The Detroit Tigers’ new starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, has been excellent in 2016. He’s only allowed two earned runs in five starts, all Detroit wins, and he didn’t allow a single run of any variety through his first three games. He’s been the number-one starter the Tigers needed, especially with Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez offering good-but-not-great performances as they settle into the season. Ostensible fourth starter Mike Pelfry has not been good at all, posting career-worst numbers virtually across the board. Shane Greene started strong, as he did last season, but a blister has temporarily sidelined him, which allowed the team’s top prospect, Michael Fulmer, to snag a big-league start in Greene’s absence. Daniel Norris showed promise as a starter last season and this spring, but he’s currently on a rehab assignment recovering from a back injury.
As a group, the rotation has been decent, and there are indications that they’ll continue to improve, especially if Verlander can find his groove now that news of his preseason engagement to Kate Upton is public and healthy mixtures of Greene, Norris, and Fulmer can replace Pelfry before too long.
Overall, this is good news for Tigers fans, who also are enjoying a blissful period of strange and unusual– in light of the team’s recent history– bullpen success. After a month of play, this feels like a satisfyingly complete team.
One potential cause for concern (a Tigers fan always can locate at least one) in all of this good news is that the shiny new Detroit bullpen may have been on display a bit too much through this first month of the season. It’s lovely that they’ve been doing so well, but they need to last to October. I don’t think Brad Ausmus has done a poor job of allocating relief innings among his bullpen staff in 2016, but I think his starters’ collective failure to pitch late into games so far this year has forced him to make more calls to the pen than he’d have preferred at this point.
In fact, among American League teams, only the Orioles are getting less in the way of innings pitched from their rotation than the Tigers:
Viewed from back to front instead of front to back also finds Detroit essentially tied with Baltimore for the AL lead in relief innings pitched per game:
The beginning of May finds the Tigers with a comfortable 14-10 springtime record. We knew the early part of their schedule would be difficult, so it isn’t surprising that the path to 14-10 was somewhat akin to that of a roller coaster. It also is not unreasonable to expect that better teams would chase starters earlier in games than usual.
Even if the heavy bullpen usage has been justified, or, at least, explainable, it isn’t a trend Detroit should try to continue, for obvious reasons, and if you weren’t certain how to interpret this information, a glance at the bad company the Tigers are keeping at each end of the above graphs should offer undeniable clarification of any lingering doubt.
The team has the opportunity to reverse this course tonight, when their once (and future) workhorse takes the hill in Cleveland and tries to reverse a losing trend of his own.
Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two? – 5/2
Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances
Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training
2016 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: They’re Not Dead Yet