2016 was a disappointing year for the Detroit Tigers. The team had made the big free agent signing of Justin Upton last year, they brought in Jordan Zimmerman, and Francisco Rodriguez, but then fell short. From injuries, to a rocky rotation, to a shaky bullpen, the Tigers watched the playoffs from their couches last year. With the 2017 season soon coming underway, here’s a prediction at what the 2017 Detroit Tigers projected starting rotation could look like.
- Justin Verlander – After a rough 2015, Justin Verlander returned to his ace form in 2016. He posted a 3.04 over 34 games, and his 227 innings was the most he has pitched since his 238 innings in 2012. His 254 strikeouts last season was the most he has had since 2009. Justin Verlander has already been named the Opening Day starter for the Tigers. After debatably being snubbed out of the A.L. Cy Young Award in 2016, look for another monster season from Verlander in 2017.
- Jordan Zimmerman – Last season, Zimmerman had not given up an earned run until his fourth start of the season, when he finally gave up a run to the Oakland Athletics. On June 3rd last season, 10 starts into the season, Zimmerman had a 2.58 ERA. Then the wheels fell off a bit. He was not as crisp and was eventually out for the whole month of July with an injury. He then came back for one start in August, but only lasted 1.2 innings before being out again. Overall, he ended with an unsightly 4.87 ERA. Coming into 2017, the Tigers are going to need the version of Zimmerman they saw at the start of last season.
- Michael Fulmer – The Detroit Tigers needed the dominant season Fulmer gave them last season, especially with the issues of Jordan Zimmerman over the summer. Michael Fulmer earned the Rookie of the Year Award for the American League, posting a 3.06 ERA in 26 starts last season. Had it not been for the Indians putting up three earned runs over 3.1 innings, Fulmer could have finished the season with a sub-3.00 ERA. With his arm stretched out over the course of a full season, the Tigers are looking for Fulmer to avoid a Sophmore slump in 2017 and he sits in the middle of their rotation.
- Daniel Norris – Last season, Daniel Norris went 4-2 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. One issue for Norris is that he struggles to get past the fifth inning in his starts, and only made it past the sixth inning in one start last season. At age 23, Norris provides them with a decent lefty arm in the rotation. He needs to do a bit better job at working with his pitch count if he is going to be a more dominating presence in the back-half of the Tigers rotation.
- Anibal Sanchez– The fourth and fifth spot in the Tigers’ rotation are the hardest, because this is where they have a lot of options that could fit here. I do not expect the Tigers to keep Sanchez in the five-spot all season. In fact, he very well could end up spending part of the season in the bullpen again, but he is in the last year of his contract (unless the Tigers exercise his option in 2018), and he is being paid $16.8 million to pitch for the Tigers this season. The dropoff for Sanchez over the past two years has been remarkable. He led the American League in ERA in 2013 with a 2.57 ERA. Last year, four seasons removed from that year, he posted a 5.87 ERA. He split time between being a starter and a reliever in 2016. The hope, obviously, is that Sanchez figures it all out and can return to be more than a middle-innings reliever, or a starter who just throws beach balls for the hitters. If he struggles, he will either be back in the bullpen, or the Tigers could choose to just cut ties with Sanchez altogether.
Bonus: Other pitchers with a shot at the rotation.
- Matt Boyd – Matt Boyd will start in 2017 for the Detroit Tigers, it’s just a matter of whether this happens right out the gate for the Tigers, or if it happens after someone inevitably gets injured or struggles. Matt Boyd was serviceable last season, posting a 4.53 ERA in 18 starts. He had a strikeout rate of 82 K’s to 29 BBs. He will most likely be considered for the fifth starter spot if the Tigers front office does not like what it sees out of Anibal Sanchez.
- Mike Pelfrey – Nothing really made a lot of sense about the Pelfrey signing at the time, and it made even less sense as the season progressed. Pelfrey was flat-out awful for the Tigers. Ausmus trotted him out there until some of his younger guys proved to be more valuable at the back-end of the rotation, and Pelfrey was pushed to the bullpen. While it is extremely unlikely, there’s always the possibility that Brad Ausmus decides to throw Pelfrey in the mix as the potential fifth starter.