The Tigers rotation has been snakebit the last few days, given Jordan Zimmermann’s placement on the disabled list along with an oblique strain for Daniel Norris. Currently, the Tigers have two massive holes in their rotation behind the Justin Verlander/Michael Fulmer/Mike Pelfrey trio. While Matt Boyd will likely fill one hole, the other is currently occupied by Anibal Sanchez -- he of the 6.00+ ERA as a starter.
To survive the short-to-medium term losses of Zimmermann and Norris, Detroit needs to find a mid-rotation starter. Fortunately, they have one in the bullpen- Shane Greene.
Greene has pitched in the bullpen for over a month now and he has delivered an excellent performance. He rapidly earned the team’s trust as the bridge to Francisco Rodriguez in the late innings. Greene’s 16 dominant innings have included a 3.38 ERA, 1.60 FIP and a 23.7 K%-BB%. Those last two numbers are stupid good. Shane Greene has been stupid good in the bullpen.
Starting pitchers are by sheer volume more valuable than relievers -- Justin Wilson is on pace to throw approximately 60 innings, while the carefully watched Michael Fulmer will throw two and a half times as many. Greene could provide the most value to the team by taking the mound every five days and throwing six innings rather than one inning every two days. Sure, he probably won't be as sharp in the rotation as he is in the bullpen, but that’s because he's going full-on Wade Davis in the bullpen. Even a drop-off to what Steamer suggests for the rest of the year — a 3.89 ERA and 4.01 FIP — would hold a good amount of value as the mid-rotation starter Detroit is looking for.
The biggest short-term issue with converting Greene is stretching him back out to a starter’s workload. At the moment, it’s unclear whether he could pitch more than three or four innings at a time, although Sanchez has bounced back and forth between short relief and starting. Perhaps Greene would need to stretch back out in Triple-A Toledo, but the Tigers don't have time to wait. They need another starter now, so Greene would be thrown directly into the fire.
There are other ways to increase Greene’s total value as a starter once the current injury crisis is over. Once everyone is healthy again (and in baseball everyone rarely is), the Tigers could go with a 6-man rotation or simply keep the worst of the six in Toledo and let him come up periodically to keep Fulmer, Greene, and Norris fresh. It’s likely that the number six man would eventually get an opportunity to come up to the big team on a permanent basis, since injuries are a part of life in the MLB. It would be a huge boost if Detroit had a number six man who was better than Boyd.
If everyone stays healthy, Zimmermann and Norris will likely slide back into the starting group within a few weeks. At that point, Greene could slot into the rotation in place of Michael Fulmer for a while. Fulmer could probably use some time in the bullpen at some point to keep the innings count down and ensure his readiness for the end of the season. If not Fulmer, Detroit could just choose to go with their five best arms and cut bait with Mike Pelfrey.
There was a time when Detroit wouldn’t be able to convert Greene due to the necessity of having him as a reliever. Crucially, the rest of the bullpen has solidified behind him. Both Wilsons are pitching very well at the moment, Bruce Rondon is apparently resurrecting his career, and Kyle Ryan (!) has a 2.95 FIP. Couple that with the cautiously positive results of the Anibal Sanchez experiment in the bullpen, and the Tigers suddenly have a bullpen that goes seven deep on a good day.
With as many arms as the Tigers have pitching well at the moment out of the pen, Joe Jimenez waiting in the wings, and the trade deadline approaching to give further reinforcements, the Tigers now have the cushion they need to sustain the loss of a pitcher in the bullpen. They also need another good starter With that in mind, it’s time to return Greene into a starting role. His value as one of the best five starters in an organization suddenly struggling to find competent starting pitchers is hard to ignore and he could play a key role in solidifying the rotation for the stretch run.