With the MLB draft just over one week away, the internet has been quick to remind us of the Detroit Tigers’ draft day failures. Few of their top picks have panned out in recent years, and those too early to judge — outfielder Derek Hill chief among them — aren’t looking so great thus far.
It’s easy to forget the success stories. The Tigers got plenty of value out of Rick Porcello, their first round pick in 2007, and traded first rounders Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller for a future Hall of Famer in Miguel Cabrera. Other early round picks like Drew Smyly, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Avila were also worth their weight in gold.
Oh, and there’s that Justin Verlander guy too.
Sure, he has struggled a bit this year, but Verlander has put together a Hall of Fame caliber career atop the Tigers rotation. He is still going strong at 34 years old, and our disappointment with his current results only speak to how high he set his own expectations during his dazzling 2016 campaign.
So, win or lose on Sunday, remember how great Justin Verlander has been for the Tigers over the years. And be thankful that Detroit didn’t draft Philip Humber.
Chicago White Sox (24-30) at Detroit Tigers (27-28)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP David Holmberg (0-0, 2.51 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (4-4, 4.50 ERA)
Game 56 Pitching Matchup
David Holmberg is a former second round pick who hasn’t quite panned out. The 25-year-old lefty was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, but only made one major league appearance with the club in 2013 before he was included in a three-team trade that sent him to Cincinnati. He pitched 58 1⁄3 innings for the Reds over two seasons, but allowed a 6.17 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. After spending a season in the Atlanta Braves minor league system, Holmberg latched on with Chicago. He made a handful of appearances for their Triple-A affiliate before getting called up in early May.
The White Sox used Holmberg out of the bullpen at first, where he allowed just one run in 10 1/3 innings. They gave him a spot start against the Boston Red Sox on May 29 and he held them to just two hits in four innings. Unfortunately for Holmberg and the White Sox, he also walked three batters and ultimately surrendered three runs on 72 pitches.
While his ERA suggests something is different about Holmberg this year, I don’t imagine that is the case. He has thrown a few more breaking pitches than usual, but his fastball still only sits in the high 80s. His changeup is his best pitch, but he struggles to keep it down at times. Opponents have hit .329 with a .588 slugging average off that pitch in his career. His early 2017 success appears to be largely due to a low batting average on balls in play (BABIP), as well as a batted ball profile that hasn’t quite stabilized yet. He has struggled with his command at times, and has just 173 strikeouts in 282 2⁄3 career innings at the Triple-A level.
Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. unheralded lefties
Five days ago, rookie Eric Skoglund shut down the Tigers offense with a deceptive fastball and a heavy diet of breaking balls. This hasn’t been a widespread problem — Detroit still has a 109 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this season — but they have been susceptible to the crafty lefty at times (we’ll call it the Bruce Chen Theorem). Holmberg has only allowed five hits in 14 1⁄3 innings this season, but has demonstrated significant platoon splits throughout his major and minor league career. If the Tigers can lay off that changeup when it breaks down and away, they should be just fine.
For all the moaning and groaning Tigers fans (us included) have done about Verlander’s subpar results this season, he has still done quite well at home. In four starts at Comerica Park, Verlander has limited opponents to a .491 OPS and 1.61 ERA. He only has 22 strikeouts in 28 innings — yeah, that’s seven innings a start — but has only walked nine hitters. He has a 0.89 WHIP at home compared to 1.70 (!) on the road, and nearly all of his command issues have come on other mounds. With Chicago’s rampant struggles against right-handed pitching, it’s hard to see them beating Detroit’s ace today.
Verlander dominates and the Tigers sweep.