Buy, buy, buy! Wait, no, sell, sell, sell! That's the current roller coaster of the Tigers fanbase, which is exactly what you'd expect when you're talking about a team that has literally been splitting their wins and losses 50/50 since May 18, 2014. It's up, it's down, it's up, it's down, and at this point I think I'd like to just vomit and get off the ride. Unless, of course, there's the hope -- real and not imagined -- of somehow salvaging this season.
What if we got James Shields? Or Scott Kazmir? Or, cross your fingers and light a candle, Johnny Cueto?
The Tigers' offense was a bit of a crapshoot in May, what with their crazy addiction to hitting into double plays and being incredibly ineffecient with their hits-to-runs ratio. But it seems to have evened out, and they're scoring about four-and-a-half runs per game now, which is -- all by itself, not counting pitching, and adjusting for league average -- worth 86 wins. Considering that they're projecting to finish 2015 with closer to 81 wins, you've got to cringe a bit and realize just how bad that makes the starting pitching.
So let's quantify the rotation in a very simplistic way and then try plugging in a few alternate options to see what would happen. I'm not going to use FIP or any of the other advanced stats, and I'm not even going to use ERA because I don't think it tells me what I need to know right now. I need to know how many runs, on average, cross the plate for the other team when Pitcher X is on the mound. Beyond that, I need to know how many innings Pitcher X can give me per game, because even if he only allows two runs per game, but has to hand it over to the bullpen after five innings, he's not as valuable as his numbers suggest.
Here's a quick chart:
RA/G + Bullpen*
*The bullpen constant is 0.48 runs per inning of relief they need to fill
What does this tell us? If all five pitchers win all of their games all of the time, your starting rotation is worth 1.000, and each one of the five should be contribution .200 to that total. Breaking it down simply, allowing for basically zero nuance, David Price is going to give the team that solid .200 win rate; Sanchez and Simon are going to be close to a 50/50 proposition (there's basically a half-a-run difference between what they allow and what the opposition will score), so they'll contribute about .100 each, bringing us to three starters who can probably contribute to a .400 record; Verlander and Greene are going to lose more than they win, but between them they might be worth another .100, bringing the team total up to a .500 record.
What happens if we take Greene out of the equation and replace him with Cueto?
RA/G + Bullpen
Unsurprisingly, Cueto would lock down another .200 for the win record, which would bring the starting rotation up to a .650 total, estimating liberally. That would put the team closer to 90 wins and almost certainly guarantee a playoff spot of some kind or another. Of course, Cueto isn't going to contribute a full 20 percent to the win rate, and neither will David Price, but on the other hand, Justin Verlander will contribute more than a five percent win rate, so let's not get too married to the specifics.
The trouble is, Cueto is on every contending team's wish list right now, and he's probably the most expensive starter in the market. What if the Tigers went for James Shields, Mike Leake, or Scott Kazmir?
RA/G + Bullpen
The Tigers need to get as close as they can to being a .600 team right now, just to reach 88 wins and hopefully a wild card spot. If they can get above that and get closer to 90 wins, they just might have a shot at passing the Royals, who are due for a fair bit of regression in the second half. Looking at the three sets of numbers above, Kazmir would give them just as much of a chance as Cueto at winning 60 percent of their remaining games. Mike Leake is a less sure proposition and only a half-run improvement over Simon or Sanchez. James Shields looks like even less of a sure bet, but he's still an improvement.
The Tigers might be able to make it work if they went after a combination of Shields and Leake to replace Greene and Verlander, but I have a hard time believing they'd follow the numbers and bump Verlander from the rotation, even though he's costing them wins that they can't afford to miss right now.
The conclusion? It would take a Johnny Cueto or a Scott Kazmir to make the kind of impact the Tigers would need, and that's going to cost quite a bit. Either of those two additions to the rotation would give the Tigers a shot at making at least a wild card spot, but not necessarily give them a division title. It all depends, I guess, on how desperate they are to make the playoffs in any capacity, at whatever cost.