Before the Tigers acquired former Cy Young winner, David Price, it seemed pretty clear that, once the regular season was over and the playoffs began, left handed starting pitcher Drew Smyly would return to the bullpen for the post season. It was too obvious, for so many reasons. Smyly was the youngest and least experienced starting pitcher. The Tigers already were going to watch his innings in his first full season in the starting rotation, and he had valuable experience in the bullpen, where he was one of the best relief pitchers in the game just a season ago.
Those plans have to be canceled with Smyly being traded to Tampa Bay in the deal for David Price. Nobody would argue that Price was acquired to pitch in the rotation, both for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. If there was a downside to the trade, as far as pitching is concerned, it is that Detroit will not have Smyly in the bullpen in October.
Caveat- of course, the Tigers have to make the playoffs, or all this will be a moot point. We get that.
It also seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Tigers, like every other playoff team, will reduce from five to four starting pitchers for the playoffs. This is assumed, because of the number of off days that are scheduled in the playoffs to allow MLB to maximize television revenues by not having too many games scheduled at the same time. The schedule also allows for some travel days both during and between series.
If the 2013 schedule is any indication, the Tigers had four days off after the last game of the regular season. That means that all four starting pitchers had sufficient rest. and any one of them could have started game one of the league division series (LDS). Once they started, they played two games in Oakland, then a day off, then two at home, followed by another day off, then game five of the LDS, then another day off. The league championship series was similar, with two games on the road, a day off, three at home, a day off, then finish the series.
What we know about the 2014 schedule so far is that the wild card playoff will be held on September 30, with the LDS and LCS after that. We also know that, even if the Tigers send one starting pitcher to the bullpen for the playoffs, pitchers will be pitching on more than the "normal" four days rest that they have been accustomed to all season. How this affects them is anyone's guess. If they just kept rolling with a five man rotation, they could use some of the starting pitchers out of the bullpen on a given night, and that could actually benefit him, rather than sitting for a week or so between starts.
So this raises the million dollar question: Who goes to the bullpen? There are more ways to answer this question than there are pitchers in the starting rotation. Here is a chart (you knew this was coming) showing the members of the starting rotation with their numbers, season to date in 2014.
So, what do we know from these numbers. First of all, there is no guarantee that the decision will be based upon the time frame beginning in April and ending in September- the 2014 regular season. It could be a case of "what have you done for me, lately?". Or, it could be a case of reputation built up in prior seasons, playoff experience, or even the egos of the players in question.
If you're going by fWAR, or ERA, or FIP, the Justin Verlander looks like the weakest link in the rotation. The problem is- he's Justin Verlander, one of the greatest pitchers in Tiger history, who dominated the Oakland A's in the playoffs just last year. So, we'll have to see how Verlander is pitching when the playoffs roll around, but you can no longer simply dismiss the possibility out of hand.
If you are going by won- loss record, then you haven't been paying attention to anything that we've been teaching you for the past five years. Suffice it to say that wins and losses have nothing at all to do with how good a pitcher is. So that could save Anibal Sanchez, the reigning American League ERA champion, from a trip to the pen, but he's not out of the woods just yet. Sanchez has struggled recently, before pitching a gem on Sunday against Colorado. He has pitched the fewest innings and has the second lowest fWAR, in case the Tigers don't have the heart to admit that Verlander is their fifth starter, even before he begins his massive contract extension.
If you're going to go strictly on reputation and experience, Rick Porcello could be the odd man out. There is no denying that Kid Rick is having a fine season, and arguably should have made the All Star team. Moreover, if the decision were made today, Porcello has been the Tigers' most consistent starting pitcher over the past two months. He has held opponents to three runs or less in seven of his past eight starts, shutting them out in four of those outings.
Barring a major failure down the stretch, it is almost impossible to envision Scherzer or Price not being in the Tigers' playoff rotation. Scherzer was used out of the bullpen by Manager Jim Leyland in 2012, pitching a brilliant eighth inning and getting out of a jam. There is little doubt that any of these pitchers would be favored to do very well if asked to pitch in relief, either between starts, or as the first guy out of the pen every night that he is available.
It is a nice luxury to have, being able to add a pitcher to a struggling bullpen, who can pitch multiple innings on a given night. And, for the record, that is exactly how any one of these pitchers should be used. As often and as long as possible. Instead of anyone in the bullpen, including Chamberlain and Nathan. As long as they're fresh enough to go, give them the ball, and don't be a slave to silly predetermined roles. Which pitcher is most effective in the pen has to be weighed against which four would be best in the starting rotation.
It is possible that an event, such as an injury, will make this entire discussion irrelevant, but that would leave the team with a serious problem, having an inadequate bullpen. Or it's possible that the team will continue with five starting pitchers, all of whom would be in any team's playoff rotation, bar none, using ACEs in the bullpen as needed with plenty of time to recover and get ready for their next start.
The Tigers don't have to, and won't, make a decision until they actually make the playoffs and know what the exact schedule looks like. Chances are that recent performance, between now and the end of the season, will be a big factor in determining how the rotation lines up.
What do you think?