Last season some of the tigers starting pitchers struggled, but by the end of the season the rotation was starting to look like the strength of the team. Justin Verlander at just 28 will be anchoring a younger staff with Scherzer and Porcello as the 2nd and 3rd starters. Phil Coke is supposed to be the 4th starter despite only starting one game in his career. He will be the oldest pitcher on the staff unless Galarraga wins the 5th spot. Galarraga will be 29 by the time the season starts and Coke will turn 29 during the season. The final spot is open for competition where the inconsistent Galarraga will have to win the spot from rookie Andy Oliver among other competition.
The tigers bullpen was a weakness of the team and will need to improve if the tigers have any hope of competing for the playoffs. They have added Joaquin Benoit to help their bullpen but will rely heavily on 2010 rookies Robbie Weinhardt and Daniel Schlereth.
2010 was Andy Oliver’s first and only year in professional baseball. He spent time at 3 levels, AA Erie, AAA Toledo and at the Major League level with the Tigers. He is 23 years old and the tigers have high hopes for him, which is evident by how quickly he was called up to the big leagues. He made 5 starts for the tigers but didn’t exactly prove he belonged there. He had a 7.36 ERA with 13 walks in 22 innings. He did strike out 18 batters which is promising, but he will need to work on his control to be successful in the big leagues.
His minor league stats are more impressive. It is also good to emphasize this was his first year in professional baseball and there is a learning curve. In 130 plus innings he struck out 119 batters with a 3.45 ERA. He walked 50 batters for about 3 and a half walks every 9 innings thrown. The path Oliver has taken is similar to Justin Verlander. Verlander made it to the big leagues in his first season as well, for a couple spot starts. He only allowed 2 walks every 9 innings however and just dominated every aspect of the minor leagues. It is hard to envision Andy Oliver going into spring training and winning the 5th rotation spot. He has shown he has potential pitching, but still needs more seasoning in the minor leagues. He will probably start the season with AAA Toledo and may get called for some spot starts.
In the bullpen the Tigers saw Robbie Weinhardt for several more appearances than Andy Oliver but only slightly more innings. The results at the big league level were similar to Oliver’s. His ERA was 6.14 through 29 plus innings with 21 strike outs. It is harder to judge a reliever by his ERA because one bad inning can make it balloon as well as you could allow all your inherited runners to score and not have your ERA move at all. He has not moved through the system as fast as Oliver, and will be 25 for the entire season. He has spent 3 seasons in the minor leagues where his numbers do stick out. He posted a 1.64 ERA through 142 plus relief innings throughout the minors. He walked 48 batters through those innings for a BB/9 rate of 3.
The Tigers bullpen is probably the biggest weakness of the team. Given Weinhardt’s good minor league numbers and the Tiger’s need for relief help he has a pretty good chance of not only making the team, but getting put into some key situations. It is also important to know that despite having poor overall numbers with the big league club, he finished the year strong. In September he pitched in 10 and 2/3 innings and allowed only 2 earned runs (1.69 ERA). He struck out 10 batters and walked only 2. He will see time as the 7th inning guy if that is an indication of the numbers he is capable of putting up.
The tigers are expecting Daniel Schlereth to be a key part of their bullpen. He looked strong in the 18 plus innings he pitched with the Tigers this season, posting a 2-0 record allowing 6 earned runs and recording a save. His ERA was 2.89 but he allowed 10 walks. If he continues to walk players at that 4.83/9 innings clip he won’t be as successful over a full season. The walks are one stat that stands out through his minor league stats that are concerning. His career numbers in the minors are impressive despite the high walk totals. He has a 1.89 ERA in his 89 innings of work but has walked 5.8 batters for every 9 innings pitched. His strikeout rate has been exceptional, over 9/9 innings at every level he has pitched, including the majors. This is great for the Tigers who will rely on him to strike people out in key situations. That said, walking someone in those situations doesn’t help the team. He needs to work on his control to be effective.