Last season, to preview the upcoming summer we ran through the “key” to each player’s season. Rather than the keys to game you might see on a network like Fox, these keys weren’t “play better than the other team,” but rather, what aspect of their individual game you should be tracking early on.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go through the roster by position covering the thing I’m most interested in watching about each player as the season gets under way and then we’ll tie things together by breaking down the division rivals and club as a whole. Today, we’ll talk starting pitching. (Read about the outfield, infield, and catchers/DH).
Price will get the ball on Opening Day, upending the Verlander streak that seemed destined to go on forever. The Tigers and Price are talking about a long term future, and the key to whether they should extend him is also the key to his 2015 campaign: strikeouts.
Price has been a very good pitcher since coming to the majors but 2014 was the first year when he was comfortably in ace territory. Sure he won a Cy Young in 2012, but this isn’t really a website that puts a whole lot of stock in wins and ERA. In 2014, he elevated his strikeout rate and paired it with his recently developed ability to totally avoid walks. How real was the strikeout spike? That’s the question we need to answer.
I happen to think it’s here to stay and if we see Price living above a 25% strikeout rate early, it’s going to be a sign of very good things to come. Also, Price threw a ton of innings last year, so let’s keep an eye on that early velocity as well.
This is going to be a make or break year for Verlander, and that’s also a phrase I never really expected to say. After an up and down 2013 and a very difficult 2014, Verlander had a fully healthy offseason and will have a chance to prove his struggles were injury related and not signs of a serious decline.
There are so many keys for him, but the thing I’ve been watching over the last couple of years, and will continue to watch early this year is his strikeout rate once he gets to two strikes. Since the start of 2013, he’s failed to convert these “strikeout opportunities” a lot more than he used to. In other words, he couldn’t put guys away when he had them on the ropes. I don’t think Verlander needs to be a high strikeout pitcher to succeed in his 30s, but I do think he needs to be able to finish off his strikeouts when he gets in control. If he continues to throw pitches that hitters can handle in some way with two strikes, bad things will happen. If he’s sending them to the bench, he might be back.
I haven’t made a secret about my affection for Sanchez. He’s an excellent pitcher, but he can run into issues with endurance and durability. I think over the last couple years, and probably into this once, I would prefer Sanchez’s best to anyone else’s best on the team. The problem is that he hasn’t always had his best for as long as guys like Scherzer and Price.
So I’m looking to see how Sanchez looks when he gets into that 90+ pitch range. If he’s maintaining the velocity, command, and stuff, it’s going to bode well for his season. When he was at his best in 2013, he had that endurance. Last year, he would look great for stretches but he’d wear down. It’s the same thing we’d see with Porcello earlier in his career.
Greene is a pretty pivotal piece for the Tigers this year because if he’s the guy we saw in New York last year they could have a really strong rotation and if he’s the guy we saw for most of his minor league days, well, not so much. Greene has some velocity and his command has improved as he’s matured, so I think the key is really going to be the changeup.
I’ve heard good things about its development, and if it’s a legitimate pitch that can neutralize lefties the Tigers may really have something. If the changeup is effective and consistent, Greene might make Dombrowski look very good.
I was pretty outspoken about the strangeness of this acquisition, and I won’t offer a different take here. I don’t really see Simon as serious contributor, but if he’s going to be, it’s because he really does have an ability to limit BABIP.
So right out of the gate, I’ll be watching the quality of contact and swings against him. You can’t track early season BABIP and have it mean anything, but if you can try to figure out if he’s allowing weaker contact than average. It’s a tricky business, but it’s his only hope given the other parts of his game.