Justin Verlander ranks third among Tiger starters in strikeouts per nine innings at 8.51. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
A former Cy Young Award winner asked to move to the bullpen for the benefit of his team? What is this, 2012?
Last year, the Giants chose to move a struggling Tim Lincecum to the bullpen rather than risk keeping him in the playoff rotation. That, apparently, is all the precedent necessary to set off suggestions that the Tigers make the same move with Justin Verlander.
MLB Network analyst Brian Kenny posted on his Twitter account that a suggestion he heard was a “great idea. … Verlander to ’pen. Really. Let him be this year's Lincecum.” Kenny added the hashtag “SuperReliever” for emphasis.
Well, it’s probably not going to happen, and it would be a little bit ridiculous if it did.
There are more than a few things differences between the two players, and not one of them indicates that Verlander ought to be in the bullpen.
Lincecum clearly was not one of the best four pitchers in the Giants’ rotation last year. With an ERA of 5.18 for the season and allowing 12 runs across his final 10 innings of the year, Lincecum essentially pitched himself out of the postseason rotation.
The player who replaced him, Barry Zito, allowed eight runs across his final five starts of that season.
Either by the theory of going with the hotter hand or by looking at season stats, Zito over Lincecum made sense.
Compare that to Verlander’s situation. Even if we all agree Verlander isn’t having a good year by his standards, we at least have to acknowledge it’s still a pretty good year by most players’ standards.
Verlander’s ERA of 3.66 ranks 18th among AL starters. His Fielding Independent Pitching stat, a measurement of outcomes that a pitcher can control, ranks 10th at 3.44. Verlander is just behind Indians ace Justin Masterson in that regard.
Among the AL’s starting pitchers who’ll be in the postseason, statistically Verlander is ahead of both John Lackey and Jon Lester of the Red Sox.
You can point out the Tigers are 3-9 in Verlander’s starts in the second half, but that goes beyond his pitching.
After all, the Tigers even managed to lose a game in which Verlander allowed no runs. They’ve also lost another he gave up two runs and two games he allowed three.
So it’s not all his fault here.
Beyond the Giants’ success in 2012, the only reason at all anyone is discussing sending Verlander to the bullpen is that the Tigers’ rotation has been so effective this year.
Anibal Sanchez has a 2.51 ERA -- and he’s not even the Tigers’ best bet to win the Cy Young award, because Max Scherzer is his teammate.
Doug Fister has a worse ERA for the year than Verlander, 3.71, though he has improved lately with a 3.25 second half.
And then there’s Rick Porcello -- probably the true source of this debate. The Tigers have won five of his last six starts, but even then his second-half ERA is 3.81.
The Tigers only need four of those players in their playoff rotation. They’re going to be getting a pretty good reliever added to the postseason bullpen. So at least this is a win-win debate.
It’s probably going to be Porcello who heads to the ’pen, by the way. That’s fine, during the past two postseasons he’s been pretty effective. Verlander has never pitched in relief in his life.
Verlander probably shouldn’t start the first game of the postseason. Scherzer or Sanchez deserve that honor. But to send Verlander to the ’pen in order to pitch in a handful of innings would make little sense for a Tigers team trying to win the World Series.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.