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Five Aces give Tigers the best rotation in MLB

All five of the Tigers' starting pitchers rank among the best in the league. The rotation is historically good.

Rick Porcello's recent performance gives Detroit five of the best starting pitchers in the American League
Rick Porcello's recent performance gives Detroit five of the best starting pitchers in the American League
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Tigers fans are being treated to a truly dominant collective performance of the Detroit pitching rotation in 2013. What we are witnessing this season is a rotation that features five of the fifteen, possibly the ten best starting pitchers in the American League right now.

By almost any measure, from WAR to ERA to FIP, the five starting pitchers who toe the rubber in rotation are dominating opposing hitters game after game. There simply is not another team in major league baseball that can boast five quality starting pitchers like the Detroit Tigers have this season.

A look at the ranking of starting pitchers in the American League reveals the following through Friday's games:

  • Ranked by WAR, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander rank first and second in the league. Max Scherzer and Doug Fister rank fourth and eighth, giving Detroit four of the top eight and three of the top four starting pitchers.
  • Ranked by ERA, all four of those starting pitchers are ranked in the top 15 in the league for this season.
  • Using fielding independent pitching (FIP) as a measure, Sanchez leads the league, while Scherzer, Verlander, and Fister rank 4, 5, and 6, giving Detroit four of the top six starters. Rick Porcello comes in at 14th for the season.
  • Porcello ranks 19th in the league in WAR, and 14th in FIP.
  • Using xFIP, which is park adjusted Fielding Independent pitching, all five Tiger starters rank in the top ten in the league.
  • Porcello has emerged as one of the best starters in the league in the past two months, ranking 15th in the league in ERA for May and 13th in June, and coming in at ninth in FIP during May and fifth in the league in June.

When you consider that there are fifteen teams in the league, each using a rotation of five starting pitchers for a total of 75 starting pitchers, the above rankings aren’t merely good, they are staggering.

As a team, the Tiger rotation leads the league with the most wins, the fewest losses, and the most innings pitched per game.

The Detroit rotation easily leads the league in ERA, and they’re blowing away the field with an FIP that stands one full run per game below the second place Texas Rangers. The WAR is also quite lopsided, with the Tigers’ 13.2 on top, and the Rangers a distant second at 8.7. That’s like a WAR between the USA and Grenada.

If all that is not enough, what the Tigers are doing with their strikeout rate is also pretty amazing. The major league record for most strikeouts in a season was set in 2003 by the Chicago Cubs, who fanned 1.404 batters. That averages out to 8.67 K/ 9. Of course, that's in a league where pitchers bat, rather than designated hitters.

The Tigers are on pace to shatter that record as a team, with a ratio of 9.56 strikeouts per nine innings. Over a full season at that rate, Detroit would whiff 1563 batters, breaking the record by 159, over 11 percent more K’s than any team in major league history.

The American League record for team strikeouts in a season was set in 2012 by the Tampa Bay Rays, who fanned 1.383 batters, with a ratio of 8.53 K/9. The Tigers were second in the AL, tied with the Yankees, and also second in AL history in 2012 with 1318 strikeouts. Detroit had a K/9 ratio of 8.29. The Tiger rotation led the league at 8.19.

This year’s Detroit Tiger rotation has a 9.56 K/9 ratio, which matches the team’s strikeout ratio. Normally, a team brings in strikeout pitchers in the late innings (calling Al Alburquerque), but the Tigers feed their opponents nine full innings of whiff sandwiches.

Take a deep breath, sit back, relax and have a look at how the Tiger pitching staff, and the rotation in particular, are carving up opponents. The rotation averages a quality start, which is something no other team is doing, and they’re striking out more than a batter per inning, which has never been done over a 162 game season.

Add the run production of more than five runs per game, which ranks second in the majors, and we might be witnessing something historic this season. Now, if the Tigers can just spread out those runs efficiently, and find a few good men to save the fantastic work of their starting pitchers, there is really nothing that can stop this team.

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