Let’s do an old Rob Neyer construct, Player A versus Player B:
OPS against: .618
OPS against: .571
Pitcher B is Armando Galarraga in his first 6 starts this season. An impressive display for a team that needed some quality starting pitching. Pitcher A is Nate Robertson in his first 6 starts last season. Now why would I bring this up? Because even an average-ish starter can string 6 nice starts together. Galarraga has decent minor league numbers, but far from overpowering numbers and stuff. This was a player for whom the best offer the Rangers could get is a player the Tigers signed out of a try out camp – and he had an option left.
Dontrelle Willis has at most one more rehab start in the minors and it’s no coincidence that his rehab starts have coincided with Galarraga’s big league starts. Willis will replace Galarraga in the rotation and it is the right decision.
Yes, you can argue that Galarraga hasn’t done anything to warrant losing his spot and I can’t say you’re wrong. He also did little to get the spot in the first place other than have Willis slip. And with one start and 2 batters I think it’s a little early to say that Willis pitched himself out of the rotation. Yes I’d like to see more control and better results during his time with Toledo, but the Tigers need to see if Willis can be successful and right or wrong his contract dictates that he isn’t going to get Wally Pipp’d.
As for removing another Tigers starter from the rotation, it ain’t going to be Justin Verlander who if he doesn’t return to form would render this discussion moot. And Jeremy Bonderman has managed to post a decent ERA despite awful peripherals. Nate Robertson is the starter with the best walk rate and an acceptable strike out rate. Not to mention that 2 of the aforementioned 3 have new multi-year deals.
That leaves one starter who Galarraga could reasonably supplant and that is Kenny Rogers. Rogers has walked more than he’s fanned and has generally been hit hard as he’s struggled to find the corners. Rogers is also on a one year deal meaning the longer term ramifications are lessened – aside from that whole “he’s like another pitching coach” business. And the Tigers aren’t going to dump Rogers this soon in the season.
Galarraga has been a pleasant surprise, but he’s also been a little lucky. His .180 batting average on balls in play is hardly sustainable even with a good defense. So his ERA is going to climb. I’m appreciative of what he’s done and it sucks that he’ll lose his spot. But the Tigers won’t bail on Kenny Rogers this soon. And while Jim Leyland would like to send Galarraga to the bullpen I think it is a pretty short sighted move. If Rogers continues to struggle, or in the event a starter goes down with injury (anyone notice Nate grab his back after one of his swings?), it would be nice to have someone to entrust a handful of starts to.