Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris could be in the middle of a breakout, according to analysis by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs.
Daniel Norris put together a solid season for the Detroit Tigers in in 2016. In 14 appearances in for the big league club (69 innings) he struck out 71 batters, walked just 22, and allowed 26 earned runs (a 3.38 ERA).
It might be a bit much to ask him to repeat that excellent ERA mark, especially while asking him to add 40 (or so) innings to his total, but Norris made excellent progress from 2015 to 2016.
That progress, as it turns out, also stands up to analytical scrutiny. Excellent baseball writer Jeff Sullivan wrote about Norris on FanGraphs today, identifying him as a player who’s possibly in the middle of a breakout.
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The entire post is excellent and includes graphs and heat maps detailing some of the specific areas (velocity, strike percentage, etc.) in which Norris has shown improvements. I highly recommend giving the whole thing a read, but here’s a section that should get Tigers fans excited (bolding mine).
"There are steps remaining here, and Norris himself wouldn’t tell you that he’s become a finished product, but it’s now so much easier to see him reaching the lofty potential he’s possessed. Norris as a starter two seasons ago ran a 114 FIP-, meaning he was about 14% worse than average. Last season he managed to trim that all the way to 91, putting him ahead of Julio Teheran and Chris Archer. Even if Norris were done getting better, he’s just a higher innings count from being a No. 2. But to me, this looks like one case of late-season improvement I’m willing to get behind."
The Tigers are probably going to enter the season with Norris as the number four starter behind Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, and Michael Fulmer, (not that starting pitcher order means much of anything) but Norris also has shown the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He needs to sustain these improvements, obviously, but the Tigers have the pieces of a very good rotation in place.
The Tigers have opted to stay in the hunt rather than build for the future. A strong season from Norris is one thing they’ll need if they hope to ultimately reach the postseason.