Trying to predict the success and/or failure of the Tigers pitching staff this year might only be possible with the help of a crystal baseball. While one of those is not available, a look into the past might give insight into what the future may hold.
An analysis of past performances, and the factors that affected those performances, may give an idea of what lies ahead in 2009 for Tiger pitchers.
Justin Verlander: He clearly appears to be the ace of the staff, but to say he had an off season last year is an understatement.
But looking at the constantly shifting lineup around him, and the struggle to find consistently solid defense and chemistry, it would seem unwise to believe last season’s record and performance should be anything more than a bad memory.
When his stats from his first two major league seasons are considered, along with the return of solid defense in center field and third base, the probability of a 20-win season does not seem to be that much of a stretch.
Edwin Jackson: A very important addition to the starting rotation for a number of reasons. One, if he provides consistent quality starts and wins, it takes the pressure off of other starters.
Two, if he is the No. 2 starter, other starters such as Bonderman, Willis, or Robertson will drop spots in the rotation and face less-talented starters.
Three, he has experience getting to the World Series. He won 14 games last year while pitching against a schedule loaded with games against the tough AL East, which had two of the top five hitting teams in the AL. Keep in mind he was pitching for a team that finished 13th in hitting in the AL.
It seems reasonable to believe he could win more with a team that finished third in hitting in the AL, against a schedule loaded with teams that are not as offensively powerful.
Armando Galarraga: The biggest and best surprise of the 2008 season for Detroit.
The questions lurking may be: Can he repeat or exceed his rookie success, and will the hitters have a better read on him, having faced him and having time to study his tendencies?
The answers to these questions are keys to the depth and success of the starting rotation. But a rookie pitcher winning 13 games, which led the staff, provides optimism for better numbers in 2009.
Jeremy Bonderman: This is where the question marks begin, but that is true of the fourth spot in most starting rotations. The biggest question is whether Jeremy will be fully recovered and able to consistently produce the way he has in the past.
If he is, and if he is slotted as the fourth starter, he could be a candidate for comeback player of the year.
But that is a big if. Bonderman has shown a mental toughness in his career to this point that has been a key factor in his success. He will need that same toughness to overcome this injury, and give the starting rotation the depth that will drive them to a successful season.
Dontrelle Willis/Nate Robertson: At this point, these are the only two left-handers with a potential shot at a spot in the starting rotation. The question is, can either one consistently pitch well enough to hold the spot?
It would seem that Willis has the best stuff, and if he can return to the form he has had in the past, would be the best option for the rotation.
The fact that he has struggled for over a year as a starter makes some wonder if he can again experience the success he had early in his career.
Robertson has pitched well in his career, but has had little run support in his starts.
Has that affected his performance? That is a question that only provides an excuse, and not a solution.
Robertson’s personality and energy has been a boost in the dugout, and if he fails to beat Willis out of the starting rotation, he can be an asset from the left side in the bullpen.
These starters are the best candidates for the Tigers 2009 rotation. If they can perform to the standards they have established in the past, the Tigers can experience the success of 2006.
If any falter, they will search for pieces to replace them. Outside of Zach Minor, who has had experience and success as a starter, the Tigers have few other dependable options.
Looking at their past stats, they have probably had the most success of any staff in the AL Central. But that is the past. What will be seen in 2009?