The Galarraga rotation debate

Let’s do an old Rob Neyer construct, Player A versus Player B:

Pitcher A:
Record: 3-1
GS: 6
IP: 40
ERA: 2.48
K/BB: 23/12
HR: 2
OPS against: .618

Pitcher B:
Record 3-1
GS: 6
IP: 35.1
ERA: 3.06
K/BB: 24/14
HR: 3
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.


  1. Eric Cioe

    May 19, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks, Billfer. I get so sick of the calls to send Nate to the bullpen. Finding guys who can give you 190 innings of average pitching isn’t as easy as it sounds. I know this because Carlos Silva is getting paid mega-dollars in Seattle right now to do jus that.

  2. Andrew Stein

    May 19, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I think the other issue with Galarraga is his stamina. In just about every start he’s had, he started to struggle after 80 pitches. They stretched him to 111 his last start but he still only made it through the 6th. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t an effective pitcher, but these various issues make me wonder if the pen isn’t the best place for him in the long run. Lets face it, Miner isn’t exactly pitching well and I think Galarraga could be valuable as a swingman if and when Rogers needs to skip a start, etc. Basically this year’s Chad Durbin.

  3. greg

    May 20, 2008 at 12:13 am

    Billfer wrote:

    Willis will replace Galarraga in the rotation and it is the right decision.


    Could be, it wouldn’t be a surprise, nor would it be a surprise to see them make Willis work things out in long relief either.

    The important thing is what the Tigers management is thinking, and you have to read between the lines, but the things I read yesterday seemed to leave the door open for other options besides immediately putting him back in the rotation. Not to mention that his leg(knee) appeared to be bothering him in his outing Saturday night. That could lead to a longer stint on the DL.

    I hope the Tigers haven’t fallen into the losing trap of playing guys based on salary instead of playing guys who will generate Wins. Such actions are the equivalent of sowing bad seeds, and the fruits you reap are: a) increasing the number in the L column b) enabling a sense of entitlement too many professional athletes already have.

    Not that starting Willis is the wrong move, but doing so SIMPLY because he’s paid more money is the wrong reason for any lineup decision.

    At the same time, Billfer makes a good point about losing a rotation spot after 1 start and 2 batters. However, if you look closer, his problems go deeper than that. His last 8 major league starts he’s sporting 30/30 K/BB ratio. Not to mention reports out of spring training were that his control problems visible at the end of 2007 had not improved, but had gotten worse.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand the case for starting Willis. I just don’t see it as a foregone conclusion. If I’m Leyland, I’m looking at the fact he entered the organization with serious question marks, and as a Tiger, he’s shown me no reason to have ANY confidence he’ll be competitive against major league hitters. Spring training and regular season combined he’s got 24 walks and 12 K’s. At the helm of a team in disarray, with the AL’s worst record, and LOOKING every bit like the worst team in baseball at the moment, I’m not going to remove the rotation’s only effective starter for guy who is struggling, and possibly hiding injuries.

  4. DavidBrennan

    May 20, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Hey, this sounds like a fun game!

    But wait a second….I think that I have an even better game!

    Pitcher G:
    Record 3-1
    GS: 6
    IP: 35.1
    ERA: 3.06
    K/BB: 24/14
    HR: 3

    Pitcher N:
    Record: 1-3
    GS: 6
    IP: 34 1/3
    ERA: 6.82
    K/BB: 27/9
    HR: 5

    Can you guess who these mystery men are? (There’s a clue mixed in there for the astute folks – and you’ll know that you’re astute if you found the original “mystery question” to be brilliantly insightful!)

    The first pitcher is Armando Galarraga, and the second pitcher is Nate Robertson. But wait, there’s a trick! These stats are taken from the first six starts….in the same actual year!!!

    Look, you can ape Rob Neyer to try and look insightful, but it’s kind of lame, and your argument was absurdly fallacious. Using your six-game-sample methodology, I’m pretty sure that I can make Brandon Inge look better than Alex Rodriguez (although that would take some real statistical digging) or Jeremy Bonderman look better than CC Sabathia (I’d throw my back out with that digging, but it could be done!)

    Anyway, your wasting your time campaigning for Nate Robertson because the Tigers can’t get rid of him, anyhow: they just signed him to a multi-year deal. On the other hand, everybody already knows that they can get rid of Rogers – several prominent Tigers writers and radio reporters have been calling for that for weeks now.

    So….who, exactly, were you arguing with?

  5. jason

    May 20, 2008 at 7:20 am

    We should DL one of the other pitchers when Willis is able to return. Pick one. It doesn’t matter, they pretty much all suck right now, and could use the time off for some re-tuning.

    I just think you have to ride out Galaraga’s “hot streak” here, if you infact think he is just an average, or below average pitcher.

    Sending him down, and then calling him up later, you may not get the same hot pitcher next time. We have struggling starters. Galaraga is useful right now. Why not take advantage?

