Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pitching

The Tigers have pitching and lots of it. Since Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson are now back and rookie league ball has opened play this past week, let's talk a little bit about the Tigers current and future pitchers. Who better to start with than the 2 young studs of the rotation, Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman.

Justin Verlander - 24 years old, RHP. You might have noticed that he tossed a no hitter last week. What you might not have noticed is that his strikeout rate has been steadily climbing this year which is a phenomenal sign for the future of this star in the making. Last year, Justin put up good W/L and ERA numbers, but his K numbers were very mundane. You might say, so what? But strikeout rates are excellent predictors of future success. It was a bit of a strange stat, however, because Verlander had excellent strikeout numbers in both college and the minors and it looks like he has finally regained the magic touch.

2007 stats: 9-2, 2.78 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.89 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9

What this means for the future? I believe it is spelled A-C-E. The kid is holding opponents to a paltry .213/.299/328 hitting line this year which is awesome for a 24 year old. If he continues to get better, their will be multiple Cy Youngs in his future.


Jeremy Bonderman - 24 years old, RHP. If Verlander has been Batman this year, Bonderman is definitely Robin. He got no luck in his first five starts with all no decisions, but now he is getting the run support and has run off 8 consecutive victories. Once again this year, he's a little bit snake bit from the defense putting up excellent peripheral stats but struggling just a bit with the ERA. The good news is, though, that he just keeps getting better every single year.

2007 stats: 8-0. 4.01 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.92 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9

What this means for the future? He better wear shades it's so bright. His season long numbers are nearly identical to Verlander's which is scary good. I mean 4.5 strikeouts for every walk? Puts him in elite company. If he ever figures out how to throw a good change consistently, he might have an even higher ceiling than Verlander (if that's even possible). As for now, Verlander appears to be putting it together after his no-no so I'll give him the teeniest edge.


Andrew Miller - 22 years old, LHP. This kid is likely the future 3rd member of a dominant trio alongside Verlander and Bonderman (Millanderman?). Tonight, he'll make his 4th big league start in Atlanta on ESPN's game of the week. He's a big kid with a good fastball and a great slider. His forte is inducing groundballs, but he can also get the punch out.

2007 stats: 2-1, 3.63 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 6.75 K/9, 4.67 BB/9, 1.56 HR/9

What it means for the future? Miller will likely get hit a little bit this year. He also still needs to work on his control. But his kid has a future as a strikeout and groundout machine from the leftside which blends in nicely with the righthanded power arms the Tigers already have.


Kenny Rogers - 42 years old, LHP. The Gambler was last seen in October hurling 23 consecutive shutout innings in one of the greatest single postseason performances I have ever seen by a pitcher. He missed the first 2.5 months of the season after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot from his left arm. Yesterday, he returned with a vengeance to the Tigers rotation hurling 6 shutout innings.

2007 stats: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP, 7.50 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9

What it means for the future? Kenny might not have many years left for the Tigers (is this his last?) but he has plenty of gas in the tank to be a very good pitcher in 2007. The past few years he has done better in the first half of the season before faltering down the stretch. Considering he is just now getting going, it isn't unreasonable to think he might be able to power through the rest of the season with his A stuff. He also is a great resource for the youngsters in the rotation and I suspect he'll have some excellent teaching points for Andrew Miller.


Nate Robertson - 29 years old, LHP. Coming into this season, Nasty Nate had lowered his ERA in each of his first 5 seasons in the bigs. In 2007, he got off to a hot start before getting shelled in May. A stint on the 15 day DL for a "dead arm" is over and he'll back in the rotation this week. Will he return to his old self? Well, 6 innings of no hit ball in AA suggest he will which would be excellent news for the team.

2007 stats: 4-6, 5.07 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 4.66 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, 1.23 HR/9

What does it mean for the future? I think it is quite likely that Nate did have a dead arm and if he gets his stuff back he should return to being a very good left handed starter capable of an ERA around 4.00 and some decent strikeout numbers. If not, he might be trade bait this offseason.


Chad Durbin - 29 years old, RHP. The Durbinator had a good 2006 for the Mudhens and basically took Kenny Rogers spot in the rotation this year. His MLB career to date was nothing to write home about, however he has been a major bright spot in 2007 for the Tigers even allowing them to trade both Mike Maroth and Wil Ledezma.

2007 stats: 6-3, 4.37 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.71 K/9, 3.44 BB/9, 1.38 HR/9

What this means for the future? He's got himself a spot locked down as a long reliever and spot starter with his quality work this year.


Zach Miner - 25 years old, RHP. It's hard to believe this kid is only 25, but he is and he is actually a pretty good pitcher. He has worked out of the pen this year after being the #5 starter last year, but his numbers are even better this year.

2007 stats: 0-1, 2.38 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 7.15 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9

What this means for the future? Sure it's only been a little over 11 innings out of the pen this year, but Miner is a keeper. His career ERA now sits at 4.57 and for a ground ball pitcher his 2/1 K/BB ratio over his career is very nice. He is a solid player and would be a nice #5 starter for nearly any team in the league. As it stands, he is just another cog in the Tigers pitching machine.

How about off to the minor leagues now? Apologies to guys like Eugolio De La Cruz and Joel Zumaya, but your future is in the bullpen and I'm not talking about that today.

Jon Connolly - 23 years old, LHP, Toledo Mudhens. This lefty has already been traded once from the Tigers and then resigned as a free agent. This year, he has regained some confidence and has pitched well between Erie and Toledo.

