Yes. You know exactly what that number means. Heck, reversing that number would have still been a disappointment heading into the 2008 season. Sure, the Tigers didn’t have the 1000 run offense that was predicted, but the 824 they did score wasn’t awful and was good for fourth in the AL. It was the 857 runs allowed, good for 3rd worst in the AL, that ultimately undid the 2008 Pre-Season Paper World Series Champion Detroit Tigers. Granted, we can look to the disastrous bullpen for a lot of the responsibility, but the terrible seasons endured by all but one of the starting pitchers can not be ignored. Can we expect things to change? I think we’re all expecting improvement, but how much improvement will likely depend on the works of this gentleman…
New pitching coach Rick Knapp is in charge of revitalizing the Tigers pitching staff after last year’s debacle. Knapp has been given a lot of credit for the success of Minnesota’s young pitchers after having served as the Twins’ minor league pitching guru over the past several years. It’s his first go-round in the bigs, and he’s got some pretty good talent to work with in regards to the rotation.
Justin Verlander – Quite possibly the biggest disappointment on the staff last year. After going 35-14 his first two full seasons in Detroit, Verlander fell to 11-17 and had to work his butt off to get his ERA down to 4.84 by the end of the season, full a run plus over the 3.60 he had posted in ’06 and ’07. The top spot in the rotation is all but guaranteed to Verlander and his ability to turn it around is going to have a major impact on the Tigers ability to get back in the hunt.
Jeremy Bonderman – Can you believe that Bondo is still only 26? He’s going to be entering his seventh season in the starting rotation and the Tigers desperately need him to return to his ’06 form. A blood clot cost him the vast majority of the ’08 season, and he was one of the few Tigers starters pitching at a decent level in spite of his injury. He was 3-4 through 12 starts with a 4.29 ERA, but he only had 44K in his 70 plus innings. Bondo is coming into camp healthy and will be looked to to follow up JV in the 2 spot.
Armando Galarraga – The only pleasant surprise of 2008, Galarraga became the de facto ace as a rookie last year due to the ineptitude of the rest of the rotation. When Bonderman went down, Galarraga came up and proceeded to go 13-7 over 28 starts with a 3.73 ERA and a fantastic 1.19 WHIP. He slowed down from his torrid pace after the ASB, but if he can come close to replicating these numbers in his sophomore year in the Motor City, the Tigers will be in good shape.
And that is where the certainty stops. Spots 1, 2, and 3 are, theoretically, as good as any in the division. The fourth and fifth starter spots are still wide open however, with five players in camp fighting it out for the last two spots.
Edwin Jackson – The former Devil Ray, who came over in the Matt Joyce trade, looks to be tentatively penciled into the #4 spot. Jackson had a very solid season in starting 31 games for the 2008 AL champs, going 14-11 witha 4.42 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Only 108K in 180 plus innings isn’t the most impressive number, but as a back-end starter all Jackson needs to do is be consistent and get batters out. He’s still only 25 and will be entering his 7th season of pitching (at least part time) in the majors. Also, he was made in Germany, so you know he’s good.
Zach Miner – Miner began the year as long relief, but landed in the rotation in July. He started 13 games and went 5-2. However, his ERA in September as a starter was a whopping 6.67, following a very successful July and August in the rotation. Miner has had to split time between relief and starting in each of his three seasons in Detroit, and he’d probably like to stay in one role for a whole season at least once. He’s kind of a darkhorse to hold onto a spot in the rotation thanks to the high salaries of the next two fellows.
Nate Robertson – Deep down, we all love Nate. He lives in the Detroit area, he’s a great guy, and by all accounts a great teammate. However, after four seasons as a moderately successful starter, year five as a starter in the D went about as bad as it possibly could have for Gum Time. The 7-11 record doesn’t tell the half of it. Its the ERA of nearly 7. The WHIP that hung around 2. After looking like he had it turned around in June (3-1 and 3.77), Nate’s ERA was nearly 9 in July and nearly 8 in August. He was mercifully pulled from the rotation in September, but found no success coming out of the pen either. Robertson’s never had a great season, but he had always been a workhouse who wouldn’t lose the game for you. Knapp’s got his work cut out for him if he wants to rescue Robertson.
Dontrelle Willis – Oh, sweet sweet D-Train. We all love you. And a lot of people were expecting a rough season for Dontreezy, but noone foresaw what happened. There was no control. Little velocity. And, over the course of one night in Cleveland, we all got to watch the Train go off the rails. He went back to extended spring training. Did an extended stint in the minors. Came back in September to start three games – 12.2 innings with 14 BB and 13K. Then came Knapp. D-Train has reported to camp slimmer, fitter, and throwing darts in his first few workouts. There’s not a better ambassador for the fun of baseball and we all need D-Train to re-emerge this year – not just for the good of the Tigers staff, but for the good of having a fun-loving colorful character on the mound every five days.
Rick Porcello – Porcello isn’t likely to make the team out of camp, but then again, Bonderman in ’03 and Verlander in ’06 have happened in the past. His delivery is flawless and his pitches have great movement. He made Miggy look like a fool in a BP session last week. Everyone is raving about him. But, is he ready? I doubt we see him wearing the Olde English D in April, but I expect to see him making a start in Comerica before 2009 is over with.
If Willis and Robertson can both find their form, is a trade of one of them (likely Robertson) coming up next? Can Verlander find his groove? Will a healthy Bonderman result in a winning Bonderman? Can Armando show that ’08 wasn’t a fluke? Who the heck is gonna be the fifth starter? These are the questions we’ll start getting answers to over the coming weeks and months….