Despite Offensive Woes, Tigers Must Trade for Pitching


Expectations.  It’s a word that I and many Tiger fans alike have bemoaned for much of the 2012 season.  Several Tiger players have underperformed, leaving the team 2 games under close to the halfway point.  When discussing players not meeting expectations, the position players come to mind first.  Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila, Delmon Young, Jhonny Peralta, and Ryan Raburn have all had first halves worth forgetting.  Furthermore, it is widely believed that if these five players (or at least three of them) were performing at the level they were last year, the Tigers would already have the Central Division in their rearview mirror.

I do not disagree with any of this, but I do believe that the starting pitching has received an undeserved pass.  The group as a whole has been inconsistent and injury prone.  Acquiring another solid starter, as Doug Fister showed last year, can help a team get on a roll (thanks to Leyland and his players I hate that phrase now, so let me restate), can help a team win a high percentage of games in a short period of time.

At first glance, it may seem that starting pitching is not a problem for the Tigers.  They are a respectable 6th in the AL in starter’s ERA at 4.09.  In addition, they are 2nd in walks allowed and 4th in strikeouts.  However, one must consider the effect Justin Verlander has on these statistics.  On his own, Verlander is 4th in ERA and 1st in strikeouts.  The Tiger’s starters are a dismal 12th in the American League with 420.1 innings pitched.  Since Verlander is first in the league with 117.2 innings pitched, it is clear that the other 4 pitchers (primarily Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, being the only other two that have made every start since the beginning of the season) are not doing a good job of pitching deep into ballgames and keeping the bullpen fresh.  No starter besides Verlander is averaging more than six innings per start.  He averages 7 1/3 per start, Scherzer, Porcello, and Fister are around 5 2/3 average, while Drew Smyly is at about 5 1/3 per start.  The starter’s ERA jumps to 5.17 with Verlander taken out, while the WHIP sits at 1.66.  Both of these are near or at the bottom of the American League.

So, the question is, what to do with all this?  Well, I believe its safe to make a couple of assumptions.  First, Doug Fister will be just fine, he has made a total of 8 starts this year and his ERA is under 3.00.  He will continue to get stronger and be a quality start machine.  Second, Max Scherzer has turned a corner and will be much more consistent the rest of the way.  Max has made several good starts in a row, he is 2nd in the AL in strikeouts, and he has begun to pitch deeper into ballgames.  That makes 3 starters we can count on the rest of the way.

On the other hand, Rick Porcello is not a pitcher the Tigers can count on.  He continues to be inconsistent and has a tendency to give up a lot of big hits.  Drew Smyly has done a good job, but it is clear that other teams are beginning to figure him out, especially the 2nd time through the order.  Do you really think the Tigers can rely on him through September?

A look through the trade market shows some intriguing options.  The Tigers could employ the “go big or go home” strategy and trade for Matt Garza or Zack Greinke.  They could proceed by locking either one up for a few more years.  Either one would be a welcome addition, but would cost the Tigers a lot in prospects (Jacob Turner for sure, and possibly Avisail Garcia, Andrew Oliver, Rob Brantly, or Casey Crosby as well).  Otherwise, the Tigers could look to pull off another Fister-esque trade by acquiring a mid level starter for a lower price.  Jason Vargas, Joe Saunders, Brandon McCarthy, and Wandy Rodriguez are just a few of the options.

My position?  Go big!  I’m typically conservative with this sort of thing, but in this case I believe the Tigers can help themselves now and in the future by offering a big package for Zack Greinke.  Turner, Crosby, Brantly, and perhaps one more good prospect could convince the Brewers to make a deal.  They may even have to include Porcello or Smyly in the deal, which would be alright in my eyes.  As long as the Tigers can sign Greinke to a new deal (and as long as Ilitch will spend that money, they can always save more in the offseason, but that’s a topic for another article), it is a deal well worth making.

Verlander, Greinke, Fister, and Scherzer as a top four the rest of the year and for next year as well would be an outstanding starting rotation.  Furthermore, I wouldn’t have to cringe as much when Brennan Boesch brings his .240 average up to the plate.