1) Justin Verlander
2) Jeremy Bonderman
3) Armando Galarraga
4) Edwin Jackson
While the order may change slightly, there’s about a 99% (and barring an injury) that this is how the front four of the Tigers’ rotation will shake out. The big question is, who becomes the fifth starter heading out of spring training. In the past, teams have been able to get away without using a fifth starter until the middle of April, but without a day off for the first week and a half of the season because of some scheduling issues due to the World Baseball Classic, whoever gets the nod will get two starts before the Tigers even have a day off.
Speaking of schedules, and not to get too far off topic, I find it strange that the Jays and Tigers open the season at night. I can’t remember that happening to the Tigers in quite some time. In fact the first three games for the Jays are at night. I guess you can get away with that in April when you have a dome.
Anyway, here are the contenders for the fifth spot in the rotation.
The Big Three
1) Dontrelle Willis – While it’s easy to say that Nate Robertson and Kenny Rogers had poor seasons last year, Willis’ was an absolute train wreck (no pun intended, D-Train). Also like Nate, Willis was locked up to a three year deal and he’ll make $10 million this year. Willis will have to show he can find the strike zone this spring in order to warrant consideration for the rotation.
2) Nate Robertson – If you look at VORP over at Baseball Prospectus, Nate Robertson was one of the worst pitchers in baseball who also managed to keep his job mst of the year. He was tenth worst or 691 best if you like. Value Over Replacement Player is a cumulative statistic so it takes not just mediority, but also longevity to make this list (unless you have an exceptionally bad nine innings like former Tiger hurler Eulogio De La Cruz had for the Marlins last year). Nate will get paid $7 million this year because he was also locked up to an untimely three year deal like Willis. One thing to say about him is, he’s left handed.
3) Zach Miner – Again, if you like to use VORP, Miner was the Tigers third best pitcher on the Tigers with a 17 VORP. That put him just ahead of Justin Verlander’s 12.3 in over half of the innings. Miner’s good season will put him in the front running but he has some things working against him. If he’s makes the nod, it’ll give the Tigers an all-right handed rotation. In addition, he’s been good out of the pen so his strengths might actually work against him. He’s also never thrown more then 118 major league innings so we’ll probably hear about some durability concerns.
On the Outside Looking In
1) C hris Lambert – One of the Mud Hens top pitchers last year, I always felt Lambert should have gotten the nod when they sent Willis down rather then Eddie Bonine. Lambert is one of the those guys who doesn’t have a ton left to prove in the minors, there’s just too much in front of him unless he has a dominating spring.
2) Rick Porcello – While Porcello might have had that great season for the Flying Tigers, it’s a safe bet the Tigers will be careful with him unless he’s so good this spring that the Tigers can’t not (yes, I know, please bear the double negative) bring him up. With that, there’s a solid chance that Porcello is with the team in the second half of the season.
3) Jon Kibler – This is a big time darkhorse, but he did get an invite to the big league club. He’s left handed, which helps, and he’s a college guy (he’ll turn 23 in August) and he threw 154 solid innings last year. Maybe it’s just my fondness for the Sparty out there, but Kibler’s season was very good in 2008. Of course the fact that he’s never pitched above A ball will probably preclude him from having too much consideration.
Zach Miner should be the team’s fifth starter heading into the spring season. He’s shown he can get it done and the way he pitched once he got a rotation spot last year shows he can have some success pitching every five days. He’s never going to be a front of the rotation kind of guy, but here at the back end, he’s the Tigers best option.
With that, who gets the job and who deserves it are two different things. I think the Tigers want a left hander in there, and they’ll be looking for reasons to get Dontrelle back in the rotation. He’ll probably find the strike zone just enough to get his job back, of course the question then becomes how long will he keep it. Miner will be long relief, where he’s been good before and Nate Robertson will start in the pen as a left handed option as he waits for Dontrelle to melt down so he can get his job back. Lambert goes back to Triple A, Porcello starts out a Erie and Kibler goes to Lakeland.
Next time, we’ll take a look at who’s got the best shot to close for the team.