Any time you can follow one of the five best starters in the American League (Justin Verlander) with a guy who has averaged more than a strikeout per inning over his career (Max Scherzer), you’ve got the makings of a good rotation. After that, though, the Tigers need some things to go their way to make it a successful season.
Following a disappointing 2008, Justin Verlander has turned in two consecutive great campaigns. Traditionally sub-par in April, he has been phenomenal the rest of the time in both 2009 and 2010—posting 37 wins, 488 strikeouts in 464 innings, a 3.41 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and a BAA of .237. Simply put, Verlander is worthy of a third-round pick or an auction value commensurate with the best pitchers in the AL.
After Verlander, Max Scherzer takes the hill. He has as much talent as anyone, and has 424 strikeouts in 422 career innings. Last season, his first in the AL, Mad Max had an atrocious first half (6-6, 4.61 ERA and 1.37 WHIP) and a fantastic second half (2.47 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, though with a mediocre 6-5 record). He certainly put it all together last season, and I think he’ll build on that this year. Don’t let him slip too far—strikeouts like that don’t come around every day.
Like a lot of other teams, then come the question marks. Brad Penny is their third starter, and could surprise some people…if he could only stay healthy. He was downright poor the last time he was in the AL—with Boston, in 2009 where he posted a 5.61 ERA and 1.53 WHIP across 24 starts—but has pitched well since then.
He had a great stretch run for the Giants in 2009 (4 wins, 2.59 ERA, WHIP under 1 and a .205 BAA), and then a good 2010 for the Cardinals, for the time that he was healthy. If Penny can stay healthy, I think he could benefit tremendously from the Tigers’ spectacular bullpen, so I’d definitely throw a dollar or two his way on auction day.
How many games will Verlander win in 2011?
Rick Porcello is next, and if you take out May 2009 (when he went 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA), he has been downright sub-par across the board. He doesn’t miss bats (roughly half a strikeout per inning), gives up a lot of hits (364 in 333 career innings), has a high BAA (.278) and has traditionally fared very poorly against good hitting teams.
He was, however, the Tigers first-round pick in 2007, has shown promise and capability, and just turned 22 last month! He’s not worth considering in mixed leagues, but is worth a late round pick in AL only, on potential alone.
The fifth starter is a bit up in the air. Will they convert Phil Coke into a starter? Though he does have great facial hair, and was excellent as a reliever last year, he was last a starter in 2008 in the minors and has started one game in the majors (on the last day of the season last year). But since he could turn into a CJ Wilson-esque success story, and has that great bullpen behind him, he’s definitely worth a flyer in AL-only leagues.
There’s also Andy Oliver, another top prospect who had a taste of the show in 2010. Unfortunately for him, that taste was a bit sour, as he went 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA and 1.77 WHIP. He did, however, strike out 18 in 22 innings and had a BABIP of .348. His ability to strike people out (he averaged nearly a strikeout per inning in the minors as well) and that BABIP that is bound to come down make him worthy of notice in AL-only leagues as well.
As for prospects, the Tigers don’t really have much on the horizon. Jacob Turner is the only real top starting pitching prospect they have, and he’s only 19 and still in A. For Dynasty leagues, he’s worth having on your radar.
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Written by Jesse Mendelson exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com.