Welcome to the first posting as a CBS-designated blogger for the Detroit Tigers. These will cover all things related to the boys of summer that don the olde English "D" on their uniforms. History of the team, milestones, tidbits and factoids to help you win a trivia contest, personal anectodotes and memories of games played, and of course the state and trends of the current version of the team calling Comerica Park in Detroit their home field.
This initial piece will look at the current state of the Tigers. Before the season started in April, who would have projected Detroit to be where they are in the standings? They are holding down second position in the American League Central division at 14-12 (.538) on the season, 2 games behind the leading Kansas City Royals. Overall, they have the fifth-best record in the American League, with 14 total teams. Personally, I felt that they would finish the 2009 season 5-10 games of the .500 mark, either under or over. Well, that is essentially where they are, so that is no surprise. What does come as a revelation to me is how they got here.
The Weaknesses - The Stats Don't Lie
It comes as no shock that Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander were all, at best, rehabilitation projects in progress, with no certainty as to how much they would individually contribute to the success of the pitching staff. Bonderman was a hopeful during Spring Training. Given the severity of the shoulder surgery he underwent, the time needed to just get him on the mound with the parent club and compete at a minimual level was, and remains, a huge unknown. His conditioning and rehabbing will continue on at the snail's pace thus far manifest this year. Early in the year, with no certain timetable for him to return to Comerica Park. Rating for the year, a minus for the team.
Dontrelle Willis and his mystery of a diagnosis leaves him in triple-A Toledo, pitching for the Mud Hens. His last couple of outings have been solid. He is still throwing a lot of pitches, so that is a concern. We all know the huge leap it can be for a borderliine major league starting pitcher from AAA to the major league competition. For many who excel and even dominate the minor league hitters, they just cannot sustain any success once facing the lineups that the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins will field against the Tigers during the course of the long regular season. That is seemingly where the Tigers are with Willis. It seems like a long-shot from those that cover the Mud Hens, that Willis may actually be done with pitching at the Major League level. We will see how the season plays out. Another minus for contributing to the Tigers this year.
Nate Robertson, even with his fat contract that now looks like a boat anchor for the Tigers, is continuing the track record of pitching that he established last year. You know the reputation. He has a four-run lead, gets a batter out, and then gives up a series of walks, hits and homeruns to blow the lead, leaving the Tigers trying to catch the other team late in the game. Frustrating as all get out, he is consistent, for whatever that is worth. This year he has a 1-0 record. Not bad, seemingly from first glance. He has pitched 10 innings this season, with an ERA of 6.3. He has fanned seven, and walked six. His pitch count is of concern, averaging just under 17 pitches per inning pitched, with a WHIP of 1.60. Not a rebound year for him yet. Not a minus, but not a plus rating either. At best, a neutral "this is exactly what we thought would happen" contribution from Nate.
When I hear the call go out for Brandon Lyon to come in during a game, I get the same uneasy pit in my stomach as with aforementioned pitcher Nate Robertson. An offseason gamble type of an acquisition, the roll of the dice has not been in the favor for the Tigers' bullpen. With an ERA of 5.11, WHIP of 1.54, with seven walks and four total strikeouts, this guy is nothing more than a minus for the team. He averages 5.71 walks issued per nine innings pitched, and just just over 16 pitches per inning thrown.
The Strengths - Pleasant Surprises & Hidden Gems
Joel Zumaya, with that more than prolonged healing time for his arm injury, now is establishing himself with the Tigers. He pitched a bit for the Mud Hens, and after some solid outings, received the call to come on up. He has pitched 5 full innings thus far, earning one victory against zero losses. He has struck out two, and not given up a base on balls yet. His ERA is 0.00, with a WHIP of 0.80. It is way too early to expect him to end the season with these same percentages after pitching over 80 innings, but we can dream about it, can't we? The start he is having is good. Lock-down right now, even touching 100-MPH on the generous radar guns at the park. He can't stand the Yankees, and shut them down in a recent outing against them, after they roughed up rookie pitcher Rick Porcello for six runs in a single inning, on their way to a 10-run inning the end of April. The confidence and bravado he brings every night to the clubhouse and to the mound is what they need right now. He is on the plus side for the bullpen, averaging 11.2 pitches per inning.
What about Bobby Seay? He has a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings of relief, striking out four and walking two. His WHIP is .96, second only to Zoom-Zoom Zumaya, over 8.1 innings of relief. Fernando Rodney has impressed me with his performance to date. With a 4.50 ERA, he has struck out seven and walked only one. He is throwing 13.6 pitches per inning, with a WHIP of 1.10, over 10 total innings pitched. Both get a plus rating from me for the year, bolstering a maligned bullpen roster.
Off-season pickup Edwin Jackson has become one of the more stable parts of the starting rotation. He has pitched 38 innings, striking out a total of 28 and walking ten this season. His ERA of 3.08 and WHIP of 1.11 is strong, averaging less than 3 walks issued per nine innings hurled. His pitch count is about 16 per inning pitched. If he can cut that down a bit, it will save him come late in the season. He could be the difference maker deep into September.
Justin Verlander started out slow, with many wondering if he would ever find dominance over a string of starts. Well, it may have started. He is still paying for early season struggles with a 5.66 ERA, giving up three homeruns over 35 total innings pitched. Yet, his 45 strikeouts against 12 walks is a pretty solid stat line. He averages 3.09 walks per nine innings, and is currently at 17.71 pitches per inning average. He is coming on strong of late, and should be able to do much better as his control is seemingly back.
Two gems on this roster are starting pitcher Rick Porcello and reliever Ryan Perry. Just rookies, in their first season, they are going through their ups and downs, taking the fans and team along with them. Look at their stats and judge for youself as to whether they belong in the Major League at this point of time. Porcello is at 2-3, with an ERA of 4.71, coming way down after his last outing, which was a scoreless performance over seven full innings. He has given up six homeruns, walked nine and struck out 15. His WHIP is 1.29, averaging only 2.83 walks over nine innings. His pitch average per inning is 14.72. Ryan Perry has an ERA of 3.48, with ten walks to nine strike outs over ten innings pitched in relief. His WHIP is 1.65, and averages 8.71 walks per nine innings. His pitch count is 19.94 per inning. Struggling? Yes. Potential to be solid with some conditioning, certainly. It remains to be seen whether his game-time experience will be at the major or minor league level.
Overall, I would put the Tigers' starting rotation and bullpen ahead of where it was last year, and ahead of projections for this point of the season. Because of their surprising turn-around in pitching over last year, they find themselves over .500 on this day, May 7, 2009.
UP NEXT : Tigers' Offense Holding Back the Pitching