Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Holy pitching!

Last week a Chicago Sun-Times writer was on ESPN proclaiming that the acquisition of Jake Peavy would give the Chicago White Sox, far and away, the best pitching staff in the AL Central--an opinion shared by this guy--not just because of Peavy’s talents but because of how poor the pitching is in the division. Peavy is a very good pitcher. I have no desire to argue otherwise. I do, however, wish to argue the notion that the addition of Peavy would give the White Sox the best rotation in the American League since that’s how much of an impact Peavy would need to have for the White Sox to be the best rotation in the AL Central. You see, the Tigers reside in the AL Central and they have, without a doubt, the best pitching staff in the AL. Care to retract your statement, Mr. Sun-Times Writer?

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

AL Rank1211111111

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…

Edwin Jackson2.551.107.55967%
Justin Verlander3.551.117.25960%
Rick Porcello3.551.258.35350%
Dontrelle Willis3.571.368.25167%
Armando Galarraga5.741.559.44633%

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.


Michael C said...

I have a lot more faith in Galarraga than I do in Dontrelle. Remember how good Galaragga was in his first few starts? WAY more impressive than Willis was in his first few starts.

Its too early to tell on either how they'll be for the majority of this year, and for next year. But I expect Galaragga is just going through a tough stretch, one that he may be nearing the end of with his last start which was pretty solid.

I believe he'll rebound from this and be a good #4/#5 starter later in the year and into next year. I don't have faith that Dontrelle is back to his form from years ago just because 2 of his 4 starts have been good, with the other two being shaky.

Jake said...

Hey Michael,

I think it's 50/50 that either will be anything more than horrible. If those odds are correct--and there's no reason whatsoever to think they are since I pretty much just picked a number--then one of them should pitch well with Bondo hopefully replacing the other. I'm slightly less optimistic on Galarraga than you are and slightly more optimistic on Dontrelle but that's not saying much.

Michael C said...

Now the question is, what happens with Willis now after yesterday's blowup? If Bonderman is back soon as expected I'd expect him to take Willis's place in the starting rotation.

What then? He maybe would be a good specialist against lefties out of the pen but I don't see any of the current relievers going down to make room for him.

Unless we drop a position player or someone goes on the DL (hopefully not Cabrera) one of these pitchers would have to be sent down: Willis, Galaragga, Robertson, Miner, Lyon.

I'd hope we'd either send down or release Lyon, Willis, or Robertson (in that order of preference), but they're the 3 vastly overpaid guys and they already ate Sheffield's contract this year. Tough decisions ahead.

Jake said...

Bondo can't come back soon enough. Definitely some tough decisions ahead. What stinks is that the $13.6 million coming off the books this year from Sheff will basically transfer to the $12 million owed to Willis next year if he gets cut. That's a lot of dead money. Even worse is that we could use Sheff right about now.


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