The Year The Tigers Stopped Pitching

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

I put it out on Twitter last night that the Tigers pitchers have combined for 7.8 fWAR in 2015. That’s not good, and what’s worse is that 6.2 of that mark belongs to David Price and Justin Verlander. That’s 80% of their WAR coming from 20% of their innings. As a club, they’re one of the three worst run prevention teams this season.

This is particularly devastating to watch because pitching was the club’s strength for the last few years. We knew Verlander was a question mark and that failure would mean a Price deal, but the big blows were losing Scherzer and Porcello while dealing with an injured and homer-happy Sanchez. We were optimistic about Greene, but having Greene and Simon in place of Scherzer and Porcello is a downgrade, clearly. So we expected worse and it turned out to be awful.

It happened by trading away the last two months of Price, having a broken or missing Sanchez, and counting on Greene and Simon at all. Turns out, once Verlander got healthy he was good, so that was nice of him. Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris are promising, but they haven’t lit the world on fire post deadline and guys like Farmer, Ryan, and Lobstein have occupied a number of innings. And we won’t even talk about the bullpen because this is a family website.

But let’s put the year in context a bit. The story of the 2015 Tigers pitchers in four graphs:

image (2)

2008 was the last bad year, and the Tigers have been average (100) or much better (lower) as a staff every year since. This year, not so much. You can explain the faltering quite easily. Fewer strikeouts, more fly balls, and more dingers.

image (3)

Keep in mind that strikeout rate is going up across the league, so the Tigers decline over the last two seasons is actually even more pronounced than it looks. And fewer punch outs means for balls in play, which in conjunction with graph number three, means lots more fly balls. And in conjunction with graph four, way more dingers.

image (4)

Miss you, Rick.

image (5)

It’s not really very complicated. This isn’t some horrible failure of coaching or game-calling, the Tigers just used worse pitchers. Only Sanchez did something really outrageous, and now it seems like that may have been linked to a shoulder injury he says he felt for a “couple of months.” Price was great, Verlander was better than expected, Sanchez was hurt/something’d, and everyone else hit at or below their expectations in a very normal way.

The Tigers were one of the best pitching staffs of all time in 2013, regressed to the mean a bit in 2014, and then became very bad in 2015. It was a steep fall, but not one that was unexpected. With a new GM in place, it’s not clear what the Tigers intend to emphasize in 2016, but they will need to acquire at least one top flight arm in order to urn their pitching into a strength.

Sanchez should be more useful if healthy, Verlander should be useful if healthy. Some combination of Norris, Boyd, and Fulmer should offer two quality backend arms. That leaves one big void, with some interesting enough depth options in Greene, Ryan, and Lobstein to fill in for injuries. And there are options if the Tigers want to go out and acquire that ace. It was a bad year, but try to let it ruin your winter [note: New English D does not expect you to live up to that].

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3 responses

  1. Stephen Pershing | Reply

    On the up side, by fWAR, Justin Verlander was the third best pitcher in the major leagues and best pitcher in the American League during the second half. Justin’s fWAR in the second half was 3.2. Only Clayton Kershaw (fWAR 4.6) and Jake Arrieta (fWAR 4.0) were better in the second half.

    Also, Drew Ver Hagen LOB% of 85.4 this season with an ERA- of 50. Promising young reliever, if he can lower the walks.

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