The starting pitching rotation was arguably the best unit on the 2012 Tigers. Justin Verlander once again led the way at the front of the rotation, Doug Fister was solid as usual and Max Scherzer had perhaps his best season as a Major Leaguer. Rick Porcello turned in what would amount to an average season but showed flashes of the potential that still remains with him. Drew Smyly showed some promise out of the fifth starters spot in his rookie season and went on to pitch well out the bullpen in the postseason. The rotation received a new addition in July with the acquisition of Anibal Sanchez. Though he struggled during his first few weeks as a Tiger, Sanchez was very strong at the end of the season and during the postseason.
Overall the rotation posted a combined 3.76 ERA and an 8.19 K/9. The strong performance continued during the post season with the unit posting an ERA of 1.86.
Deeper Dive: Porcello's Potential
There are two sides of the argument when looking at Rick Porcello's 2012 season. On one, Porcello did a number of positive things in 2012; posting a strong ground ball/fly ball rate of 2.36, a very good walk rate at 2.25 per 9 innings, and for the second straight year made at least 30 starts.
There is however the other side to Porcello's season. The one that saw him post a below average 5.46 K/9 and allow an American League high 226 hits, which contributed to an overall high WHIP of 1.53. There was also concern of him tiring or losing effectiveness as he went deeper into games, as he posted an OPS against of .953 when he faced hitters the third time through the order.
Heading into the 2013 season it is reasonable to expect that Porcello could be in line for his best season as a Tiger. While his K/9 rate was low, it did improve for the third straight season. His average fastball velocity increased from 90.2 to 92.3. One of the main reasons that points to an improved 2013 season for Porcello is his BABIP of .344 he posted in 2012 (the highest in baseball) will almost surely come down, as it was over 30 points above his career and league average.
Deeper Dive: Scherzer Turned the Corner?
One of the more important keys to the 2013 season could end up being Max Scherzer. Since the trade to acquire him, Scherzer has always shown signs of being a dominant pitcher but lacked the consistency over the course of the season.
2012 was certainly the best season of Scherzer's career. He led the league in strikeouts per 9 innings, maintained a low walk rate and posted a very respectable 3.74 ERA. A big plus was Scherzer's average fastball velocity increasing over one MPH.
However once again there were some issues surrounding Scherzer's 2012 season. His pre and post all-star break numbers are very contrasting, posting a 4.72 ERA before the break and a 2.69 after. In fact over the last three years combined Scherzer has a 4.67 ERA pre all-star break and a 3.03 ERA after. There too was some concern at the end of the season regarding his health and again this spring has he has been slowed by some minor shoulder discomfort. Scherzer is entering his age 28 season, which means he's reaching his prime for Major Leaguers. Ideally for the Tigers this should be the type of season where Scherzer finally puts together a strong performance from beginning to end.
The top four spots in the Tigers rotation are set heading into 2013. The battle still remains with the fifth spot between Porcello and Smyly. Both pitchers offer their own set of strengths and concerns for the Tigers.
The biggest question could come as to what to do with the loser of the competition. Do they become the long reliever, trade bait or in Smyly's case start the season at Toledo? Regardless of who wins the fifth starter's spot, the rotation should be one of the best in all of baseball. Should the team opt to keep both Porcello and Smyly in the organization, the team would have a quality sixth starter to rely upon if needed.
Lefties Casey Crosby and Duane Below also provide depth within the organization. Looking past 2013 the Tigers will have the core of their rotation under club control for 2014 as well. After 2014 is when the big question looms regarding Justin Verlander's impending free agency and his future with the Tigers, in addition to Scherzer and Fister approaching free agency.