The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: Keys To The Rotation

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

If this was 1998, we’d have referred to the 2013 rotation as “da bomb.” They were simply that good. Historically good, if you like stats like FIP, which we do at New English D. The Tigers were one of the best three rotations ever if you look at park and league adjusted FIP, which is pretty freaking amazing. They’ll be short one Doug Fister and  Sanchez and Scherzer probably won’t repeat their career best marks, but Verlander could easily “rebound” and Porcello and Smyly should both be league average or better.

Even if it’s not the 2013 Tigers, the 2014 rotation is going to be very good. The difference, leaving aside health, will be between really good and great.

Justin Verlander

Verlander’s problem during the middle part of last year was release point. It was a mess, and then it wasn’t, and he went back to be being JUSTIN VERLANDER for the final nine starts of the season. The key for him is avoiding those bad habits. If you see the sharp bite on the breaking ball early and he’s commanding the fastball, expect another Cy Young caliber season. If he’s in and out with his command and not generating the necessary spin on the hook, we might be in for another pathetic 5 win season.

Max Scherzer

For Scherzer, it’s always about the delivery. In June of 2012, he finally straightened things out and caught fire. He hasn’t looked back and is finally making good on his promise. He has the gas and the secondary offerings. If he finds a groove with his motion, there isn’t much that will keep him from a great year. That said, don’t expect a Cy Young. Even if he has a very strong season, simple regression to the mean will likely bring him back to the pack. Oh no, another 5 win pitcher…

Anibal Sanchez

Sanchez was awesome in 2013 and the only thing that kept him from winning the Cy Young was a brief DL stint that held down his inning total. No one in the AL prevented runs better than Sanchez and no one had better fielding independent numbers. He was awesome. The key? It was the ability to generate swinging strikes on his changeup. Watch for that early. If he can make that pitch work again in 2014, it might be his turn to claim the highest pitching honor in the game.

Rick Porcello

Fun fact: New English D’s first big breakout was this post about Rick Porcello last June. We’ve been driving the Porcello bandwagon for quite some time, and there’s no stopping us now. The key last year, and looking ahead to 2014, was and will be his ability to generate strikeouts. He’s never allowed many walks and his ground ball numbers are above suspicion, but maintaining the spike in strikeouts is key. He made better use of his changeup and worked in a new curveball to help against lefties and added velocity when he needed to. If that’s happening again, and he can avoid the Angels, expect big things.

Drew Smyly

Smyly’s transitioning back to the rotation after a year in the pen working as the Tigers biggest weapon. He doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he hides the ball well and makes good use of the arsenal he does have. For him, I’m looking at durability and fatigue, which is a very difficult thing to judge out of the gate. He’s never pitched a full season at any level and for the Tigers to rival the previous version of themselves, they’ll need Smyly to give them 180 innings. Perhaps an indicator we could use will be how his command and stuff look late in those early April games. If he has what it takes to stay on the mound, he could make losing Fister a little less painful.

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