Detroit Tigers: What to make of Tarik Skubal’s rough start in 2021

(Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Detroit Tigers have not gotten the second-year fiery start from southpaw Tarik Skubal that they were looking for. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound southpaw has been removed from the rotation and put into a hybrid role for the team.

After a few rough outings for the Detroit Tigers so far in 2021, Skubal has just not appeared to have it. Some time in the hybrid role should allow him to figure things out. He is pitching this season on an innings limit and needs to make the most of his opportunity in the big leagues.

While Hinch calls this move “not a demotion” and something to help get better results from Skubal, being moved out of the rotation is not what any young arm wants. Skubal is still viewed as a starter and will be; he just needs to fine-tune things with his arsenal to be the effective pitcher he broke out as in the minors.

His first appearance out of the bullpen for the Tigers was sharp, and it appears that he settled in nicely. The southpaw tossed three scoreless against the Pittsburgh Pirates and appeared to have better command over his pitches but not at the level the Tigers are looking for.

Do not read too much into Detroit Tigers southpaw Tarik Skubal’s poor results so far in 2021; it’s a long season.

So far, Skubal has pitched in four games, three starts, and then his relief appearance. He has totaled 16.1 innings pitched, where he has a 4.96 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP for the Tigers. Skubal has punched out fourteen hitters, but that comes with 14 hits allowed and 12 walks issued.

According to Baseball Savant, the amount of fastballs that Skubal has thrown in 2021 has dropped; he has been toying with a new split-finger fastball that has crept up his pitch arsenal. This year, he has thrown the split-finger fastball 11.5% of the time, dragging his fastball numbers down from 58% to 54% on the season.

Diving a little bit deeper into Spin Rate for Skubal, I think it is important to note some decreases in his active spin percentages. Otherwise referred to as True Spin, which is the spin that is useful to the pitch.

For example, oftentimes, prospects may brag about having a high spin rate fastball, but in reality, only a certain amount of that can be considered as useful to the pitch. The goal is different with each pitch and depends on how you want to get the pitch types to play, given the effects of gravity.

Now, for those still reading who have not clicked away because I mentioned the words “spin rate” or anything in the advanced category, let me explain why this matters in Skubal’s case. Here are his pitch types and active spin percentages for his Arsenal in 2020 and 2021. (Data courtesy of Tarik Skubal’s Baseball Savant page)

More from Detroit Jock City


  • Fastball: 98%
  • Changeup: 99%
  • Curveball: 72%
  • Slider: 20%


  • Fastball: 94%
  • Splitter: 94%
  • Curveball: 87%
  • Slider: 20%

The thing that sticks out to me here is the fastball. It was mentioned in the article linked above from the Detroit Free Press that Skubal’s fastball command has been erratic and adding to his high pitch counts.

That being said, Hinch wants the lefty to use the fastball for strikes early on in the count more often, but to do that, he must be able to command it. The four percent drop in his spin efficiency may not seem drastic, but if he was doing everything right to avoid cutting the baseball in 2020, what is different?

With his fastball down 200 RPM from last year to this year, maybe he just needs to work through some things with pitching coach Chris Fetter. Frankly, it seems like some minor tweak in the way he is releasing the baseball might have deviated him from where he was in 2020.

But, for those who are not buying into any of this spin rate stuff, the bottom line is that Skubal is not the electric pitcher he was thought to be as he made his way to the big leagues. It will take time, but Skubal should be more than capable of settling in as a big-league guy.

Hot. Detroit Red Wings: Tyler Bertuzzi’s scoring was greatly missed in 2020-21. light

The season is young; some time in the hybrid role working with Fetter to figure things out should work wonders for the Detroit Tigers’ young southpaw.