Sanchez Acquisition Could Cause Tough Postseason Rotation Decision


The Tigers now have five well-established starting pitchers.  Over the next couple months, they will have to decide which one is number five.

The trade for Anibal Sanchez was about deepening the rotation, thus avoiding dependence on rookies Drew Smyly and Jacob Turner in the quest for a division title.  Most fans and analysts would agree that the trade did just that.  But while confidence in another division title soars higher, an interesting battle will play out over the remainder of the year.  The pitcher who is considered the number five starter after play on October 3 (provided the division has been won) will likely be relegated to bullpen duty during the playoffs.  Starting pitchers relish the opportunity to start a playoff game, so no doubt the thought has already crept into some of their heads.

This “battle” to avoid the fifth spot, and the friendly competition it causes, may very well raise the quality of pitching in the second half.  Last season, some (yours truly) wondered if Brad Penny might get the playoff nod over Rick Porcello, after the latter suffered through a tumultuous August that included a 6.82 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP.  Porcello responded with a strong September, lowering his ERA to 3.55 and his WHIP to 1.27.  Perhaps Rick felt a playoff start slipping through his fingers and rose to the occasion?

It would seem that Porcello will be in that competition again, likely with Sanchez.  Verlander is Verlander, Doug Fister finally looks like himself again, and Max Scherzer has been as consistent as at any point in his Tiger career.

The decision between Sanchez and Porcello does not need to be made any time soon, but is likely Porcello’s to lose (or Sanchez’s to win).  If both pitchers are outstanding down the stretch, it will be a good problem to have (or a bad one for Scherzer).  If both struggle down the stretch, Porcello is likely to get the nod, given the longer commitment the Tigers have to him, and the confidence that playoff starts can give.

The numbers between the two right now are slightly in Sanchez’s favor.  His ERA is 3.94 and his WHIP is 1.25.  Porcello has a higher ERA at 4.40, and a higher WHIP at 1.52 (always a Porcello downfall).  But in Porcello’s defense, he has made two postseason starts (three if you count the 2009 one game playoff), performing admirably against the difficult lineups of the Yankees and Rangers.  Sanchez has not pitched a postseason game, and while that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do well, one has to wonder how many truly meaningful games he pitched in a Marlins uniform.

Another wrinkle to this potential decision is how it would affect the value of the trade to bring Sanchez here in the first place.  If Sanchez pitches well down the stretch and definitely helps bring the Tigers a division title, it will be worth the price of Jacob Turner.  But if he is simply mediocre (leaving questions about whether Smyly could have done the same) AND makes no postseason starts, I will question whether Turner could have brought a higher return.

It will be interesting to watch this unfold over the rest of the season. Perhaps we will revisit this competition in September, with the White Sox hopefully in our rearview mirror.