I thought Al Alburquerque was out for another 3 months recovering from elbow surgery? Well, actually, that is the case. However, the Tigers have another short, fiery Dominican capable of striking out the side – Luis Marte. Marte briefly came up to pitch for the Tigers in 2011 in the month of September, but his 3 and 2/3 innings pitched didn’t offer much of a sample size. However, he’s been dominate in his 13 innings down in Florida throughout March, rocking a 2.08 ERA and a 16 to 3 strikeout to walk ratio.
Daniel Schlereth, MRP – I must say, I thought the bearded wonder was a pretty reliable out of the pen last year. Let’s put it this way – with Schlereth, I didn’t have that general feeling of unease I experienced when Phil Coke or Ryan Perry jogged in from left field. As a Tiger, Schlereth has been very consistent, yielding earned runs in only 14 of his 67 appearances in the navy, white, and orange. I expect that consistency to continue; Leyland should feel comfortable plugging in Schlereth in the 7th inning when Octavio Dotel needs a day off.
Octavio Dotel, Gap Pitcher/7th Inning Specialist – I can’t decide if I should make a gray hair joke or a joke about using a walker to get to the mound. However, his addition will bring another veteran presence to augment the leadership of his new 8th and 9th inning brethren. The addition of Dotel also should make Leyland much more comfortable putting Porcello and whoever is in the fifth spot in the rotation out on the mound, knowing that they really only have to go 6 innings to get to the usual suspects in the bullpen. It should also be noted that in 2011, Dotel played a vital role on the St. Louis Cardinals’ championship team.
Joaquin Benoit, Setup Man – Has everyone got the image from the playoffs of Benoit with that massive abscess on his face out of their brain? Well, by asking that rhetorical question, I reminded you of it; you’re welcome. The Tigers paid the big bucks to acquire Joaquin Benoit for the 2011 season, and his performance in April and May made Tigers fans wonder if general manager Dave Dombrowski made an expensive mistake. However, Benoit was able to right ship, logging a 1.54 ERA from June through September. I still feel very comfortable when J.V. can only go 7, because he’ll be handing the ball off to two of the best late-inning pitchers in all of baseball.
Jose Valverde, Closer – The man affectionately known as Papa Grande is the most entertaining closer in all off baseball; he also happens to be one of the most effective. Last season, Valverde went a perfect 49 for 49 in save opportunities, as he became only the third pitcher in baseball history to achieve perfection over an entire season with more than 28 saves. He was aptly given the 2011 MLB Delivery Man of the Year Award as the most outstanding relief pitcher of the regular season. Now someone just has to put in a call to get Papa Grande on the next season of Dancing with the Stars.
Author: Joe Cook