Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | May 31, 2010

Willis Out, Scherzer In, and Rotation Seems Locked

Late Saturday Night the Detroit Tigers mercifully brought an end to the Dontrelle Willis era with the team.   The epitaph on Willis’ three-year tenure in Detroit will read as follows:

24 GP, 22 GS, 101 IP, 6.86 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 8.2 BB/9, Opponents OBP .415

Willis’ best season in Detroit was the 2010 season, but the numbers in this year thus far weren’t much better than what is listed above.  His WHIP was 1.78 and his BB/9 was 6.  I was highly skeptical of Willis’ ability to provide much to the 2010 team, and it now appears that the Tigers brass has adopted the same level of skepticism, designating Willis for assignment.   In so doing, they have ten days (now nine) to trade him or release him.  There is the third option of sending him to the minors, which Willis would have to accept based on his level of service time — But all parties have essentially all but agreed that Willis would not accept the assignment, preferring to opt out and become a free agent.

Willis is truly one of the game’s good guys.  I’ve written before about his bringing Christmas gifts to school children shortly after being traded to Detroit.  On a personal level, it is sad that it came to this and I sincerely hope he can turn it around for another team.   That said, it was long past time for the Tigers to make this move and it is a very good thing that they have made it.

In designating Willis for assignment the Tigers have brought Max Scherzer back into the fold after he dominated in two starts for Toledo, solving his mechanical issues and finding the stuff that made him such a highly touted prospect for Arizona.  He quickly rewarded the Tigers faith by striking out 14 batters in 5 2/3 innings.   As is par for the course for Scherzer, it was the pitch counts that did him in — Pitch efficiency continues to be a weakness and may be for the foreseeable future, if not permanently — However when he was actually in the game his stuff was electric and the Oakland Athletics were simply overmatched.

The move creates a Tigers rotation of Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, and Armando Galarraga.   That is probably the best group they could possibly field at this point (though I’m not entirely sold that Alfredo Figaro wouldn’t be a better choice than Galarraga) and while they are once again without a left-handed starting pitcher, I suspect that if the Tigers stay in the race (and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t at the moment) we will see a move for another lefty starter in July, similar to the Washburn deal (but with hopefully better results).  

Save for Galarraga, the current rotation looks primed to meet or exceed their pre-season expectations.   After a rough start to the season, Verlander has come into form.   Porcello has pitched well all season long but has been victimized by a .348 BABIP in spite of his league average line drive rate and above average ground ball rate.   It is reasonable to expect that his “baseball card numbers” will improve as his fortune normalizes.   Bonderman seems to get stronger and better with each passing start and is quietly returning to the form that earned him his high dollar contract in the first place (8.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9).  He’s getting very slightly lucky on balls in play and more substantially lucky on home run balls, but keeping his K/BB ratio at roughly 2.5 will help him remain effective.  He needs to limit the hard hit balls if he wants to remain successful, but for now he’s not pitching too far over his head.   Galarraga is a AAAA pitcher who right now is dutifully earning that fourth “A” until the Tigers can get some more help.    When the season began I perceived one of the Tigers strengths to be the top end of their rotation and now that Bonderman appears to not be a bust, I’m even more confident in their rotation than at year’s start.   However, to this point in the year it hasn’t been their greatest strength.   As the water begins to find its level, it does appear that it becomes a strength more with each week.  It would not be shocking for this trend to continue.



  1. Hi, Glad to see Scherzer back, and Bonderman as well. If they stay healthy and pitch up to their potential, the Tigers could end up playing meaningful games in September! Nice post, Bill

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