Detroit’s emergence as a title contender in the mid-2000s was swifter, more unpredictable, and ultimately more successful than anyone could have realized at the time.
For all of this success, however, general manager Dave Dombrowski has never quite been able to build a reliable starting rotation to complement his lavishly paid centerpiece, Justin Verlander. Jeremy Bonderman, Armando Galarraga, and Edwin Jackson are just a few of the pitchers whose time in Detroit proved to be all too ephemeral.
The dynamism of a great pitching rotation is one of the most difficult things for a GM to put together in baseball. However, even when he’s failed, Dombrowski has demonstrated a remarkable ability to transform his mistakes into opportunities. The best example of this is when he traded a package that included Andrew Miller, the sixth pick of the 2006 draft, for Miguel Cabrera. With the exception of Verlander and Rick Porcello, the Tigers’ front office has assembled the current rotation through the use of judicious, far-sighted trades, rather than the draft or free agency. This has established a consistent strategic pattern for the franchise, as both Anibal Sánchez and Doug Fister were acquired for expendable prospects. Max Scherzer, too, was one of the players acquired in a trade for Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson (a controversial move that, in retrospect, worked out well for Detroit).
Over the past 12 months, this collection of disparate talent has coalesced into one of baseball’s best rotations and certainly the most impressive Detroit has had statistically since the 2006 team. More than a month into the season, Detroit is tied for fifth in ERA (3.45), fourth in WHIP (1.21), and ranks second in strikeouts. The rotation has demonstrated its proclivity for making batters miss in a number of grandiose ways.
On April 26, for instance, Sánchez set a franchise record with 17 strikeouts in a single game. That was not the only impressive accomplishment of the season, as Verlander and Scherzer both recorded 12 strikeouts in back to back games — only the second time a pair of Detroit pitchers has ever reached that mark.
If Porcello can develop as a pitcher (and this remains a question mark), Detroit will have five reliable starters for the rest of the season, all of whom are still in their primes or just entering their primes. And the one thing that the franchise needs the most right now is some continuity at the pitching position.