Verlander, Scherzer provide dynamic duo

Justin Verlander (above) along with Max Scherzer are expected to be the Tigers’ top pitchers. In his last 29 starts in 2010, Verlander’s ERA was 2.98.

 

Ever since Detroit Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski has been in baseball he’s targeted power arms in the rotation. This is why he brought in David Chad as his scouting director, why the Tigers drafted Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya and Andrew Miller and why they traded for Max Scherzer.

Simply put, the big dudes who throw darts are the ones who can carry a team, whether it be for an extended stretch during the season or playoff run or not. That’s why the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Jameson Taillon with the second-overall pick last June: His upside is he’s like fellow large Texans Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan.

So, if we are going to look at the Tigers rotation, I’m going to start with the dynamic duo of Verlander and Scherzer. After struggling out of the gate in 2010 and earning a short demotion to AAA in May, Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in baseball for an extended stretch. In his first start back from the minors, Scherzer had increased his fastball velocity and his fastball was at 96 mph.

Scherzer faced 25 batters with only five making contact and two getting hits. He didn’t even have his good slider that day and was able to record 14 strikeouts, the most for a pitcher in less than six innings since 1920. Scherzer credited the return of his velocity to getting more “extension” on his release, something he was able to see on video and correct in the minors.
After figuring out his velocity, Scherzer was the Tigers best pitcher for the rest of the season. From June 20th to Sept. 22nd, he started 18 games and pitched 124 1/3 innings with a 1.95 ERA while striking out 122 and walking 42. Frankly, it was awesome to see Scherzer reach his potential this quickly and he’s more than a formidable option slotted behind Justin Verlander in the 2011 rotation.

Verlander is a guy who just defines what it is to be a frontline starter. After a rough first four starts that left his ERA at 6.75 after just 22 innings, he went on to throw a 2.98 ERA in his last 29 starts over 202 1/3 innings while striking out 200 batters and garnering down ballot Cy Young support.

The Tigers are one of the lucky teams that have two guys at the top of its rotation that fit this power profile. It’s hard to make the case that the Tigers don’t have the best 1-2 combo in the division. Even with dominant seasons from Verlander and Scherzer, the back end of the rotation will have to produce for this team to win the division.

Instead of the 162 2/3 innings of 4.92 ERA from Rick Porcello that the Tigers got in ‘10, maybe the 22-year-old will take a big step forward. More likely he’ll be close to the 4.00 ERA he posted after the all-star break last year, though he is a potential breakout candidate given his age, experience, and proximity to pitching coach Rick Knapp.

Instead of the 5.53 ERA Jeremy Bonderman put up in 171 innings, the Tigers will bet that Phil “Don’t call me a loogy!” Coke can transition to the rotation. There’s been talk of Coke going to the rotation ever since he was acquired from the Yankees, and the Tigers prepared him by working on his secondary pitches more last year.

According to FanGraphs, the use of his curveball jumped from 5.7 percent to 10.0 percent and his changeup from 2.6 percent to 10.6 percent. Those are pitches he’s going to have to rely on now that he’s in the rotation and it’s encouraging that he worked those offerings in effectively out of the pen.

Instead of the 4.49 ERA Armando Galarraga put up in 144 1/3 innings last year, Brad Penny will get a shot as the fifth starter. Penny has only thrown 200 innings in a season twice in his career and has spent the majority of his career in the National League.

Still, there may be reason to believe in Penny’s splitter, which he worked on with Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan last year. He posted a 3.23 ERA and 5.7 K/9 in 55.2 innings for the Cardinals, but I don’t see reason to believe he could replicate that result in the American League.

Penny might just pound the bottom of the strike zone for ground balls and to keep the ball in the yard (career 0.9 HR/9) and not get shredded. The wonderful thing about the new season and spring training: It’s a clean slate. Last year the Tigers were 81-81 with all that garbage taking up three-fifth’s of the rotation, if Porcello, Coke and Penny can just keep their ERA’s closer to 4.00 than 4.50 the team will see a big upgrade. Or maybe one of them takes a dive and we get to know pitching prospect Andy Oliver a little better.


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