The Detroit Tigers have a fighter’s chance at winning the American League Central in 2011. Their lineup is going to score runs behind a middle of the order that figures to feature Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, and Victor Martinez. Justin Verlander, one of the most dependable pitchers in the game, is joined in the rotation by the above average Max Scherzer and the seemingly progressing Rick Porcello. Once contract quality is thrown out the window, the bullpen lacks noticeable flaws too, leaving the back end of the rotation as the only potential culprit separating the Tigers from late season contention.
The three names to keep in mind as spring comes close are Armando Galarraga, Phil Coke, and Andrew Oliver.
Galarraga is certainly the gentleman of the group. Unfortunately, his tact does not translate into baseball talent. Battling with home run issues is nothing new in Galarraga’s game, posting a significantly slanted batted ball portfolio (48.9% flyballs in 2010 as opposed to about 40% the prior two seasons). Go figure that Galarraga also managed to keep the homers in check despite that new development. Expecting him to replicate that feat two years running is arrogance, although so is completely writing the feat off. The best case scenario for Galarraga is that he continues to outpitch his FIP by a half of a run. Even then, he’s a 4.5-to-5 runs per nine pitcher.
The oddball of the trio, Coke is a reliever who used to be a starter who is trying his hand at starting once again. Dave Cameron covered this exact scenario last year here. The takeaway: Coke’s changeup needs to show marked improvement in order to become more than batting practice for right-handed hitters. To Coke’s credit, he faced more righties than lefties in 2010 and pitched better against them. One problem stemming from his results is a 50% flyball rate with less than 2% of those balls clearing the fence, which is unlikely to sustain regardless of his role. If Coke is a true talent 3.75 run average reliever, then he’s probably close to a 4.75 run average starter.
Oliver is just another recent draft pick by the Tigers rushed to the big leagues, joining Andrew Miller (drafted: 2006, debuted: 2006), Rick Porcello (drafted: 2007, debuted: 2009), and Ryan Perry (drafted: 2008:, debuted: 2009) as pitchers to make a quick move from the draft board to the big leagues. (The Tigers’ 2009 first round pick, 19-year-old Jacob Turner, is being discussed as someone who has a shot to break into the majors this season, too.) Oliver failed to overwhelm over five big league starts, but it’s easy to hand wave those aside given his lack of professional experience. He currently appears to be the underdog of the trio.
If the best the Tigers can hope for is a slightly below league average starter, then perhaps it’s time to dip into the free agent market one more time and reel in a starting pitcher option. Carl Pavano is probably beyond the Tigers’ means, but someone like Brad Penny could make a lot of sense on an incentives-based one-year deal.