The Detroit Tigers looked like one of the most dominant teams in baseball at the start of the 2014 season but over the past month they has been struggling.
The Tigers were rolling in every way possible early on, especially in the fact that their starting pitching was lights out for the first few weeks of the season. Since then, the starting rotation has not been nearly as effective, and closer Joe Nathan, who the team signed in the offseason, has been awful thus far in his ninth inning duties.
Detroit has had its fair share of closer issues the past few seasons. The struggles of Nathan are nothing new for the Tigers and in the past few years they have had problems finding a closer that they can bring in late in games with confidence. They have relied on Jose Valverde and Phil Coke in recent years to be the teams closer, but both failed to get the job done.
The Tigers have never really had a true closer that they can rely on, and have total confidence in when they hand the ball over in the ninth inning of a close game. Valverde once was a perfect 49-49 in save opportunities for Detroit back in 2011, but blew a few saves in the postseason, and that carried over into the next season. The Tigers later released Valverde because the ninth inning woes just seemed to continue. They eventually turned to Coke, but he was no better.
Detroit seems as if they are in win-now mode, and with their recent struggles, they are looking like a team that could possibly struggle to win the American League Central Division, which they have won each of the past two seasons.
One reason for their struggles is because of the ace, Justin Verlander who is having the worst year of his major league career. Verlander currently holds nearly a 5.00 ERA (4.98), an overall record of 6-7, with just 69 strikeouts, in over 97 innings of work. Verlander has not been effective at all so far this season, and has statistically been the worst Detroit pitcher in the teams starting rotation.
With the continuing struggles of the bullpen, and the struggles of Verlander, could it be time for the Tigers to make a huge move to possibly improve the teams chances in the long-run? The move that could make the biggest, and most positive impact for a Detroit team that wants to win the World Series now, is to make Verlander the teams closer.
Though, this idea may seem like a long shot, because of the money they are paying Verlander, Detroit has the pieces to make this move, and have it work. With one of the best starting rotations in the game, even with the struggles of Verlander, the Tigers could easily make this switch. This change would leave Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly in the starting rotation. Detroit could once again call up Robbie Ray to fill the open spot at the back end of the rotation. Ray was called up earlier this season when Sanchez was on the DL, and did a serviceable job during his time. This move would still give the Tigers three solid starters in Scherzer, Sanchez, and Porcello, along with giving them two lefties at the back end of the rotation, with Smyly and Ray, and giving the team an electric arm to turn to in a close game.
Verlander has been great in the early innings of games, but in his last three outings, Verlander has given up a total of 16 runs in the fourth inning or later. Imagine with the stuff that Verlander has, handing the ball to him, just to give the team one or two good innings where the pitcher has thrived in the past, with the game on the line, in tight situations.
The move makes sense as there has been starting pitchers turned closers in the past, most notably Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, who spend his first 14 seasons as a starter, before he went to Oakland to become one of the most dominant closers in MLB history. Not to mention, future Hall of Famer John Smoltz was also a starter turned closer.
With the way Verlander has been pitching this season, seemingly running out of gas the longer he pitches,the change can be made. Te Tigers are in desperate need of a spark, or change to propel the team to a third consecutive division title, and World Series run. Detroit has the pieces to make the move, and it is a small risk, for what could possibly turn out as a huge reward.