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What is this thing that begins with 3?

OK, so it’s been in the Tiger news lately that the team, with its recent run of excellent pitching outings, has reduced its staff-wide ERA under 4.00. So, that got me to thinking… And to exploring the wonderfulness that is baseball-reference.com. When was the last time a Tiger team kept its staff-wide ERA under 4.00? Come on, now, no cheating… Just give it to me off the top of your head. The prize goes to the student who guessed (admit it, it was just a guess)… 1988. What with the awful teams (and pitching staffs) in “The Lost Years”, plus having to pitch 81 games a year in the bandbox called Tiger Stadium before “The Lost Years”, getting the staff ERA under 4.00 just hadn’t happened for a really long time.

On the other hand, let’s not forget that no team in the American League had a staff-wide ERA under 4.00 last year (and, when considering staff-wide ERA, it’s just not fair to compare to any team in the National League, where that automatic out comes up every 9th man). Not even the Johan Santana and Brad Radke Twins (with an excellent bullpen, too), who led the league at 4.03. There were only 2 teams under the 4.00 mark in 2003, the Hudson-Mulder-Zito A’s and the Mariners (extreme pitchers’ park). In 2002, four teams managed an ERA starting with a 3, the A’s (Hudson-Mulder-Zito), Angels (WS Champs), Red Sox (Pedro and staff) and Yankees (well, they’re the Yankees, no explanation necessary). Only two teams in 2001 (Mariners and A’s) turned the trick, and in 2000, nobody did it (the Red Sox led the way at 4.23). In 1999, only the Red Sox came in under 4, and even they required a more precise calculation, as their official 4.00 ERA is actually rounded up from 3.9986. The Yankees had the 114-win juggernaut season back in 1998, and they were the only team in the league under 4 that year. In 1997, the under-4’s were the Yanks, Orioles and Blue Jays. In 1996, the Indians led the league in ERA… at 4.35. In 1995, it was the juggernaut, 100-wins-in-a-144-game-schedule Indians leading the way again, this time at 3.81, but they were the only team under 4. In strike-shortened 1994, the White Sox were the lone team under 4. In 1993, both colors of Sox were under 4, but nobody else. Which leads me to 1992, when only 5 teams had staff-wide ERAs above 4. Those would be the Rangers (4.09), Indians (4.11), Yankees (4.21), Mariners (4.55), and the Tigers bringing up the rear (4.60).

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s been quite the offensive era, hasn’t it? A full 13 years since the majority of the AL had staff-wide ERAs under 4. As of this writing, the Tigers are among 5 teams with staff-wide ERAs under 4 (the White Sox leading at a ridiculous 3.14, the Twins at 3.49, and the Angels at 3.74 ahead of the Tigers’ 3.86 and the Orioles at 3.96).

I know what you’re thinking… So what’s the point of all this? Well, the experts’ take on the Tigers as they headed north from Spring Training was that the free agent signings of this past off-season were shaky (check), and that the real key to the success of the Tigers will be how the starting rotation fares (and I don’t think that even the most ardent Tiger fan would have disputed this). In other words – so far, so good. Despite the early struggles in the wins and losses columns, there are reasons to yet have hope for this year’s team. My, but that feels good to realize as late as mid-May… For a change. Don’t look now, but we’re only 4.5 games behind the wild card as of today.

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