Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers TigsTown Roundtable: Rotation Replacement for Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey?

Given their struggles through the first two months of the season, would you look to replace either Mike Pelfrey or Anibal Sanchez in the rotation soon?

Paul Wezner, Executive Editor

While the Tigers pitching staff has by no means been perfect, the two glaring issues have been the two rotation slots that have been routinely held by Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey has a 5.55 ERA over his nine starts, his FIP is even worse at 5.90, and he has turned in just one quality start, which was nothing to write home about as he rode the "effectively wild" moniker to one run allowed over six innings, while walking six. Sanchez meanwhile has arguably been worse with a 6.04 ERA, a 5.58 FIP and a HR/FB rate of 15.3%, basically on par with last year's 16%. Like Pelfrey, Sanchez also only has one quality start, and it was similarly shaky, as it was his most recent outing where he yielded six runs, but only three were earned. Among 105 qualified pitchers, Pelfrey ranks 97th in MLB in ERA, and Sanchez is an even 100.

So what can the Tigers do about it? Unfortunately, options aren't plentiful. While Michael Fulmer continues to pitch well and likely isn't going to be chased from the rotation anytime soon, the other options are a pair of young left-handers in Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, and Shane Greene, who has shown flashes but hasn't been healthy much in his 1.5 years with the Tigers. Could the Tigers realistically look to two of those three to step up, hold down rotation spots, and improve upon what the Tigers are getting from Pelfrey and Sanchez? It's possible, but probably not realistic.

In my view, the best path forward is to pull Pelfrey out of the rotation now first and foremost, at least once Jordan Zimmermann and Shane Greene are healthy. He can hold down the Tigers long relief role, and perhaps spend time trying to re-invent himself as a reliever. Sanchez meanwhile has some potential, the Tigers just have to better use him. Sanchez has always struggled going deep into games, and that is even more pronounced this season. The first time through the rotation, opponents are posting a .720 OPS against him. The second time, it's still an acceptable .747. But the third time through the order, his OPS against balloons to 1.185. If you cut his performance by pitch count, something similar happens, with his OPS against in the .700-.800 up to 75 pitches, and then again jumping to 1.135 once he's over 75 pitches.  The former is a serviceable starting pitcher, that also has a track record of success, and could be used as such. The latter is not. The Tigers can still get use out of him, just need manager Brad Ausmus to use him intelligently.

 

 

Chris Brown, Staff Writer

It's been a strange, up-and-down season for the Tigers, and the squad seems to be riding a bit of a high right now. But the team should probably consider itself fortunate to be .500 and just three games out of first, because Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey have been two of the very worst starting pitchers in all of baseball this year. Sanchez has one of the highest walk rates in MLB, while Pelfrey has a high walk rate and a bottom-five strikeout rate, and both pitchers are among the league leaders in home runs allowed. They are pitching so poorly that the Tigers are essentially giving away two out of every five games.
They obviously can't afford to do that, and I think they need to replace at least one of these struggling starters. Both pitchers are signed through next season, so cutting them is not a real option, but Shane Greene is close to returning to the rotation, so something has to give. Meanwhile, Michael Fulmer is coming off one of the best outings any Tigers pitcher has produced this season, so it would be foolish to send him back to Toledo or move him to the bullpen. As recently as two years ago Sanchez was still among the best pitchers in the American League, so it also seems a bit unwise to send him to the bullpen. That leaves Pelfrey, who has never been a terribly effective starter.  He might not be great out of the bullpen either, but the Tigers need to improve in any way they can, and they are simply a better team with Pelfrey out of the rotation.
The other potential option is to send Sanchez to the disabled list to buy a bit more time. The Tigers wouldn't make up an injury for Sanchez, but he has such an extensive injury history that it probably wouldn't be that hard to find a legitimate reason to send him to the DL. But unless they discover a season-ending issue in Sanchez, he'd would almost certainly return to the rotation. Pelfrey to the bullpen seems inevitable, so I would just go ahead and do it now.


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