Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who Should Be the Tigers' Fifth Starter?

The addition of Brad Penny (at least on paper) gives the Tigers four starters set for their rotation: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Penny. So who is the fifth guy now? For most of the winter, we've heard that Phil Coke was going to be converted from a reliever to a starter (as he was in the minors). Does the presence of Penny change that plan or does Coke move into Armando Galarraga's spot?

The Fan is somewhat uncomfortable with the prospect of turning the spot over to Coke, who is now three years removed from his days as a starting pitcher. Coke only threw 60 innings in 2009 and 64 innings last year. Now he would be asked to move that up to 150 innings? The move is not without precedent. C. J. Wilson in Texas and Ryan Dempster for the Cubs are two examples of how well such a move can work. It is a plus that Phil Coke throws from the left side. And he was successful in the Yankees' farm system as a starter. It just seems like a risk.

Galarraga is a guy you root for after the way he handled the Jim Joyce thing last year on his almost-perfect game. But that game was one brief shining moment. His 4.49 ERA in 24 starts isn't bad and most teams would take that from their fifth starters. But consider how bad some of those games had to be to offset his almost-perfect game.

What really worries the Fan the most about Galaragga is his diminishing strikeout rate. For all of his career, Galarraga struck out over six batters per nine innings. Last year, that number plummeted to 4.6. Was that a one year fluke? Galarraga did pitch 44 innings in Triple A in 2010 and struck out over eight batters per nine innings, so many it was a fluke. But when there is so little separation from his K rate compared to his walk rate, it's a bit scary.

It would be great if Galaragga had a place with the 2011 Tigers. He became a local hero and was one of the best stories of 2011. Plus, he is another Venezuelan on a team full of them, which should mean a team that pulls for him when he pitches. But the Tigers can't make decisions based on what we fans want. They have to decide whether Galarraga or Coke will provide the most consistency and give the team the best chance to win. To be honest with you, the Fan has no idea which pitcher would be the best call.

Perhaps with Brad Penny's health history, it will be a moot point. If Penny's season follows the path of his last few, Galarraga and Coke could both get over 20 starts.

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