DETROIT - As the Detroit Tigers continue to struggle through another long summer, fans' attention has turned to some of the organization's exciting prospects for the future.
Casey Mize and Matt Manning have been the talk of the town. As the franchise's top prospects, they've done nothing but excel at Double-A Erie, along with teammate Alex Faedo. At the MLB level, Matt Boyd is having a breakout season and could make his first All-Star game.
So why isn't anyone talking about rookie Spencer Turnbull?
Ranked in the bottom half of the team's top 30 prospects coming into the season, Turnbull has exceeded expectations through 14 starts, owning a 2.78 ERA and 8.5 K/9.
The tempered excitement might have to do with Turnbull clearly overachieving based on his underlying numbers. He owns a 3.70 FIP, 4.46 xFIP and 4.46 SIERA. That suggests he's outperformed his expected ERA by more than a run. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and home run-to-fly ball rate against are a touch low.
What do all these stats mean? Turnbull is probably due for some negative regression. He won't finish the season with a sub-3.00 ERA, but there no reason to believe he still can't be a solid back-end starting pitcher.
Results through 14 starts
Just looking at the actual results, though, Turnbull has been fantastic. He's been definitively one of the 20 best pitchers in the American League, ranking sixth in ERA, ninth in WAR, 19th in strikeouts and 18th in innings.
Nobody's talking about Turnbull as a possible AL Rookie of the Year candidate, but it's possible he would win the award if the season ended today.
Turnbull has made 14 starts, which means he's basically halfway through his first full MLB season. Tuesday was his most recent gem, as he held the Kansas City Royals to four hits, two walks and no runs while striking out five in six innings.
The 26-year-old generated 12 swinging strikes and got more ground balls than fly balls.
Turnbull had been a little shaky in his previous six starts, though he certainly wasn't bad. He only posted one quality start in that stretch, allowing 14 earned runs in 32.2 innings overall. He struck out 30 batters and allowed a .762 OPS.
Again, he was OK, but he wasn't great.
Tuesday was Turnbull's fifth start going at least six innings an allowing fewer than three runs. He's only allowed four runs once this season and only failed to last five innings twice.
Turnbull's season hasn't been flashy, and he wasn't an elite prospect, so it's not a surprise to see him fly under the radar.
Other AL ROY pitching candidates
There are a handful of rookie starting pitchers in the mix for AL Rookie of the Year, but only three -- including Turnbull -- have WARs greater than 1.6.
Baltimore's John Means and Texas' Adrian Sampson are both slightly ahead of Turnbull with 2.4 WARs (Turnbull is at 2.3).
Sampson probably wouldn't beat Turnbull in a ROY vote because his ERA and WHIP are much higher and his strikeout rate is much lower. He has a winning record and plays for a winning team -- two things that can matter, even though they probably shouldn't -- but that's not enough to make up the fact that he's allowed four more earned runs in 10 fewer innings.
Means vs. Turnbull is an interesting discussion because they both play for rebuilding teams and have posted excellent numbers.
Means has a slightly better ERA, a much better WHIP and fewer strikeouts in fewer innings. He began the season as a reliever but moved to the rotation in mid-April. He got hot in May and has posted four quality starts in his last seven outings.
Turnbull has a major advantage in the strikeout department, as Means only whiffs 7.8 batters per nine innings. The vote would likely come down to whether WHIP or strikeout rate was weighted more heavily.
A pair of Los Angeles Angels deserve some consideration, as well, but they probably wouldn't be among the leaders at this point.
Griffing Canning has been solid in eight starts, striking out more than a batter per inning and posting a WHIP below 1.00. If he continued that trend for the rest of the season, he would pass Turnbull.
Reliever Ty Buttrey has also been very good in 30 appearances, but this type of award is an uphill battle for a middle reliever who doesn't get many save opportunities.
Hitters in consideration
Perhaps the most difficult part of ROY voting is comparing the value of pitchers to everyday players. Most of the other awards are hitter- or pitcher-specific. Even MVP is typically given to the best everyday player unless a pitcher completely stands out.
There have been several high-profile offensive rookies in MLB this season, including No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. coming up for the Toronto Blue Jays. Eloy Jimenez, Michael Chavis, Nicky Lopez and Danny Jansen have also gotten opportunities as highly rated prospects.
With the exception of Guerrero and Chavis, none of those prospects have been very productive as rookies. Even those two have been a bit underwhelming, with Guerrero posting a sub-.750 OPS and Chavis striking out in more than a third of his at-bats.
Oscar Mercado has been good for the Cleveland Indians, batting .288 with a .795 OPS, three home runs and two stolen bases. He only has 80 at-bats, though, and his 0.5 WAR is less than a fourth of what Turnbull has posted so far.
Brandon Lowe would be the greatest threat to Turnbull at this juncture. He owns a .884 OPS with 14 home runs, 14 doubles and three stolen bases.
The biggest knock on Lowe is his strikeout rate. He's already struck out 81 times in 222 at-bats, the second-most in the AL behind Domingo Santana, who has 86 strikeouts in 265 at-bats.
Lowe owns a 2.6 WAR and has been hot in June, so he would likely get the nod over Turnbull, especially since he plays for first-place Tampa Bay.
Ranking current AL ROY candidates
Turnbull is definitely in the discussion for AL Rookie of the Year, but right now, he probably isn't the frontrunner.
Here's how the voting would probably play out if the season ended today:
- Brandon Lowe
- John Means
- Spencer Turnbull
- Michael Chavis
- Ty Buttrey
Guerrero, Jimenez and Canning will likely have something to say about this award before the season ends, as all three were top prospects and have shown flashes of greatness.
But right now, the Tigers have to be happy with Turnbull's progress, especially in an otherwise rough season.
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