Detroit Tigers: How to Prevent Starting Pitching from Becoming a Liability

Brett Kaplan@brettkaplanCorrespondent IIIJanuary 16, 2013

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 28:  Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers looks on from the dugout prior to Game Four of the Major League Baseball World Series against the San Francisco Giants at Comerica Park on October 28, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I firmly believe that the Detroit Tigers have the most talented pitching rotation in the major leagues. But even with that talent, it doesn't mean that they will still have the best when the season ends. Particularly in light of the likelihood of a Rick Porcello trade, I believe that the Tigers front office should pursue two ex-Tigers pitchers before the season begins.

The Tigers' rotation has been very good the past two seasons, but they really stepped it up and dominated their opponents in the 2012 postseason. The starters led the team to an ERA of 2.47 and held opponents to a .197 batting average. The million-dollar question, though, is how long can the pitching staff keep it up and stay injury-free?

For teams lucky enough, after a marathon season of 162 games, to earn the prize of the playoffs, each team needs to win either 11 or 12 games (depending on the Wild Card) to become World Series champions. While the additional games aren't that much different to the batters, they are to the pitchers and can take a terrible toll.

Each pitcher's body is different. Some, like Justin Verlander, can handle the additional workload better, while others just aren't built for it. Regardless of how a pitcher is built, at the end of the day, every pitcher only has so many throws in them. 

That is why rest and conditioning are the two most critical aspects of prepping to pitch in the playoffs. Most starting pitchers in the regular season are asked to pitch every fifth day. In the playoffs, starting pitchers might be asked to pitch every third or forth day instead.

If a pitcher isn't used to that, they will adjust their rhythm and become more prone to injuries. Eventually, all of the additional innings will catch up with the pitchers. Being a Tigers fan, this is what I'm nervous about.

While I mentioned above that the Tigers have the most talented rotation, they have also been extremely fortunate with injuries. Regardless of whether or not there are additional innings, no one knows if a long-term injury might occur. If that happens, I don't believe that the Tigers have enough depth to carry the team.

Injuries are a fact of baseball—especially when it comes to pitchers—but the Tigers' pitching staff threw 99 additional innings in the 2011 postseason and followed it up with another 117.2 innings in the 2012 postseason.

Even when pitchers don't compete in the postseason, they can still get an injury. So with the postseason factor, I'm very surprised that the Tigers front office hasn't addressed this risk and brought in pitching depth.

Especially if the Tigers trade Porcello, 24, then there are very few options currently at Triple-A Toledo that could step into the rotation. 

In my mind, there is only one pitcher capable, and that is Casey Crosby. Even then, I still think Crosby, 24, would only be able to fill the gap in the short term for one or two games due to his control.

That is why—if the Tigers do trade Porcello—I would take a longer-term view and try to pick up starting pitching depth for Triple-A or Double-A. This way, if any of the starting pitchers miss any time, the Tigers won't need to pay a premium to acquire a stopgap pitcher.

Besides a Porcello trade, there are two pitchers out there who would be serviceable in case of injury and could fill in on a longer-term basis: ex-Tigers pitchers Jair Jurrjens and Charlie Furbush.

Jurrjens is a free agent and needs a fresh start from the Atlanta Braves where he can work on his mechanics in Triple-A and be ready if needed. I believe Jurrjens, who was an All-Star in 2011, can still have a bright future and have a successful career.

Another good option would be to trade outfielder Brennan Boesch to the Seattle Mariners for ex-Tigers pitcher Charlie Furbush. Furbush doesn't have pitching stuff that blows batters away, but he battles and could provide the Tigers with quality starts.

While Furbush and Jurrjens aren't "big" names, they would be very safe choices to provide the Tigers cover in case of injury. 

Acquiring these two players would be a lot cheaper than acquiring a lesser pitcher for a higher price during the season. Then the Tigers front office can rest easy knowing that one potential obstacle was dealt with before the season.