Entering into 2015, the Detroit Tigers are once again the favorites to win the AL Central. With a lineup backed by big bats such as Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and newly-aquired Yoenis Cespedes, the Tigers offense figures to be one of the best in baseball. While the bats on the team shouldn’t be much of a concern, the Tigers may have a major problem on their hands when it comes to the rotation. With former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer signing with the Nationals, and solid righty Rick Porcello being traded to the Red Sox, the Tigers will have to find a way to put together a pitching rotation with two new names in it.
As mentioned above, the Tigers parted ways with both Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer this offseason. Porcello, 26, had a breakout campaign in 2014 putting up a 15-13 record, with a 3.41 ERA and 129 strikeouts. Not only that, but Porcello was also an innings eater in 2014 pitching 204.2 innings and posting a 1.23 WHIP. With those numbers and all the innings Porcello ate up, it will be difficult to find someone to replace him. While Porcello is a significant loss, the loss of Max Scherzer is a huge blow to the team. Scherzer, 30, came over to the Tigers from the Diamondbacks in the big three-way-trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in 2010. Scherzer has been nothing short of phenomenal since being dealt to Detroit, specifically his last two seasons. In 2013, Scherzer won the Cy Young award going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, 240 strikeouts, and an incredible 0.97 WHIP. Last year, Scherzer went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, 252 strikeouts, and a 1.17 WHIP. Just like Porcello, Scherzer also pitched over 200 innings last season, and has pitched at least 187.2 innings every year since becoming a Tiger. While last seasons trade deadline acquisition of David Price helped soften the blow of losing Scherzer, his loss will still be hurting the Tigers this upcoming season.
With all this talk of who is gone, lets now talk about who is here. Currently, the Tigers starting rotation projects to be led David Price, then followed by Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. David Price should be the one man in the rotation that the Tigers can rely on. With a 3.26 ERA and 276 strikeouts and 2014, there are not many question marks behind this former Cy Young winner. While Price may not have any question marks behind him, a different former Cy Young, and MVP winner, might have a few. Justin Verlander was not himself this past year, posting a 4.54 ERA and 159 strikeouts. While Verlander could return to form, his numbers have been on a steady decline. His ERA rose from 2.64 in 2012 to 3.46 in 2013, then on to 4.54 in 2014, in total raising 1.90 points in just two years. Not only has his ERA gotten worse over the last two years, but Verlander also had 80 less K’s than in 2012, and pitched 32.1 less innings. If Verlander can find some middle ground, he can still be a solid player in 2015, but the Tigers shouldn’t count on it. Anibal Sanchez has been very good since being traded to Detroit, pitching to a 3.43 ERA last season. Although he has been good, Sanchez suffered a strained pectoralis last season, allowing him to pitch just 3 innings after August 8th (postseason included). With this limited work, it is unknown whether or not Sanchez is still at risk of re-injury, or if he may just not be who he was before the injury. Next on the list is Alfredo Simon, acquired from the Reds this offseason. After being a reliever his first two years in Cincinnati, Simon transitioned to the rotation and did well putting up a 3.43 ERA and striking out 127 batters. While those are solid numbers, it is unknown whether or not he can keep it up given his limited work out of the rotation. Finally, there is Shane Greene, acquired from the Yankees this offseason. Shane Greene was a bright spot on a pretty pathetic Yankees team his rookie season, striking out 81 batters in 78.1 innings and posting a 3.78 ERA in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. While Greene is promising, he is in the same boat as Simon, as the Tigers do not know what they are going to going to get given his limited work in the MLB.
Overall, the Tigers have the potential to have a very good rotation this season. But while there is that potential, they also run huge risk. With no known commodities past their top five, if one of them goes down the team will have to plug in unknown’s and hope that they can perform. While the Tigers are taking a huge risk with this rotation, but it may result in huge reward.