RickPorcelloAnthemThe Tigers' main early-season storylines have been hashed, and re-hashed, hundreds of times around the Internet this offseason. We all know what's getting the attention -- Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera at third base, the fifth starter spot, Brandon Inge (always), and general defensive deficiencies -- but I think there are still some interesting storylines to follow and question marks that exists with players that will be returning to the exact same role that they held a year ago.

Rick Porcello's Strikeout Numbers
Kid Rick made a small stride in this department in 2011 by bumping his strikeout rate up slightly from 4.65 K/9 in 2010 to 5.14 K/9 in 2012. That's not a huge jump, and 5.14 is still quite low, but it was nice to see him take a positive step after spending his first two season in the mid 4's in strikeouts per nine innings. Many argue -- and I'm one of them -- that Rick probably needs to see that rate jump up into at least the low-to-mid 6's if he's going to reach the type of ceiling that was once projected of him. Porcello is still just 23 years old, so he has 'plenty of time' left to develop, but 2012 will be his fourth year in the big leagues, and if we don't see vast improvement after this year, you'd have to seriously doubt we ever will.


Max Scherzer's Home Run Rate

If you like to look at xFIP to judge a pitcher, then you would find that Scherzer's 2010 and 2011 seasons rated very similarly--both are right around 3.70--but between the two years his ERA jumped by nearly a full run. The difference can be almost entirely attributed to a sizable increase in his home run rate (up to 1.34 allowed per nine innings from 0.92). Was the increase an aberration that will self-correct this year, or was something wrong with Max's execution last year? I really have no idea, but the good news is that his other numbers aren't all that alarming. His strikeout rate dropped a bit, but it was still above eight per nine innings which is more than solid. And his walk rate fell to just about 2.5 per nine innings. I like Max's chances of rebounding in 2012.

Austin Jackson's OBP
Austin Jackson got a little bit of pub for getting in lots of early batting practice this winter while working with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. The goal was to improve Austin's two-strike approach in hopes of cutting into his ample strikeout totals. Jackson's speed makes him a threat to reach base whenever he puts the ball in play, but that hasn't been often enough. Detroit's offense is probably potent enough to survive another .317 OBP year from their leadoff man, but it's probably not going to truly roar until their table setters can reach base at a clip that's on the plus side of .330.

Brandon Inge Versus Left-Handed Pitching
I know I said that the Brandon Inge storyline was an obvious one, but I don't think the real issues is where they can plug him into the field, I think it's definitely whether or not he can hit well enough to deserve a roster spot. I don't envision any real scenario in which he plays himself into an everyday spot, so the question really becomes whether or not he can hit well enough to be a platoon player. Brandon's spring stats may not end up looking pretty (because he'll probably face lots of right-handed pitching), but I'd be willing to wager that his platoon splits against lefties will still look good. They always have. For his career he's an .800 OPS hitter against southpaws. Last year that number was obviously down, it fell to .717, but his OBP was still .339. He should prove versatile enough in the field, and solid enough with the bat, to start just about every game the Tigers play against a left-handed starting pitcher.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.