Good teams typically have good starting pitching. Bad teams do not. As a result, bad teams are forced to try out hosts of starters, trotting out options from the bullpen and calling up players from the minors, attempting to fill out their rotation throughout the year. No team expects to use only five pitchers over the course of the season, but finding starters for 162 games becomes a tall task when the top options are not that good.
The Detroit Tigers are currently a bad team and are pitching as expected. The rotation’s 4.46 ERA and 4.73 FIP rank 22nd and 26th, respectively. Their 1.29 WHIP, 12.0 K-BB rate, and .251 average against are all below-average. As important is their 5.31 innings per start, which ranks 21st in the majors this season.
Because of these struggles, plenty of different pitchers have made starts for the Tigers in 2018. Many were expected, but some were spot starters due to injury or doubleheaders, and some were simply the needed for a change of pace. All in all, 12 starters have pitched at least one game for the team so far:
- Matthew Boyd (28 starts)
- Michael Fulmer (23)
- Francisco Liriano (23)
- Jordan Zimmermann (22)
- Mike Fiers (21)
- Blaine Hardy (13)
- Ryan Carpenter (5)
- Daniel Norris (4)
- Artie Lewicki (3)
- Buck Farmer (1)
- Drew VerHagen (1)
- Jacob Turner (1)
The five pitchers with the most starts should not be too surprising. Daniel Norris had a chance at a spot in the rotation, but an early injury killed that hope. Blaine Hardy has spent time both as a starter and a reliever, but he maxed out at six starts in a row before appearing in relief.
None of the three Tigers to make just one start this season found much success, which probably speaks to the reason they did not get a second try. Drew VerHagen lasted 3 2⁄3 innings against the Yankees, giving up seven runs on seven hits, three via the long ball. Buck Farmer’s start against the Twins last month was a brief spot start, lasting 2 1⁄3 innings with two earned runs. Jacob Turner had no fun against the Angels, allowing five runs in just one disastrous inning.
Maybe using 12 different starters in a single season does not seem too crazy, but it is not a commonality in Detroit. The 2015 Tigers also reached this mark, but only one of those starters made less than five starts (Alex Wilson had one). Prior to that, no other Tigers team had 12 pitchers make starts since 2007, and 13 unique starters have not been reached since 2002.
With recent call-ups Spencer Turnbull and Matt Hall joining the Tigers, the 2018 squad has a chance to reach the 13-starter mark. Manager Ron Gardenhire is likely moving to a six-man rotation, allowing one of these younger pitchers to grab a start or two before the season ends.
This is not an achievement, nor a sign of absolute despair, but rather just another indicator of the type of season the Tigers are having. As the stellar young arms in the organization are still a couple of years away from the majors, there may be another high starter total in Detroit next season as well.