Thursday, August 7, 2014

Looking at the Detroit Tigers starting rotation for 2015

Granted it is August, and lots will change before the Detroit Tigers pack up and head to Florida for Spring Training 2015. Many things will change from now till the first pitch of the 2015 MLB season, but it an attempt to understand why Dave Dombrowski made the headline stealing deal for David Price we look at what it cost this team on the field. The other day we looked at the payroll ramifications of the deal and now we turn our attention to the performance on the field.

There is no effective way to argue that the 2014 Tigers are not better with David Price in the rotation that without him, but again we must look at our basic assumptions:

The most important of them for this discussion being it is the job of the General Manager to balance out the needs of the current team with the needs of future teams. In terms of the Price deal it would seem the biggest price paid was the loss of LHP Drew Smyly.

Smyly's loss means two different things. In the present, based on a four man rotation in the post season, the Tigers are now without another left handed reliever in the bullpen. Smyly was fairly effective in this role in the past and many of us Tigers fans still see a left handed reliever has a significant need for the current roster.

Now let's not get anything all out of whack. Smyly is a pretty good left handed pitcher and a back of the rotation starter. His stat line with the Tigers seems to support that with a record of 6-9 and a 3.93 ERA, with 89 strikeouts to 31 walks. A SO/9 inning rate of 7.6 with a 1.3 WHIP. He does not have elite stuff (and I hate the term serviceable because a team in win now mode should have 25 solid players), but the Tigers rotation is without those numbers. Granted the addition of Price makes that a non factor in the current. Price is an elite LHP and those are very rare. I would go as far as to say Price is the best left handed pitcher on this club since the days of Kenny Rogers, or maybe even Frank Tanana.

The problem, for me, starts in 2015. Currently the Tigers have just two starters under contract past 2014 (Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez). They have two more players under team control for 2015 (David Price and Rick Porcello) which leaves us to wonder who will be the fifth starter...Sure many do not value the fifth starter and think it is just another piece but for 2015 at least the Tigers will still be in win now mode and that makes every spot on the roster important.

Since there is no real way to guess what the Tigers will spend on the payroll or who they may go out and sign in the post season, we can only speculate about the fifth starter in 2015 with internal options. The first and foremost of those being RHP Drew Verhagen. I know a lot of fans focus on Robbie Ray since he was a big part of the Doug Fister trade but I am pretty convinced he will not be Major League ready in 2015.

We have seen Verhagen in Detroit this year, and it looked like a spotlight start in front of the non waiver trade deadline. However, of all the starting pitchers in Toledo currently his stat is the most impressive. He has a 6-7 record with a 3.67 ERA and 63 strikeouts. That goes along with a 1.29 WHIP.

However much like Ray this is Drew's first year at Triple A. Granted there is no set rule when a guy is ready to be in the show but it would seem that both of these pitchers need more time with the Mudhens. In fact the only pitcher with more than 2 years at the Triple A level is Duane Below. Below has seen time in the Majors with Detroit and Miami and his 8-5 record with a 3.73 ERA could make him a candidate for the fifth starter's job next year.

While we cannot argue that Dave Dombrowksi continually drafts arms that other MLB team covet, there is an overall lack of Major League ready arms in the Tigers minor league system. That could become an issue if the Tigers ever decide to stop being the free spending team we have seen them be for mush of the last five seasons. If the Tigers remain in win now mode I would expect them to sign a major league ready free agent to be there fifth starter.

The only real problem with that is it ties up more payroll dollars in the starting rotation leaving less money to address the other holes, for the time being that remains a legit left handed bat and a quality left handed specialist in the bullpen.