  6. Kyle J

    May 20, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Using your six-game-sample methodology, I’m pretty sure that I can make Brandon Inge look better than Alex Rodriguez (although that would take some real statistical digging) or Jeremy Bonderman look better than CC Sabathia (I’d throw my back out with that digging, but it could be done!)

    Um, that’s the point. Galarraga looks like a better pitcher over the current six-start sample. His minor league record would indicate,however, that he’s not fundamentally better than Willis or Robertson–hence the decision to demote or move him to the bullpen is a good one.

  7. scotsw

    May 20, 2008 at 9:19 am

    You’re right Billfer.

    I mean, look how well it’s worked out sending Clete Thomas down, and going with Jones Sheffield er, Joyce/Thames in left!


  8. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 20, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I like Galaragga (who wouldn’t, under the circumstances?). He’s helped the team. Bright spot in a dark season. But the Tigers got Willis because they foresaw a return to form, and their confidence that this was going to happen was demonstrated by the contract they gave him. Willis is part of a keep winning strategy, not win now. So there’s no reason to rush him back into the rotation. And thus, the issue is not Galaragga vs. Willis, but Galaragga + Willis vs. what’s next.

    A questionable Willis is hardly the key to turning 17-27 around. I don’t see why the Tigers couldn’t have Galaragga and Willis rotating #5 starts for a while. In the meantime, something could happen with another starter.

    Nate Robertson is the Brandon Inge of the Tigers starters. Meaning both that I like him and wish he could stay, and also that the Tigers have waited long enough for him to rise above mediocre. The one advantage to trading Robertson over sitting Rogers is that the Tigers could get something for Robertson. But I don’t suppose that will happen, certainly not without a strong comeback from Willis.

    I just hope the Tigers have a clear plan for Galaragga, and don’t repeat what they did with Zach Miner.

  9. Scott

    May 20, 2008 at 9:50 am

    David …. take it easy on Billfer. The man does a hell of a job with this site …. disagree all you like, but don’t be a jerk about it.

    Actually, I’d like Galaragga to stay in the rotation until he proves he shouldn’t be there. Chances are that will happen for reasons that Billfer touched on. But I don’t think it makes sense to take him out while he is pitching relatively well and winning games. Toss Nate or Rogers in the bullpen for a few weeks and demote Minor or Dolsi.

  10. T Smith

    May 20, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Yes, that is the argument. But it’s also wrong. I’m all in favor of starting Willis, if … if, he can demonstrate in Toledo he can find the strike zone. If he can’t find the strike zone there is still an issue, whether it’s his knee or something else entirely. There was an issue before the extended knee that everyone seems to forget. Until Willis throws strikes, the stats be damned. He needs more rehabilitation. And Galarraga should be pitching until that happens, regardless of a hypothetical argument that has yet to manifest in reality.

    I also agree that Galarraga is likely over-achieving — I am by no means advocating a long term contract based on a six game sample. But what of it? How refreshing amid a group of under-achievers. Let him over achieve until the cows come home. Sooner or later he will get lit up and fall down to earth a bit. Yes. Or perhaps the league will figure him out and he will no longer be a viable candidate to replace a rehabilitating pitcher who can’t find the strike zone. Who knows? Then again, maybe he’s tweaked his game since his Texas days, improved, changed his technique, or corrected a problem. Maybe this is a case where Hernandez, or his counterpart in AAA deserves some credit. Again, who knows? All we do know for sure is that Galarraga has been solid and is currently this team’s best option to replace a pitcher who has yet to demonstrate he can find the strike zone.

    I also never was one who suggested Galarraga should replace one of the starters in the rotation. All I’m suggesting is that Willis is not ready. If you really want to protect your investment, figure out why this kid can’t throw strikes and correct it. Ah, preferably in Toledo please!

  11. Sam

    May 20, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I think Rogers should go to the Pen. There are several reasons for this:

    – Roger’s elbow is not going to hold up for 200 innings, he has a much better chance of avoiding the DL out of the Pen.

    – Rogers started his career in the pen and has a 3.29 career ERA as a reliever (vs. 4.34 as a starter).

    – He adds some much needed depth to the bullpen.


  12. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 20, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Not a bad idea, Sam. But the Tigers already have one Todd Jones. Do they need another? Not sure what you mean about bullpen depth.

  13. Kyle J

    May 20, 2008 at 11:27 am

    I mean, look how well it’s worked out sending Clete Thomas down, and going with Jones Sheffield er, Joyce/Thames in left!

    I’m all for sending Sheffield to the DL–and playing him in LF was clearly a mistake–but I’d also note that:

    (1) Thomas has hit .192 in Toledo. Maybe that’s a function of the disappointment of being demoted. More likely, he was playing a bit over his head at the major league level.

    (2) Joyce’s 4 HR have compensated pretty well for whatever production Thomas might have contributed.

  14. Mike in CT

    May 20, 2008 at 11:33 am

    This USA Today story just makes it all the more depressing…

  15. Kyle J

    May 20, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Just so I don’t get pegged as the guy who never finds any reason to go with a rookie over a veteran, I’d say we do have more than enough sample size to justify DLing/benching/releasing Sheffield, “who has hit .179 with four HRs and 18 RBI in 74 games since injuring his right shoulder last July.”

