ESPN's Olney ranks Tigers rotation at No. 6 in majors

The Detroit News

Tigers still could have one of the best rotations in the majors this season.

Just not the best. Not anymore, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

Olney has the Tigers rotation at No. 6 in his rankings (pay site), with two important "X factors" outstanding: Max Scherzer's free agency, and Justin Verlander's diminished velocity.

"As of today, Scherzer is not part of that (rotation)," Olney wrote, "and some folks who've dealt with the Tigers are convinced Detroit has moved on and is prepared to go with its current five-man group ..."

Olney also notes Verlander's gradual dip in fastball velocity, from 95.6 in 2009 to 93.1 in 2014, as well as his offseason core-muscle surgery last offseason.

"Verlander has thrown more than 30,000 pitches in regular-season games in his career, and inevitably, that workload will manifest itself," Olney wrote, "it might be that Verlander's days as one of the two or three best pitchers in the majors are over. But if Verlander returns to being a good pitcher, in the same rotation as David Price, Anibal Sanchez and the newly acquired Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, Detroit could have an elite rotation again."

Topping Olney's list are the Nationals, who of course boast a familiar name in former Tigers pitcher Doug Fister, along with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann.

Another former Tiger, Drew Smyly, is a key cog in the Rays rotation, which checks in on Olney's list just behind the Tigers at No. 7.