The Tigers have high hopes to compete for a playoff spot in 2022 and while the defense and lineup look to be improved, it’s the growth of the pitching staff that will determine if they’re still playing once the regular season wraps up. Two free agent additions will add a much-needed veteran presence to a youthful rotation, but the development of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning will determine how far this team goes.
2021 stats: 31 GS 13-8 record 4.74 ERA 9.4 K/9 1.8 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 29 GS 12-9 record 3.47 ERA 9.6 K/9 3.3 WAR
The biggest splash the Tigers made in the pitching free agent market has already been given the nod as the Opening Day starter. Rodriguez will be expected to be a steadying influence on the Tigers young core of starters while they have what is undoubtedly their most important year of development. E-Rod knows a thing or two about perseverating through adversity, but don’t forget he’s also flirted with a 20-win season. If he gets back to the right side of 3.00 with K/BB ratio, he’ll find himself right back on top.
2021 stats: 30 GS 7-9 record 3.71 ERA 7.1 K/93.3 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 30 GS 8-8 record 4.20 ERA 7.4 K/9 1.9 WAR
You could almost write the same blurb for Mize and Skubal and not sound too bad. This is the biggest year in Mize’s development and will go a long way in determining if he’s going to be their future #1 or if the club will have to dip back into free agency again to find an ace. Mize has shown the ability to pitch incredibly efficiently at times, but he’s also had incredibly frustrating spurts where he seemed to have totally lost his command. It isn’t so much that he walks a ton of guys, but it puts him in a spot where he throws way too many pitches, resulting in him not getting deep into games. A #1 gets you deep into almost every start. Is Mize that guy?
2021 stats: 29 GS 8-12 record 4.34 ERA 9.8 K/9 1.7 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 29 GS 10-10 record 4.25 ERA 9.7 K/9 1.8 WAR
What’s the best pitch in baseball? A first pitch strike. No Tigers’ starter provides better evidence of that than Skubal. When ahead in the count in 2021, opponents hit .168; when behind in the count, that jumped up to .283. As A.J. Hinch said, “When he falls behind, he gets hit. When he doesn’t, he doesn’t.” In that regard, he’s not too dissimilar than Matthew Boyd. However, he’s only 25 and if he could push that K/9 north of 10, where it was for his entire minor league career, he becomes an incredible #2. But again, this year will go a long way in determining that.
2021 stats: 21 GS 9-8 record 3.62 ERA 7.24 K/9 1.4 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 28 GS 9-10 record 4.57 ERA 7.16 K/9 1.5 WAR
Brought in on a one-year, $5.5 M deal, Pineda should slot in as the Tigers’ #4 and really solidify the rotation. His signing gives them another veteran presence, allows Manning to bump to the 5 slot-where he’ll be able to be skipped occasionally, helping preserve his arm-and puts the versatile and valuable Tyler Alexander into the pen. The signing is an Avila special in that it is low-risk, high-reward and, if he has a great first half and the team isn’t in contention, he can look to move him. If that’s the case, it’ll give someone like Beau Brieske a dozen or so starts in the minors to see if he’s ready for the show.
2021 stats: 18 GS 4-7 record 5.80 ERA 6.0 K/9 -0.4 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 26 GS 7-8 record 4.59 ERA 7.0 K/9 1.1 WAR
Manning just turned 24 and last year’s experience in Detroit might turn out to have been the tipping point in his career. He was having incredible success at AAA before a rash of injuries to the MLB staff gave him an extended shot. He was inconsistent not only with his performance, but seemingly with his confidence. Whatever the case, he rarely ever resembled the high K-rate guy he’d always been in the minors, sporting an average FB velo of only 93.4 MPH. If he walks into the season with some extra confidence knowing he has what it takes to survive the MLB, he could surprise the league and win a dozen games in 2022.
2021 stats: 18 GS 4-5 record 3.07 ERA 5.57 K/9 0.7 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 5-6 record 4.97 ERA 6.53 K/9 0.6 WAR
The Tigers brought Peralta back on a minor league deal, but given the great work he did in 2021 (allowing only more than 2 ER once after August), it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be one of the first calls if the team has any early season issues with the rotation.
2021 stats: 15 GS 2-4 record 3.81 ERA 8.2 K/9 1.9 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 15 GS 6-7 record 4.86 ERA 7.0 K/9 0.5 WAR
With the signing of Pineda, Alexander will move to the pen. Pineda may not be ready for the first week or two of the season, so Alexander might fill in until then and he could also spot start at any point. Whatever his role, you couldn’t really ask for more consistency than what he can provide. He allowed more than 3 earned runs only twice last season, doesn’t put a lot of guys on for free and is usually good for 5+ innings.
