VerlanderSpringTrainingBrad Penny’s numbers as the last man in the starting rotation were pretty much terrible for the Tigers last year, but he did pretty much what they asked him to do. He took the ball every fifth day and, for the most part, he ate innings – 181 and two-thirds of them. That’s not an exorbitant amount for a starting pitcher – it ranked 73rd in the major leagues – but it still represents a good deal of reliability.

But if the Tigers decide to go with one of the young prospects to fill the role, namely Jacob Turner or Drew Smyly, they probably won’t be able to count on them crossing the 180 inning mark. As I understand it, the general target for young pitchers is a 25 inning increase over the previous year. That would mean a 2012 total just shy of 170 innings for Turner and about 150 for Smyly.

I don’t know if the Tigers organization believes in strictly limiting a young pitchers innings -- they allowed Rick Porcello to jump 45 innings between his year in Lakeland and his rookie season in Detroit. But then again, Porcello hasn’t really progressed like everyone thought he would since then. Would they (or should they) handle Turner or Smyly differently? If so, they probably need to re-think the standard every fifth-game rotation.

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If you simply go down the list penciling in Verlander-Fister-Scherzer-Porcello-FIFTH STARTER every five games (resetting the whole thing at the All-Star break), you would come up with the following chart:

 

Player

Starts

IP*

Verlander

33

242

Fister

33

231

Scherzer

32

192

Porcello

32

192

FIFTH STARTER

32

181


*Innings pitched is roughly based on last year’s IP/GS from 2011. This number is obviously unknown for the fifth starter (I estimated it at 5.2).

To hit these numbers, Turner would need to make nine more starts and throw just over 37 more innings than he did last year between Erie, Toledo, and Detroit. That’s not outrageous, perhaps, but it could be too much, too soon for a guy trying to adjust to the big leagues. For Smyly, it would represent an increase of 11 starts and 55 innings – there’s probably no way this happens.

Another way to look at the rotation would be to plug in Verlander every fifth day, and then go back and pencil in Fister every fifth day behind him (as much as possible), then repeat for Scherzer and Porcello, and finish up by inserting the fifth starter wherever there’s a gap. This strategy would theoretically give the fewest number of starts you could squeeze out of your number five guy.

Player

Starts

IP*

Verlander

36

264

Fister

35

245

Scherzer

34

204

Porcello

32

192

FIFTH STARTER

25

142


This would mean a lot of innings for Verlander (we’re talking Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, or Curt Schilling in their primes), but this also figures Verlander would start the final game of the year. Hopefully the Tigers will have their playoff spot wrapped up well before then, allowing JV to miss that start to prepare for game one of the playoffs (and if they haven’t clinched, then we want to see Justin on the hill!).

It would also mean a lot of innings for Doug Fister. The plus side here is that you’re heaping the most number of starts on your best pitchers, which might allow you to squeeze out a few extra wins over the course of the season.

You wouldn’t necessarily need to be this extreme with the rotation, though. Turner or Smyly could probably handle 27 or 28 starts without too much of a problem, so you could cut Verlander and Fister down by a start or two each without losing the spirit of the idea. I like that it saves the arms of the young guys without forcing the use of spot starters (and unnecessary mid-season roster moves), and I really like that it maximizes the value of the staff’s top pitchers.

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