2007 stats (combined): 4-3, 3.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 6.08 K/9, 2.22 BB/9, 0.70 HR/9

What this means for the future? All around, those are excellent numbers for a 23 year old between AA and AAA. He has really been tough to hit and has also shown excellent control. He is making quite a resurgence this year on the prospect lists and now probably has to be considered one of the better young pitchers in the Tigers organization. He will, however, need to show this isn't a fluke by continuing to pitch well in the 2nd half because thse numbers are significantly better than 2006 across the board.


Virgil Vasquez - 24 years old, RHP, Toledo Mudhens. Virgil got called up to make 1 start for Detroit this year and got shelled. Fortunately, he has been doing much better in Toledo.

2007 stats: 7-2, 4.37 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.42 K/9, 2.64 BB/9, 1.61 HR/9

What it means for the future? Virgil is a good pitching prospect. He doesn't have dominant stuff, but still strikes out a ton of batters. You'll notice his K rate is the highest of any player listed thus far. However, his HR allowed rate is also the highest and he has never been known as a ground ball pitcher. Doesn't seem like a super high ceiling kind of guy, but he could blossom into a solid #3 starter in the bigs in 3-4 years. Then again, that would probably make him a #5 at best in Detroit so he could definitely be trade bait.


Jordan Tata - 25 years old, RHP, Toledo Mudhens. Tata was a very good pitching prospect last year, but he missed the first 2 months of this season with injury. He's back now, and slowly getting his stuff back.

2007 stats: 1-1, 3.91 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 3.91 K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 1.56 HR/9

What it means for the future? Depends on how he bounces back the rest of the year. If he keeps improving and gets back to where he was last year, he's as good as Vasquez. His numbers through 5 starts, however, are not very good in the K or BB areas. We'll have to wait and see how the 2nd half of the year goes.


Jair Jurrjens - 21 years old, RHP, Erie Seawolves. This kid has always been very young for his age. He has also thrived on excellent control thus far in his minor league career.

2007 stats: 2-3, 3.80 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.10 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 0.27 HR/9

What it means for the future? Jair is walking a few more batters this year which is making his WHIP suffer. He is, however, nearly impossible to hit a HR off allowing only 2 through 66 1/3 innings on the season so far. Last year he only allowed 11 through 140 innings so this isn't really a fluke. He has fallen off a little from his past performance, but he's still really young and the strikeout rate isn't bad and the HR rate is amazing. Still gotta think of him as a very good pitching prospect.


Dallas Trahern - 21 years old, RHP, Erie Seawolves. This kid is a groundball specialist from the right side. He has steadily moved through the Tigers system and now finds himself quite young for the Eastern League and still performing well. In all actuality, he has actually played better this year than in the past and is really moving up in the prospect world.

2007 stats: 10-3, 3.25 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 4.87 K/9, 2.64 BB/9, 0.51 HR/9

What it means for the future? You can tell by his WHIP and K numbers that his ERA has been a little on the lucky side. However, he has pretty good control and his insane ground ball rate helps keep the HRs to a bare minimum. Considering his age and the league, he has put himself up alongside some of the best pitching prospects in the organization.


Christopher Cody - 23 years old, LHP, Lakeland Tigers. This steady lefty out of Manhattan College just got the move up to Lakeland from West Michigan. It's well deserved as he was tearing up the Midwest League. He's still a bit old for Lakeland, but if he tears it up he'll be in Erie or Toledo next season.

2007 stats (MWL) - 5-5, 1.77 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.07 K/9, 1.48 BB/9, 0.10 HR/9

What it means for the future? Hard to say. He flat out dominated in the Midwest League with scary good numbers across the board. Then again, he is 23 and should be dominating that level of competition in a very good pitchers park. But the park has nothing to do with those K and BB numbers. If he puts up big numbers in Lakeland this year, he might be the real deal. Not like Verlander/Zumaya/Miller good, but very good (especially for a lefty).


Lucas French - 21 years old, LHP, Lakeland Tigers. He isn't as dominant as Cody, but he's 2 years younger and has spent the whole year in Lakeland already.

2007 stats - 4-5, 3.74 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 6.35 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9

What it means for the future? He's got pretty good numbers at an age appropriate league and he's a 6'4" lefthander. Sounds like a solid MLB prospect to me.


Ramon Garcia - 22 years old, LHP, West Michigan. This kid just made his 2007 debut after missing the 2nd half of 2006 and the first 2 months of 2007 with arm problems (I don't recall the details). In 2006, he dominated the Midwest League as much as Cody did this year (and he was 2 years younger) with a 1.92 ERA and 5 times as many Ks as BBs.

2007 stats: 0-1, 27.00 ERA, 3.86 WHIP, 3.86 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, 3.86 HR/9

What it means for the future? It will be interesting to see if he can regain his touch from last year. He as obviously brilliant in 2006, but got rocked in his first start of 2007. I have no idea how likely it is that he can once again find his dominating stuff.


That's about it for the Tigers major pitching prospects at this point. There are other guys out there like Jonah Nickerson that still have a lot to prove before getting mentioned with these players.

As it stands right now, I'd rank the Tigers minor league pitching prospects as follows (not including Andrew Miller who is up to stay):

1) Virgil Vasquez
2) Dallas Trahern
3) Jair Jurrjens
4) Jon Connolly
5) Christopher Cody
6) Jordan Tata
7) Ramon Garcia
8) Lucas French

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