Detroit Tigers season preview – the pitching

95 wins and an American League Central championship have left Detroit Tigers fans hungry for more. The 25-man roster is set and the boys will be headed back to Motown to take on Boston for Opening Day on Thursday, April 5th in no time.

Now it’s time to put my brain where my keyboard is and tell you how this marathon is going to shake out in 2012 from a statistical perspective. Following is a list of all 12 pitchers and my expectations regarding their production. All projections are assuming the unlikely, that each player remains at or near full health for the entire season.

Part 1 of this feature focused on the offense (click here), part 2 focuses on the pitching:

Starting 5:

Justin Verlander – RH – The accolades are well documented at this point. There are no more questions to be asked about JV. He is the best pitcher in the American League and will anchor the staff once again for another 35 starts of pure domination. In 6 full seasons he has a career record of 107-57 with 1,215 strikeouts. At age 29, there is plenty more to come.

Expected Stats: 21-8, 3.10 ERA, 235 K’s

Doug Fister

Doug Fister – RH – All of the experts who like to over-think things have Fister coming back to the pack in 2012. Not me. His arsenal plays out well in Comerica Park despite perceptions to the contrary. He learned how to strike guys out late in the year and has the padding of a stout offense behind him. Look for the 28-year old to be Mr. Reliable in Jim Leyland’s rotation.

Expected Stats: 17-10, 3.50 ERA, 145 K’s

Max Scherzer – RH – Scherzer is one of the more undetermined commodities in the Tigers’ rotation. He has the upside to be nearly as good as Verlander but then occasionally loses his focus and arm slot and gets thumped. If this guy can keep it together for 30+ starts he could surpass 200 strikeouts and finish with 17-19 wins. Or, he could be what he was last year, which is an above average major league pitcher.

Expected Stats: 15-10, 3.80 ERA, 180 K’s

Rick Porcello – RH – No longer the baby of the rotation, a lot of people are predicting a breakout year of sorts from Porcello. Personally, I’m not seeing it. He gives up far too many hits and lacks anything resembling a strikeout pitch. This forces him into being a control expert and he’s still only 23-years old. A Greg Maddux he is not. Two things to watch early in the year: 1) velocity: if he can get his fastball to 94 MPH with regularity he’ll be in good shape, and 2) command: if he can stay at the knees or below with extreme consistency he can excel.

Expected Stats: 13-11, 4.30 ERA, 90 K’s

Drew Smyly – LH – The Tigers did the right thing by Smyly, who not only won out over Duane Below, Adam Wilk, Andy Oliver, and Jacob Turner, but who is quite simply the best pitcher of the bunch. Smyly, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2011, still had minor league options that could have given the Tigers the excuse they needed to hand Below the gig. Clearly the Tigers are more interested in putting the best 25 players on the field than they are preserving roster manipulation, and that must be applauded. Smyly brings a left-handed arm to the rotation and a lot of intrigue. So what can be expected of a 22-year old two years removed from college?

Expected Stats: 10-10, 4.10 ERA, 125 K’s


Jose Valverde – RH – Closer – Hopefully he doesn’t put pressure on himself after going 49 for 49 a year ago. The Tigers don’t need a 100% success rate, although they’d certainly take it. What they do need out of Valverde is consistency. He had a tale of two halves in 2010 and then put a full season together in 2011. With an aging bullpen in tow, Valverde will need to remain locked in. This is a contract year for the 34-year old, which can’t be a bad thing.

Expected Stats: 2.80 ERA, 38 saves, 60 K’s

Joaquin Benoit

Joaquin Benoit – RH – Setup – Benoit struggled mightily in the early going of 2011 but then settled in and was an 8th inning force down the stretch and in the playoffs. He is in the middle season of his big 3-year contract and will need to duplicate last season’s success to continue to justify it. Benoit’s biggest asset is his control, he rarely walks anyone. You know the skipper loves that.

Expected Stats: 2.75 ERA, 5 saves, 65 K’s

Octavio Dotel – RH – 7th Inning – Dotel is now 79 years old and playing for his 45th team but he still holds value. Don’t look at him as a stud reliever though. He’ll give up some runs when he misses with his fastball, which has slowed down with his aging arm. Regardless, he is a professional who will stabilize the bullpen and bridge the gap to the big guns at the back of the pen on most nights.

Expected Stats: 3.80 ERA, 60 K’s

Phil Coke – LH – 7th Inning – Coke will be the lefty option in the 7th inning, a role that he pitched very well in a year ago after his failed experiment as a starter. Lefties only hit .215 off of Coke in 2011. Coke brings an added dimension to the team of being a total goofball, which is always nice to have around. Look for him to have a strong season with his return to the pen.

Expected Stats: 3.40 ERA, 50 K’s

Daniel Schlereth – LH – Schlereth showed flashes of brilliance in 2011 and only occasional hiccups. He seems to be a pitcher on the rise who is going to be trusted in bigger spots this year. His ridiculous curveball is lethal on lefties, who only hit .174 against him. His bugaboo has been walks (31 in 49 innings a year ago). If he can reel that in, the Tigers’ bullpen will be just that much more talented.

Expected Stats: 3.30 ERA, 50 K’s

Colin Balester – RH – long relief – Balester came over in the Ryan Perry trade (who has already been demoted by the Nationals) and has been tremendous in camp. The former starter is only 25-years old and has big strikeout ability out of the pen. If anything holds him back it will be his command, which gives him trouble.

Expected Stats: 4.20 ERA, 50 K’s

Luis Marte – RH – Marte won the 7th bullpen spot over Brayan Villarreal. Marte, 25, had a brief stint with the Tigers late last season. He has averaged a strikeout/inning in his minor league career and showed enough poise in camp to beat out Villarreal and his electric fastball. We’ll see the latter at some point this season, but Marte will get his shot and hopes to bring stability to the front-end of the bullpen.

Expected Stats: 4.00 ERA, 40 K’s

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  • Joe White

    Inge’s fate should be determined today or tomorrow.

  • Rwhiteandson

    Like the 5th starter.  What happened with Inge??