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Tigers' pitching staff ranks among worst in American League in early 2016 season

Sadly, the Tigers pitching staff is even worse than their 2015 counterparts after 40 games.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Last winter, the Detroit Tigers overhauled their pitching staff after finishing the 2015 season with one of the worst units in the American League. Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey were signed to multi-year contracts for the starting rotation, joining Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and a cast of young pitchers who figured to give the team some much-needed depth on the mound. The bullpen was completely overhauled, with the acquisitions of Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, and Justin Wilson, as well as several younger pitchers who got their feet wet in the major leagues last season.

Here, we will compare this year's pitchers to the Tigers through the first half of the 2015 season, as well as ow they rank in the American League after 41 43 games. There would be little point in comparing anyone to the 2015 Tigers after trading David Price and Joakim Soria, as the team sunk out of contention and into last place.

At the All-Star break in 2015, the Tigers' rotation had the second-highest ERA in the AL, while the bullpen had the third-highest ERA. A lot of improvement was needed in both the bullpen and the starting rotation if the team hoped to contend in 2016.

Starting rotation

Here is how the 2016 Tigers' starting rotation ranks in the American League through 41 games.

4.48 4.24 1.31 .259 6.03 42.7% 6.83 2.68 1.15 4.29 6.0
4.72 4.47 1.43 .268 5.72 42.3% 7.68
3.44 1.32 4.46 2.5
AL rank
12th 11th 11th 10th 8th 12th 6th 12th 9th 11th 11th

Updated through games of May 22, 2016

What we see in this chart is troubling. The Tigers' starting rotation is even worse than the 2015 rotation in almost every major statistical category, with the exception of strikeout rate. The Tigers' starters, as a group, rank near the bottom of the league in allowing runs, home runs, and walks.

Individually, there are 113 pitchers in the major leagues who have thrown at least 40 innings thus far this season. Ranking them by fielding independent pitching (FIP), Zimmermann ranks 39th, Verlander is 56th, Sanchez is 105th, and Pelfrey is 111th. Sanchez, the planned third starter, has a 6.23 ERA and is allowing 1.7 home runs per nine innings. That doesn't cut it, and any potential replacements have yet to show that they can be league average starting pitchers.

Even if Jordan Zimmermann replaced David Price, and even if Justin Verlander pitches as well as he did after the All-Star break last year, the Tigers are still a couple starting pitchers shy of a full deck. We knew going into this season that a lot had to go right with this rotation to keep the team in contention. So far, they are not up to par. Finding some rotation help could be the Tigers greatest challenge going forward this season.


The reasons for the bullpen makeover were apparent after the 2015 season. Detroit had a poor relief corps even before they traded their closer, Joakim Soria. Here is how the Tigers' new look bullpen ranks compared to the rest o of the AL.

Year ERA
BS SV% K/9 BB/9 HR/9
3.97 4.26 1.39 .265 9 68% 6.85 3.28 1.03 4.00 -0.1
4.11 3.99 1.34 .264 4 76.5% 6.92 2.95 0.96 3.75 0.4
AL rank
13th 10th 13th 13th t-4th 3rd
15th 6th 6th 12th 10th

Updated through games of May 22, 2016

The good news is that the Tigers late inning crew has been able to convert 76.5 percent of their save opportunities, which would be their second-highest percentage since 2000. Rodriguez has saved all but one of his chances, and the Tigers came back to win his lone blown save opportunity.

Overall, walks and home runs are down, while batting average allowed and ERA remain about the same as in 2015. Two keys going forward will be whether Mark Lowe can regain his form from last season and whether Justin Wilson can pitch as consistently as he did for the Yankees in 2015.

Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy were the two best pitchers in the Tigers' bullpen a year ago. Alex is now fourth on the bullpen depth chart, while Hardy is the fourth left hander -- and in Toledo.

Overall, the bullpen has the personnel to get the job done, particularly when it comes to protecting a lead. But finding another starter to go with Zimmermann and Verlander could determine if the Tigers are postseason bound in 2016.