Friday, February 22, 2008

Spring Training questions - starting pitchers

Photo credit: Roger Dewitt

In earlier posts, I covered questions surrounding the Tigers starting position players and the bench. Today, I'll discuss the starting pitchers. The starting five is etched in stone:

Justin Verlander
Jeremy Bonderman
Kenny Rogers
Dontrelle Willis
Nate Robertson

The major thing to watch from this group this spring is the health of of Rogers, Bonderman and Willis. The biggest concern for me is Rogers whose 2007 season started with a blood clot in his left shoulder and ended with tendonitis in his elbow. It remains to be seen how much the 43 year old pitcher has left in his tank. Bonderman tried to pitch through elbow inflammation last year and had a miserable second half. Willis has also made vague statements about pitching through pain in 2007. the first goal is that all these pitchers make it through the spring pain free.

If anything happens to one of the starters, then the question would be who would be the replacement. Candidates include Yorman Bazardo, Zach Miner and Virgil Vazquez. Bazardo would appear to be the most likely sixth pitcher. After a solid season for Toledo in 2007, he impressed with a 2.28 ERA in 23 2.3 inings for the Tigers including 2 starts. They would prefer to keep Miner in the bullpen but he helped out a lot in 2006 with 16 starts replacing the injured Mike Maroth. Vazquez had a good season for Toledo in 2oo7 but struggled in three starts at the major league level.

Then there is the annual issue about Bonderman trying to develop a third pitch to go with his fastball and wicked slider. It's been said that Bonderman never throws a change-up or throws it for a couple of games and then scraps it for the rest of the season. That is not true. According to the new Bill James Online site (sorry, it's a pay site), he has thrown 756 change-ups the last three years which is almost 9% of all his pitches. The problem is that it's not a very good one.

one final question is about the order of the rotation. Eddie B, over at Tigers Thoughts, suggests a way to set up the staff so left-handed and right-handed starters face opponents who are least likely to hit them. Given the early schedule, his ideal rotation would be: Robetson, Bonderman, Rogers, Verlander and Willis. It's an interesting analysis but the the real order will probably look something like this:


Part of the reasoning is that Jim Leyland has mentioned that he wants to place the soft tossing lefty Rogers between the two hard throwing right-handers. I'm not sure how big of a difference that makes in throwing off batter's timing but it's good to gain every advantage possible.

Later, I'll look at the relievers.

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