I know I sound like an old man when I say it, but the Detroit Tigers starters need to go deeper into games to give the bullpen a break.
Five times the starter has lasted only five innings, and twice the starter has lasted six innings. Starting pitching has not yet recorded an out in the seventh inning.
I understand that baseball has changed. Gone are the days where complete games are commonplace, and even eight full innings now is quite a workload, but lasting only five innings—75 percent of the time—is a good way to burn out your bullpen.
Maybe it’s time for me to clarify what I mean by “deeper into games.” I think a six inning average is more than reasonable for your starters. That would be an average increase of two outs per start, which would translate to 5.1 innings of relief saved (through eight games).
But as easy as it may seem to advance two outs deeper into each start, it may not end up being that easy.
Justin Verlander is known for inducing foul balls, which elevates his pitch counts.
Max Scherzer’s delivery is of the more violent type, which may lead to him tiring early.
Rick Porcello is still only 21, so the skipper may keep a close eye on his pitch and inning totals this year.
Jeremy Bonderman is recovering from what basically amounts to a year and a half away from starting, so his arm may take some time to reach full strength.
Dontrelle Willis is…well…Dontrelle Willis, which means he often goes to two and three (and four) ball counts with regularity.
All of these early exits mean early entries for guys like Brad Thomas and Phil Coke, the only Tiger relievers with an xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching, a metric that projects ERA) of over 4.50 (they’re 5.65 and 5.67 respectively)—that’s not a recipe for success.
A modest increase of two or three outs per starter per game would go a long way to keeping the bullpen rested and fresh. The guys in the pen have performed admirably so far, but I’m afraid they won’t be able to keep up this pace for too much longer.