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Mensching: Tough to predict how new Tiger starters will fare

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News
Shane Greene had a 3.78 ERA and 1.40 WHIP over 78.2 innings lase season with the Yankees.

A year ago it wasn't an outlandish claim to say the Tigers had the best starting pitching in baseball. Sure you could quibble a bit whether it was truly the Tigers -- or if the Nationals had the edge. But with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez as a starting point to go along with an experienced and improving Rick Porcello, pitching in Detroit looked pretty special.

Today you would no longer want to make that argument. The Tigers no doubt have name brands, with former Cy Young Award winner David Price taking the outgoing Scherzer's spot in the rotation. Yet with Verlander and Sanchez looking a lot more human, and starters Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene coming in as wild cards at the back end of the rotation, discretion is the better part of valor.

That isn't to say this rotation isn't good, or that it couldn't prove to be near the best in the game. We just don't really know what's going to happen. That's kind of frightening but also kind of exciting.

Greene is the more exciting of the two new faces. A scout told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal that Greene may be another Doug Fister, the player whose trade results in even more grumbles now than it did the day if occurred.

Alfredo Simon took a tumble in the second half of 2014.

The question here is what set of stats to believe. The 26-year-old right-hander's minor league career was largely forgettable outside a 14-game stint in Double A in 2013. He never made any list of top prospects, nor did he crack Baseball America's top 10 lists inside the Yankees organization.

He spent a half-season in the Bronx this year and looked like he belonged, recording more strikeouts than innings pitched and finishing the season with a 3.78 ERA, in line with the 3.73 FIP (fielding independent pitching) expectation.

The problem lies in projecting what's going to happen next year. His minor league portfolio suggests what happened with the Yankees may be more a sample size fluke, but Fister was never all that good in the minors either. The eye test of many suggests the Tigers have done well in the acquisition, but only a full season in the big leagues will tell.

Then we have Simon, whose first half in 2014 shined with a 2.70 ERA. But he struggled in second half, leaving him with a 3.44 ERA for the season. Simon had been a great reliever for the prior two years, allowing for the suggestion he simply ran out of gas as his innings climbed. If you buy into that, you have reason to be optimistic for next season.

On the other hand, Simon's almost been the anti-Porcello. You'd like to see improvement in his peripheral stats -- things a pitcher can control. Yet his FIP has steadily climbed from 3.19 in 2014 to 4.33 last season. That's a trend that doesn't bode well for his future ERA.

We just don't know though, and you should beware of anyone who comes with too much confidence in their ability to foresee the future.

Neither starter should feel too much pressure to keep the ship afloat, however. Truly the Tigers' fate next season rests with three shoulders: those of Verlander, Sanchez and Price -- and especially Verlander's. If Verlander can't revert to his pre-injury self, all the changes at the back end of the rotation are little more than cosmetic. Without his resurgence, the Tigers are going to be in trouble.

The potential is there for Detroit's rotation to again be among the best in baseball, but all the stars will have to align for that to happen.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.