Heading into Tout Wars weekend the Tiger’s Michael Fulmer the consensus had him projected to throw between 160 and 180 innings with a low 4’s ERA and 140 or so strikeouts. Tommy John surgery changes that projection to a round 0 for all statistical categories leaving the Tigers and the rest of us trying to figure out how they will fill those innings. Fulmer averaged about 6.1 innings per start over his career, so immediately we all must upgrade the innings in the bullpen unless someone emerges who can go 6-plus innings a start.
Right now the projected rotation will feature:
Veterans Boyd, Zimmermann, and Ross were all already penciled in the rotation and are expected to carry their loads without impact from the injury fallout. The wild cards are Matt Moore and Daniel Norris. Two pitchers once considered among, if not the best pitching prospects in the game at their respective times who have battled through injury and ineffectiveness.
Current Top Options
Moore to his credit has improved his control a great deal over the past four seasons while at the same his strikeout rates have trended downwards and it has been over 6 years since he averaged 94 to 95 on his fastball, now in the 92-mph range. He is not quite as bad as his 6.79 ERA of last year and should see some regression in his HR/FB (14%), BABIP (.341), and left-on-base rate (62%), but still posted an xFIP of over 5.00.
Daniel Norris, at 25, offers slightly more hope after posting a 10.4 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 last year even though his velocity was down 3 mph last year and so far, this spring has not bounced back in that regard.
Spencer Turnbull is currently Norris’ main competition. A 26-year old former second round pick back in 2014, he pitched at FIVE different levels of professional ball last year culminating in 4 games at the MLB level. The righty throws hard, but does not have a fully developed repertoire and is likely to struggle against lefties without even an average changeup or curve. He profiles as a number-five type starter and given that the Tigers have some better minor league options, he may not get too long a look.
Blaine Hardy, 32, worked as a swing-man for the Tigers last year and that seems to be his role for this one too. As a starter last year, he threw 67.2 innings and managed a respectable 6.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9. As a reliever though he posted a 9.3 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9. It is pretty clear he becomes quite hittable the more he is seen, so the rotation is not a long-term solution for him either.
All the above means one better familiarize yourself with the Tiger’s minor league system because likely more than one of them will get a shot to claim a rotation spot without considering potential injuries to their top three starters. Unfortunately, most of the talent we want to see will start the year in either Double-A or Single-A+ ball.
Journeymen Ryan Carpenter and Matt Hall are both on the 40-man roster. Carpenter has pitched in three different organizations and made it to the show with the Tigers last year. The lefty throws strikes consistently and the hitters like to hit them to be blunt. Both pitchers are emergency options and Triple-A roster filler types who are best avoided in even AL-only leagues.
Beau Burrows, a 2015 first round pick, will also be at Triple-A, and is a more intriguing option. After one and a half seasons in Double-A he moves up a level, but only has one true plus pitch in his upper nineties fastball. He struggles with his command and without a good secondary pitch his 8.5 K/9 is going to move down a bit in Triple-A and might not top the 7.0 K/9 range as a starter in the Majors now. Relief might be his long-term home.
It is tempting to draft Kyle Funkhouser for having his name on your roster alone. The righty has a deeper repertoire than Burrows, but nothing that screams an out pitch and is very average across the board. He might be the better short-term option given a rotation spot than Burrows but does not have the long-term upside of others in the system that will keep him there this season and beyond.
This level is where things get quite interesting for the Tigers featuring Matt Manning, Franklin Perez, and Alex Faedo. Manning pitched at three levels in 2018 but made just 2 starts in Double-A. Although he was the ninth overall pick in the 2016 draft, he does not project as an ace and is more of a middle-of-rotation type with 2 plus pitches and a developing change with fair command. Faedo, their 2017 first round pick split his season between A+ and Double-A with 12 stars a piece at each level, increasing his strikeout rates with his promotion a full point, but had tremendous difficulty with the long ball and was not quite fully recovered from injuries and had diminished velocity which may or may not come back. Perez could easily be the best of the trio but has had difficulty staying on the field. The former Astro has three to four possible pitches of plus quality and has flashed plus command as well, but has yet to show much since 2017 after making just 7 starts all last year.
Normally I would not include going quite as deep as single-A when looking for current season rotation options, but it is unwise to discount 2018 #1 overall amateur draft pick Casey Mize who has the potential to skyrocket through the minors. Of the bunch, Mize is the one who profiles as a possible #1 starter with above average command of multiple plus, if not plus-plus pitches including his fastball and splitter. He has enough weapons to handle righties and lefties alike.
And with that, provided the Tigers don’t see a trade or sign another veteran, you should be well armed with information to navigate you through the turmoil that could be the Detroit rotation this coming season. Mize, Manning, Faedo, Perez, and even Burrows all have upside and potential to be rotation regulars, but not all will make it. There is no such thing as a “sure thing”. At least the Tigers have a number of darts to throw at the problem.