Analysis: Breaking down today’s roster decisions

Today’s roster decisions pretty much wrapped up nearly 2 months (and in some cases even more) of speculation. There is one spot yet to be decided. That will go to either Jeff Larish or Brent Clevlen, though the Tigers are reportedly in trade talks with the Pirates regarding Clevlen. (ironically, or at least coincidentally, such a trade would displace former Tiger Craig Monroe) But with 96% of the roster decided we shift our guessing from personnel to performance.

Rick Porcello

Certainly the most notable of the roster decisions was the installment of Rick Porcello into the rotation. The move is both controversial, and exciting at the same time. While I’m not generally a proponent of “rushing” pitchers I’m on board.

The downside of bringing Porcello up is that he may not be ready. The Tigers have invested substantially in Porcello and ruining him would be a disaster. They were very careful with his workload last year in an effort to try and keep him healthy in his first professional season.

But unlike Andrew Miller (who I did contest was rushed), Porcello has multiple pitches that are good enough for the big league level. He fanned fewer than 6 batter per inning, which isn’t good. But he did that as a 19 year old in High A ball and a power sinker that drove ball after ball into the ground kept his ERA at 2.66.

The low K-rate hurt Porcello in the eyes of PECOTA (6.52 ERA), which is certainly understandable and something that shouldn’t just be dismissed. I actually don’t know if PECOTA takes into account groundball/flyball ratios. But it’s also worth noting that Porcello’s ERA should benefit from an infield featuring Brandon Inge, Adam Everett, and Placido Polanco.

The other concern is workload. I’ve argued that if you’re concerned about innings accumulation why not use Porcello now instead of later in the season? A refrain I’ve heard is “the Tigers won’t shut him down if he’s effective and they’re contending.” I’m sorry, but I don’t see that as a concern. Porcello performing well and the Tigers contending would be wonderful news – not a negative.

It sounds like the goal is to have Porcello pitch about 160 innings and throw 100-110 pitches per game (a figure I’m confident they would work up to), which as Dave Dombrowski points out can be managed at the big league level as well as the minor league level.

And quite frankly, Porcello (aided by Bonderman’s injury) out pitched his competition. It’s a risk, but in a wide open division, it is a risk worth taking.

Zach Miner

Miner struggled considerably early in the preseason, and once his shot at starting was nearly eliminated, he turned it up a notch. Miner will probably bounce between the pen and the rotation throughout the season, as he has throughout his career. With Bonderman’s return looming, he’ll be pitching against Porcello to try and stay in the rotation.

Nate Robertson

Robertson’s spring was up and down. He started rough, turned in a couple of very good performances as he became more left handed, and then sprained his thumb. He struggled yesterday in the rain, but Jim Leyland said he wasn’t going to hold it against Nate. That may have kept Robertson on the team, but relegated him to the pen, a place where Robertson doesn’t feel comfortable.

Given the uncertainty in the rotation, having Robertson around, even just to potentially eat innings, is a move worth making. Part of me also wonders if Robertson in the pen is a Leyland/Dombrowski compromise. Where Porcello got to make the team to help the short leashed skipper, but the GM wasn’t ready to cut bait with Robertson.

Ryan Perry/Juan Rincon/Eddie Bonine

There are 3 very different stories here, but a common theme. Perry is last year’s first round pick. A pick at the time that seemed like one who could even bolster the Tigers pen last year. The fact he’s made the team as a reliever isn’t shocking because his exposure can be limited. Rincon is the NRI trying to regain his pre-2007 form as a very good set-up man. Bonine is a middling prospect who doesn’t have a clear role defined.

But the common theme, and one that has been evident in each of these decisions, is that they earned it on the field. Each of these guys were longshots for the team, and pitched their way in. For those who thought last year’s squad had too much of a sense of entitlement, this should be refreshing. Of the players cut, only Clay Rapada and Casey Fien would really have an argument, and even then it would be more of a discussion.

Now the flip side to this is that too much shouldn’t be placed into spring training statistics. But the decisions being made (with the possible exception of Robertson) aren’t being made because of contracts.


  1. rings

    April 1, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Rincon is going to HELP us this year…that, to me, is the biggest certainty and “find” of the off-season.

  2. David

    April 2, 2009 at 2:19 am

    Yup, I agree him and possibly Edwin Jackson, h3ll even Josh Anderson was a shrewd move at a pretty low cost.

  3. Rick G

    April 2, 2009 at 7:12 am

    D-Backs Waived Skelton, but it looks like they’re trying to work out a trade with Dombrowski to keep him. If we can’t get a good starting pitcher prospect for him, hopefully we get him back.

  4. briggs45

    April 2, 2009 at 10:01 am

    I was hoping one of the many knowlegable Tiger bloggers out there could help me out. I’m going to the exhibition games in Atlanta this weekend, and I was wondering who the starting pitchers will be and who is slated to pitch in relief. I want to see Perry pitch. I don’t think I’ll make it to a game this year, I’m shipwrecked in Myrtle Beach.

  5. jud

    April 3, 2009 at 1:48 am

    this is a very decent roster…when you consider all the career lows ,injuries,bad luck etc. last year. This team should be better because it is 2009.
    Many new bullpen faces..much improved defense..
    To a person we would be totally happy if Bondo was in and Porcello getting more mature in the minors. But for the most part it sounds like most of us are pretty satisfied with this team.