Now that we’ve addressed the outfield and the infield, it’s time to address the pitching staffs of the Tigers and their AL Central foes. We’ll divide that up into rotations and bullpens, and this post will cover each squad’s five-man rotations and rank them.
Detroit Tigers - Justin Verlander RHP, Doug Fister RHP, Max Scherzer RHP, Rick Porcello RHP, Duandyrew Smylowliver, LHP. The fifth spot remains up for grabs, though Andy Oliver looks to be slipping a bit. Either way, the Tigers have an all-world starter in Verlander and a revelation in Fister, who won’t match what he did down the stretch last year but should remain a more than capable number two. Scherzer seems to have a penchant for underperforming his peripherals, but he certainly has the stuff to succeed – remember how good he was after coming back from Toledo in 2010 – and you wouldn’t be crazy if you expected a sub-3.80 ERA out of him. I, for one, have high hopes for Rick Porcello, given his early start this year and the fact that he’s seemingly throwing 91-92 already. He, too, has seen his peripheral numbers improve every year despite his ERA going in the opposite direction. At just 23, he could be starting to figure things out. The fifth starter might not contribute much aside from innings – in fact, it may prove to be a placeholder for the eventual promotion of Jacob Turner. That said, the Tigers have an excellent 1-2 punch and potentially an above average 3-4 if things break right.
Chicago White Sox - John Danks LHP, Gavin Floyd RHP, Jake Peavy RHP, Phil Humber RHP, Chris Sale LHP. Danks is a bit undervalued after a poor year last year but he’s a very good pitcher fully capable of posting an ERA in the 3.60 range if everything goes right for him. Floyd seems to have the same problem as Scherzer – the stuff is there, the peripheral numbers look pretty good, but the guy just seems to have a hard time putting it together. There’s upside here, however. Humber had an unexpectedly good 2011, but it was somewhat luck fueled. If the 6.5ish K/9 is real, he might surprise again, but if that proves to be a fluke and not the norm, he’ll regress. Peavy’s problem has never been ability to pitch, but ability to stay on the mound. He’s a total wildcard at this point. I’m high on Sale, though, even if the Sox cap his innings – a sub-4 ERA and a K/9 between 7 and 8 wouldn’t shock me at all. It’s not a terrible rotation if everything goes right, but Floyd and Humber have questions and Peavy’s health is a constant issue.
Cleveland Indians - Justin Masterson RHP, Ubaldo Jimenez RHP, Derek Lowe RHP, Josh Tomlin RHP, Jeanmar Gomez RHP. The big question for the Indians is where the real Ubaldo is – the 2009-2010 iteration or the one that completely bombed for the Indians down the stretch last year? The correct answer is probably somewhere in between. The same is true of Justin Masterson (although it was 2010 in which he underachieved and 2011 in which he overachieved). Combined, there’s a decent chance they both post sub-4 ERAs, but Masterson isn’t as good as he showed last year and Jimenez not as bad. Unfortunately for Cleveland, things get sketchier from here. Derek Lowe, despite his peripherals, hasn’t posted an ERA under 4 since he was a Dodger in 2008, and moving from the NL to the AL – a league he hasn’t pitched in since departing the World Champion Red Sox in 2004 – probably won’t help his cause. Josh Tomlin was pretty much the standard-bearer for the Indians overachieving pitching staff last year before his ERA finally jumped above 4, where it should remain this year. Jeanmar Gomez is a fifth starter for a reason.
Kansas City Royals - Bruce Chen LHP, Luke Hochevar RHP, Jonathan Sanchez LHP, Felipe Paulino RHP, Danny Duffy LHP. Note that Luis Mendoza could still be involved here in either Paulino or Duffy’s spot. This is the reason that it’s hard to envision the Royals competing for the AL Central title. There’s no reason to believe that Bruce Chen is going to keep overachieving, Jonathan Sanchez has been an inconsistent injury-plagued mess every year except for 2010, Duffy wasn’t that good last year and is still learning, and Paulino can’t seem to figure out how to rectify the ERA/FIP discrepancy that keeps plaguing him. Even if Hochevar’s strides in the second half of 2011 are real, the Royals rotation isn’t in great shape, and help, while on the way, hasn’t arrived yet.
Minnesota Twins - Carl Pavano RHP, Francisco Liriano LHP, Scott Baker RHP, Nick Blackburn RHP, Jason Marquis RHP. I can actually envision scenarios in which Liriano and Baker have decent seasons (I’m particularly high on Baker) but as for the other three, that’s a lot tougher to imagine. Pavano is pretty clearly on the downslope of his career – sure, he still doesn’t walk anyone, but his K/9 rate dropped to an abysmal 4.14 last year. Blackburn and Marquis are archetypal Twins pitch-to-contact strikethrowers – that is to say, they can eat innings (although Blackburn has an injury history) but they may not eat them terribly effectively – there’s a very real chance the Twins rotation will feature three starters who strike out fewer than five batters per nine innings. Liriano is a total enigma, but he’s put together a decent spring, so there’s that.
RANKING THE ROTATIONS
1. Detroit – They have the best pitcher in the division in Verlander, arguably the best 1-2 punch in Verlander and Fister, and a potentially deeper group than most of their rivals.
2. Cleveland – The second best 1-2 punch, but they lack depth. This is a tenuous second.
3. Chicago – If Danks finds his form, Floyd improves, and Peavy can stay healthy and effective, they easily jump into second, but for now, the questions linger.
4. Kansas City – Hochevar may be showing improvement and Paulino and Duffy have good stuff, but it’s just not a great group.
5. Minnesota – Three back of the rotation guys, Scott Baker and his injury history, and whatever the heck Francisco Liriano comes up with. Not a particularly inspiring group.
The Tigers are 3-for-3 in positional rankings – can they go 4-for-4 and take the bullpen crown? Stay tuned….