  16. jim-mt

    May 20, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Nate must be hurt, not tired. He almost botched an intentional walk with a wild pitch, then walked Randy Johnson with 2 outs. So he should be the one out of the starters–he might be better in long relief for 3-4 innings anyway.

  17. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 20, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Yes, Robertson might make a good long reliever. But the Tigers are paying him too much to settle for that. If he’s hurt, he shouldn’t be pitching at all.

  18. Dave BW

    May 20, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    DavidBrennan — Congrats on missing the point entirely.

  19. Sean C. in Illinois

    May 20, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Missing the point is a secondary concern when you have an axe to grind. I think our friend enjoys trying to begin discussions by way of insult.

  20. Neal in SD

    May 20, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Rambings for consideration.
    Just saw the article in the freep with Grilli. He could be right about the Chemistry, but, it doesn’t score runs, and Casey stunk last year and Inge couldn’t hit.
    Billfer’s right that AG will get hit, but, I don’t think you pull him until that happens. Willis isn’t right yet, not with 4BB’s in short stint, that lack of control will get him rocked in Detroit.
    I thought the Sheff deal was great when it happened, but he hasn’t been right since the shoulder injury. He has to go on the DL, then either surgery or rehab.
    I thought the Renteria trade was stupid, old SS – getting older, hadn’t hit well in the AL. Now his OPS is in between Eckstein’s and Vizquel’s. Whoa. We have no choice but to ride him out, although giving some more time to Santiago would good until he cools off, or Renteria gets hot. Same thing goes for Rayburn with Palanco, but he hasn’t been terrible.
    Just a question, can Guillen field at any position?? If not, then how bad was Cabera at third, and could he, or should he go back? We could then DH Guillen, bring up Hessman, or Larrish, or whoever we have as a prospect, or short term shot in the arm at 1st.
    I know Guillen is not as valuable at DH, but then neither is Caberra at 1st. Long term, can Caberra stay at 3rd, or was it a realization that pretty soon, if not already, he had outgirthed playing 3rd.
    Lastly, for want of a Left fielder the Kingdom was lost. Bite the bullet, sign Bonds, let him play left and DH, at least he is well rested, and the charges filed won’t be going anywhere fast. Now just kill with the response in how insane I am, and the chemistry thing is the big deal. BS.

    Keep AG in the rotation till he starts getting rocked. Willis comes only when he is ready and replaces whoever needs to be out of the rotation at that time.
    Guillen at DH mostly.
    Caberra back to 3rd.
    Santiago and Rayburn get more playing time.
    The biggie- Sign Bonds to sit in Left and DH.

  21. greg

    May 20, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Chemistry doesn’t score runs? Do you think guys that don’t get along are going to give each other tips to help their swing(or a million other things) that will lead to increased production?

  22. Scott

    May 20, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Renteria. He is only a marginal upgrade from Guillen at SS, well at least the Guillen of last year. This year, he might be a huge upgrade. The point is, the Tigers would have been better to sign Eckstein or some other slug that could field the position well and hold on to Jurjens. I know this sounds like hindsight, but I think most Tigers’ followers felt the same way. I think this was a Leyland getting his guy move.

    As I’ve said, the Tigers biggest problem is that they have a bunch of guys that really can’t play in the field. I would not move Miggy back to 3B … he’s absolutely brutal. Nor would I sign Bonds … he still has value as a hitter, but you think the Tigers have chemistry problems now ….

    None of the short term options are good ones. I think this team will play better and eventually get over .500, but not way over … 84-78ish.

    It will be an interesting off-season. Among the questions that have to be answered:

    1. Catcher (Inge?) – Please, Mr. Dombrowski, do not bring Pudge back under any circumstance.

    2. Third base

    3. Left Field – Tell Miggy to get in shape. If you could even get him to be serviceable, it would solve a lot of problems. You can promote Larish – a power left handed bat, which the Tigers need badly and a REAL first baseman.

    4. Eat Sheffield’s contract – He’s done.

    5. Don’t bring back Rogers – See above.

    6. Sign a starting pitcher

  23. Neal

    May 20, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Scott, I think we agree mostly.
    Eckstein isn’t really an improvement in the field however, I haven’t researched it, but what I’ve read says that his range is limited, as is his arm. My thought would be to groom a Big young SS that can field and throw, and then hope that he develops a hitter with power.
    I am in total agreement about Catching, but Inge isn’t much better, just more cost effective and versatile. Maybe let him split time with Wilson if he ever comes back.
    I really don’t know long term what we can do with Miggy and Carlos. If Miggy gets fully healthy could he play 3rd, we forget he is only 24?. Left is an option, but easier to find someone (well, usually).
    The only point I disagree with you on is about signing a starting pitcher. That is part of our problem, too many guys tying up spots that don’t allow someone to step up. We’re not that bad off with Rogers on a 1 year deal right now, we could eat that if necessary.

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