Just seven days ago in an attempt to convey just how solid Tigers pitching has been this year I said, “The Tigers are in the top-five in most pitching related statistics.” In retrospect, that statement was more of a “slap-in-the-face” than a compliment. The Tigers are actually #1 in the AL in most pitching related-statistics. Check it out:
Tops in the AL
While I appreciate Jake Peavy’s talent, I’m willing to call “B.S.” on anyone who thinks he would make the ChiSox the best starting rotation and/or pitching staff in the American League. The Tigers clearly own both distinctions despite having a mediocre bullpen. Tigers relievers are below average in the AL in most pitching statistics the worst being IS%, or percentage of inherited runners scored. Tigers relievers rank dead last in the American League yielding an atrocious 45% of inherited base runners to score. The league average is 37%. The Tigers bullpen has yielded five earned runs above what the average AL bullpen would’ve allowed. Those runs, of course, are charged to the starting pitchers as earned runs. Tigers starting pitchers have a collective 3.81 ERA which is tops in the AL. With an average IS%, that number drops to 3.63. The Tigers are also tops among starting rotations in WHIP, OBPa, BAa, K/9, and H/9. The Tigers have the best pitching staff in the AL because they have the best starting rotation in the AL.
It’s no coincidence that the Tigers are pitching and subsequently winning like it’s 2006. The Tigers had the best pitching staff in MLB in 2006 before the nuclear meltdowns of ’07 and ’08. Interestingly, the only pitcher in Detroit’s current starting five who was in the rotation in 2006 is Justin Verlander. Dave Dombrowski deserves a ton of credit for totally revamping Detroit’s pitching staff with nearly the same results. In fact, the Tigers now have the youngest pitching staff in the AL (tied with Oakland). There is no question that the Tigers have put on an impressive pitching display through the first two months of the season. The most encouraging news may be yet to come, though. Dontrelle Willis has risen from the pitching graveyard to give the Tigers a fourth solid starting pitcher. If Willis continues to pitch like he’s pitched through his first three starts, the Tigers may be even better moving forward. Willis took over for Zach Miner who was his normal underwhelming self through four starts. Willis replacing Miner may not be Detroit’s final magical switcheroo. One final move may (big emphasis here) give the Tigers the starting pitching depth to legitimately contend for a World Series.
Obviously, I’m talking about replacing Armando Galarraga with Jeremy Bonderman. Galarraga has been horrible. He burst onto the scene last season to stymie hitters throughout the American League. His success was a bit of a mystery since a). he was never considered a top prospect and b). was discarded by the Texas Rangers (never a good sign). Still, Galarraga was without a doubt Detroit’s best pitcher last season. This year has been a different story. He is walking a considerably higher percentage of batters and his batting average against has skyrocketed. Galarraga was certainly good last season but I think some of that may be attributable to being unfamiliar to hitters in the American League. Whatever the reason, Galarraga is getting rocked and clearly sticks out in an otherwise splendid starting rotation…
One of these pitchers is doing his own thing…
There is no doubt in my mind that the Tigers can win the AL Central even if Galarraga stays in the starting rotation. They’ve built a four-game lead with him. I’m more encouraged by what they could potentially do without him. If Jeremy Bonderman can return with his usual stuff, he would be a gigantic upgrade over Galarraga. Assuming Dontrelle’s renaissance is for real, the Tigers would not have a single weak link in the starting five. That means few losses and even fewer losing streaks. It should also mean baseball in October.