DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers certainly appear to be trending in the right direction, and this entire rebuild has centered around starting pitching. But beyond Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, who will be part of the staff next season?
Both Mize and Skubal are enjoying strong rookie seasons, and while they still have to improve to become top-of-the-rotation arms, that’s certainly what the Tigers are counting on moving forward.
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That’s only 40% of a starting rotation, though, and the rest of the spots are question marks for 2022. Who else should the Tigers include?
The only absolute guarantee to be part of next year’s rotation, if healthy, is Boyd. He’s had enough seasons of adequate production to cement his spot, and it’s nice to have a veteran among all the young arms on the team.
Boyd has been solid this season, but the problem is he’s only made 15 starts. As the presumed ace of the staff, the Tigers were counting on Boyd for 150 or more innings, and he’s going to fall well short of 100.
The 2021 campaign was a mix of 2019 and 2020 for Boyd. He wasn’t nearly as good as 2019, when he averaged 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings, but he bounced back admirably from a miserable shortened season in 2020.
Boyd has only struck out 67 batters in 78.2 innings this season, but the swing-and-miss potential is still there as he approaches his age 31 season.
The Tigers only have Boyd under control for one more year, and then he’s set to become a free agent. While they could try to lock him up for a discount this offseason -- his 2020 struggles and this year’s injury concerns would knock down the price considerably -- it’s unclear how interested the new regime is in committing to him long-term.
Bottom line: Boyd will be a member of the 2022 starting rotation if he’s healthy. His performance will dictate what happens beyond that.
Everyone wants to lump Manning in with Mize and Skubal, but he’s simply not there yet. The Tigers have to make him earn his spot in the rotation next year.
Manning is sporting a 5.75 ERA, 4.62 FIP and 1.528 WHIP with only 45 strikeouts in 72 innings this season. He’s shown flashes of his elite prospect potential, but never really stacked several consecutive strong starts.
On Wednesday, Manning held the first-place Milwaukee Brewers to one run on two hits and three walks through six innings. It was an impressive outing, but he only generated 11 swinging strikes on 98 pitches. That’s been the story of his rookie season.
In two previous September starts, Manning induced six swinging strikes combined. Missing bats was what made him such a highly regarded prospect, so he needs to recapture that ability at the MLB level.
The reality is Manning will most likely be a member of the 2022 rotation because he’s made some quality starts and kept the Tigers in games more often than not. But the 23-year-old still has a long way to go.
A 32-year-old who hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2016 and quietly signed a minor league contract earlier this year -- that’s who ended up saving the Tigers’ rotation.
Peralta has made 15 starts for Detroit since Jose Urena and Matt Boyd both went down with injuries, and somehow, he’s been extremely productive.
In 76 innings, Peralta owns a 3.32 ERA and 1.263 WHIP despite a 4.98 FIP and only 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He doesn’t miss bats at a high rate or suppress hard contact particularly well, but what he does do is keep the ball on the ground.
Is that enough for the Tigers to guarantee him a spot for another year? As much as he’s helped them this season, Peralta probably shouldn’t be in the plans for 2022 because regression is in the forecast.
A dark horse candidate to join the rotation at some point in 2022 might be Wentz, who got off to a brutal start after returning from Tommy John surgery but has quietly put together a nice season in Double-A.
Since July 11, Wentz has pitched 42.1 innings with a 3.19 ERA, .630 opponent OPS and 11% swinging strike rate. Those aren’t elite numbers, but they’re a major step forward for a 23-year-old who missed the entire 2020 season after looking so promising in 2019.
Wentz is a lefty who was drafted in the first round in 2016 and has proven he can miss bats. He needs to regain control of the strike zone and get back to pitching deeper into games, but don’t give up on him just yet.
Is he a starter or a reliever? Nobody knows!
When asked to fill in as a starter this season, Alexander has once again been quietly solid. He owns a 3.68 ERA and 1.205 WHIP in 11 starts, with 36 strikeouts and 11 walks.
Alexander will never be a front-of-the-rotation type pitcher, but the Tigers pretty much know what they’re going to get from him on a yearly basis. He’s not dominant, yet he’s effective and a major change of pace from the likes of Mize, Skubal and Manning.
I wouldn’t bet on Alexander cracking the rotation out of spring training, but he always seems to find himself there at some point in the season.
When I look at this list of names, it’s abundantly clear that the Tigers need to make starting pitcher a priority this offseason. Perhaps only behind shortstop.
Mize and Skubal could very well improve enough next year to be top-of-the-rotation arms, and Boyd is pretty solidly a No. 3 or No. 4. If Manning is tentatively written in as a high-upside, high-variance No. 5, the Tigers should aim to sign an established starter who can eat innings in the middle of the rotation.
Nobody should expect the Tigers to land a Kevin Gausman- or Max Scherzer-type star, but there are plenty of other interesting names out there. Eduardo Rodriguez and Zack Greinke could be affordable options for a short-term contract. Michael Pineda, Danny Duffy and Alex Cobb would be lower-end upgrades. Jon Gray and Alex Wood are proven vets.
The loss of Spencer Turnbull for all of 2022, a slew of injuries (Boyd, Alex Faedo, Julio Teheran) and the high variance that comes with prospects has filled the Tigers’ rotation with question marks heading into next year. But a combination of Mize, Skubal, Boyd, Manning and a proven member of this free agent class would figure to be pretty competitive.