The Detroit Tigers opened spring training with an unfinished starting rotation. As it gets closer to opening day, the settling rotation leaves me unsettled.
No one questioned Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer as the top three starting pitchers for the 2010 rotation. Jeremy Bonderman was a heavy favorite to land the No. 4 spot and Dontrelle Willis , Nate Robertson, and Armando Galarraga as the contenders for starting spot No. 5.
Questions began to surface when Armando Galarraga was optioned to the minor leagues last week.
Although Willis and Robertson remain, where does that leave Tigers fans' confidence?
Robertson failed to live up to the prediction of a bounce-back year in 2009 after getting into the best shape of his life in the off-season. Willis has seemingly regressed since a 2005 season that earned him Cy Young award consideration.
On one hand, the Tigers' problem is one to be envied as both Robertson and Willis have put together impressive spring statistics. On the other hand, recent history suggests that selecting either man could be a mistake.
Robertson has done well during spring training before. 19 1/3 strong innings during the spring of 2008 turned into a season marred by a 6.35 ERA, a .315 batting average against, and a demotion to the bullpen.
Robertson's strikeout totals are nearly 1-for-1 with innings this spring. He won't overpower anyone, so this suggests he has been able to fool hitters with good deception on his pitches, a good sign for the Tigers to be sure.
However, Willis has put together a remarkable showing this spring. Although the 0.82 ERA is over just an 11 inning span, the fact that it has stayed so low over five different appearances shows consistency from a player that has been anything but over his Tigers tenure.
From a statistical standpoint, Willis is the leader to win the final spot in the starting rotation, but there is no doubt that his diagnosed anxiety disorder has to play a part in the Tigers' decision making progress. Is Willis in a state of mind to battle the rigors of a 35 start season? What effect would it have on his psyche to have such a phenomenal spring only to be passed up yet again?
Questions keep coming up even as questions are answered. The optimist in me says there is no wrong answer. The pessimist in me says there is no right answer.
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