There is absolutely no question the 2012 Detroit Tigers are almost a lock to be more than capable at the plate and in the field. This was true before the team signed Prince Fielder to a multi-year contract in January; it is certainly affirmed with the addition of one of baseball’s most prized first-sackers. Not everyone, however, is convinced that the current status of the pitching in Detroit is up to the task. For all of the speculation – here is one fan’s take on the prospect of a surprisingly good summer from the mound in Motown.
The Rotation: 1) Justin Verlander, 2) Doug Fister, 3) Max Scherzer, 4) Rick Porcello, and 5) ???
2011 MVP/Cy Young winner and arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander has very little left to prove – he’s the anchor and head of Detroit’s rotation. Fister almost certainly cannot repeat the demi-god-like numbers he provided the Tigers in his post-July trade to Detroit last season (8W, 1.79 ERA against only 1L). This said, if he is anywhere close – Detroit has her unquestioned #2. Max Scherzer and/or Rick Porcello certainly have the talent to be a quality #3 starter in this league; with an uptick in consistency from either (or both) – the first four rotation spots are locked.
This leaves us to that very tricky fifth-starter slot. After last season, I’m a big fan of the “anybody but Brad Penny” philosophy for this roster spot. Manager Jim Leyland’s current plan seems to be to leave this spot to young arms like Jacob Turner or southpaws Duane Below, Drew Smyly, Adam Wilk, or Andy Oliver. Turner is already dealing with shoulder woes – so it’s likely a lefty will begin the season as Detroit’s #5. As much as I would like one of these rookies to jump up and seize the job – I might prefer to see the Tigs reach out to the Washington Nationals and trade for the suddenly expendable John Lannan. This way there is zero pressure on the young guys to develop quicker than they have to. For most of the last five years, Lannan has been used as a lack-of-options “ace” in Washington. In Detroit, he’d be used where he is much more suited – as a quality #4 or #5.
The Bullpen: Closer) Jose Valverde, Set-ups) Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Others) Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Luis Marte, Brayan Villarreal, Collin Balester and Al Alburquerque (out til midseason after elbow surgery)
The seventh through ninth innings most nights do not seem to be problematic after the acquisition of Octavio Dotel. Valverde, Benoit, and Dotel give Detroit one of the most formidable punches as regards late-inning relievers. Veteran lefty-specialist Phil Coke also deserves special note among these oft overlooked arms. The Tigers look forward to the return of Al Alburquerque around midseason and might find use in the bullpen for one of the rookie lefties who does not win the open competition for the #5 starter gig.
Although the questions are far from answered, I am of the opinion that the 2012 Detroit Tigers pitchers are poised to pounce. The first four rotation spots are near locks – and – If my personal plea for the curious case of John Lannan goes unnoticed – Detroit has four or five young arms with exceptionally high ceilings to work with. The bullpen is a nice mix of steady veteran presence and youthful growth potential. Indeed, there is much to be optimistic about in and around Southeastern Michigan these days…
All position rankings and injury-statuses courtesy of Yahoo Sports! Detroit Tigers Team Report.