2021 stats: 36 appearances 1-3 record 4.04 ERA 9.84 K/9 0.1 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 54 appearances 3-4 record 4.66 ERA 8.54 K/9 0.0 WAR
The return on the Nick Castellanos deal, Lange made his MLB debut and put together two stretches of 6 or more appearances without giving up a run and opponents only hit .194 against the former LSU star for the season. If he can capture the magic of the second half of 2021, which saw an increase in velocity and a notable decrease in walks (0 walks in his last 10 appearances), Lange will be a key middle-relief guy, getting the ball from the starts to Fulmer and Soto.
2021 stats: 52 appearances 6-1 record 1 save 5.96 ERA 11.32 K/9 -0.2 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 46 appearances 3-3 record 4.53 ERA 10.42 K/9 0.0 WAR
Once one of the team’s top prospects, Jimenez has spent 5 season “adjusting” and of all the names on the list here, his grip on a spot is the most tenuous. Despite his great “stuff”, Jimenez still walks way too many batters to be an effective reliever and does his worst work with runners in scoring position. The days of seeing him as the “closer of the future” are done and now he’s battling to be the guy who comes in when the team is down 6 after 2.
2021 stats: 57 appearances 7-4 record 3.42 ERA 8.30 K/9 0.3 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 62 appearances 5-1 record 4.72 ERA 8.52 K/9 -0.1 WAR
A lat issue will keep Funkhouser from being ready for Opening Day, but make no mistake about it, he’s one of the most valuable pieces of the pen and integral to any success the Tigers hope to have in 2022. Half of his 26 earned runs were the result of 3 rough outings and he had a stretch in August that had fans remembering why he was once so highly touted. Funk seems to work best coming in to start an inning (he allowed only one earned run with the bases empty), so he is the perfect candidate to give the team an inning, occasionally two, when it’s clear the starter is gassed and isn’t coming back out.
2021 stats: 71 appearances 2-4 record 5 saves 1.83 ERA 8.39 K/9 1.4 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 66 appearances 3-3 record 3.89 ERA 8.76 K/9 0.7 WAR
Chafin is coming off a career year in 2021, splitting it between the Cubs and A’s. Lefties couldn’t hit him (.176) and righties couldn’t hit him either (.196). He did his best work in medium leverage situations, which is probably exactly where the Tigers envision him doing his work for them. He’s also going to be a hit both with the staff and the town. A great signing for the team just ahead of the start of Spring Training.
2021 stats: 67 appearances 4-4 record 4 saves 3.65 ERA 9.05 K/9 0.6 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 60 appearances 3-4 record 4.21 ERA 9.24 K/9 0.2 WAR
Cisnero should team with Chafin on getting the ball to Fulmer and Soto and, like Chafin, he does his best work in medium-leverage situations (.174 average against, 11 ER in 31.1 IP). Cisnero, like Chafin, is the perfect piece to start the 7th inning when the team is holding a lead and either that starter or middle man has put the team on the track for a win. He had a rough last week of 2021, but he also had a stretch of 20 innings over 13 appearances where he didn’t allow a run.
2021 stats: 52 appearances 5-6 record 14 saves 2.97 ERA 9.43 K/9 1.6 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 64 appearances 4-4 record 6 saves 4.06 ERA 8.74 K/9 0.6 WAR
Fulmer’s move to the bullpen proved to be a career-saver for the one-time starting prospect. It took him some time to really find his groove, but in the second half, opponents hit .255 against him and he had a 1.52 ERA. More interestingly, opponents only hit .203 against him in high-leverage situations, which he’ll certainly see more of this year.
2021 stats: 62 appearances 6-3 record 18 saves 3.39 ERA 10.74 K/9 0.5 WAR
2022 projected stats*: 68 appearances 4-4 record 22 saves 3.90 ERA 10.88 K/9 0.7 WAR
A.J. Hinch has already named Soto as his closer, and in Hinch’s world, that means Soto will see the highest amount of high-leverage situations. Last year, opponents hit just .189 against him in those types of situations. Even as his ERA climbed as the season went on (much of that was the typical closer-pitching-in-non-closer situations), hitters still struggled to make solid contact against him often. He’ll remain one of the key pieces to the Tigers’ success in 2022 and any playoff hopes will obviously rest on how he, and the rest of the pen, do holding down leads.
Note: Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo, a pair of one-time top prospects recovering from Tommy John surgeries, might also see some time in the pen in 2022.
While the future is certainly bright in Detroit, Mize and Skubal need another year under pressure before becoming the top tier starters they are destined to be. A big jump by Manning could do wonders for both him and the team, however.