Instead of looking at who the Tigers can go out and snag in free agency, or bring into the fold through trades, let's use a different tact. What does each player on the Tiger roster – those likely to return for 2008 – have to improve upon to help the Tigers get back to the post season? We will go player-by-player discussing an aspect of each player's game that needs to take a step forward, focusing on those players with nearly guaranteed roster spots.
Jeremy Bonderman – Do I need to pick something other than proving he is healthy? I do? Fine, I'll come up with something else. Forget the idea that he needs to add a third pitch; I'm sick of hearing about it. It is painfully obvious at this point he just doesn't have the feel for a softer offering. What he really needs to do is gain consistent command of both his fastball and slider. If he is able to accurately locate both of those pitches, while mixing them well to set each other up, he can get back to being a very, very good starting pitcher. It is rare that a pitcher can survive in a big league rotation with only two pitches, but if that pitcher can command both of those plus-offerings with precision, it can be done.
Chad Durbin – Durbin's necessary improvements are simple; gain consistency in all facets of his game. He was bounced from the bullpen to the rotation and back again on numerous occasions this season, and that likely didn't help matters any. With any luck his role will be better defined, and he can improve the consistency on his command, breaking pitches, and approach to attacking hitters.
Andrew Miller – He will have a chance to win a spot out of spring training, but he will have to earn it this time around. If he can command his fastball and find the release point on his slider, he's all set. The big improvement that will lead to both of those things taking place is simple; find a consistent set of mechanics and stick to it. He was all over the place with his landing leg, release point, arm angle, everything this season, and until he refines that, he will continue to struggle.
Zach Miner – It looks like Zach Miner may have found a home in the bullpen. His fastball jumped a couple of ticks on the gun, and his curveball looked dominating at times. His homework assignment this offseason has to be to build up the strength/stamina to be able to pitch on back-to-back days without any fall-off in his ‘stuff.' Learning to adjust to bullpen life is difficult after years in a rotation, but Miner will have to if he is to remain with the big club.
Nate Robertson – Get back to being the attacking pitcher he has been in the past. Robertson seemed to nibble this season; trying too hard to be perfect with every pitch. In the past, Nate has been at his best when he gets right after hitters, pounding the strike zone with all his pitches, and forcing them to do something with quality pitches.
Fernando Rodney – Rodney's performance will always go as his change-up goes, and it was very inconsistent this season. Pinning down his release point on that change-up and continuing to use that as his devastating out-pitch will allow him to get back to his prior dominance.
Justin Verlander – This is a tough one; the guy was as close to perfect this year as anyone on the pitching staff. Verlander's command wavered on occasion, but his raw stuff is good enough that he pitched around it on most nights. If he can take a step forward in commanding his arsenal on a more routine basis, we could be looking at a Cy Young in 2008.
Joel Zumaya – Lock him in a room with five things; a pitcher's mound, a catcher, home plate, a baseball, and Greg Maddux. Don't let him out until Maddux says he is ready to be released. I'm serious! Joel absolutely has to command his incredible fastball-curveball combination better and there was never anybody more astute at commanding his pitches than Maddux. Let him learn from the best, and the Tigers will have a filthy closer.