At the end of the 2014 season, the Tigers had a rotation of Max Scherzer, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello. Of those guys, Rick Porcello had the lowest full-season fWAR total of 3.1. The AL champion Royals' best starter by fWAR was James Shields at 3.7. The Tigers' 5th guy was not far from the Royals' undisputed number one guy. The Tigers led the league in team starter fWAR. It's fairly easy to accept that the Tigers had a strong rotation in 2014.
In 2015, some of those fellows will be gone. The rotation now looks something like Price, Sanchez, Verlander, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. That's a rotation that's not quite as good; however, the comparison is a little more nuanced. Take a look at some projections for 2015. Here are the 5 of 2014 compared to the 5 of 2015 in terms of 2015 projected fWAR (averaged between ZiPS and Steamer).
|Group||Average Projected fWAR|
By this measure, the Tigers lose 5.6 projected wins in 2015. That's fairly rough. Given the Tigers' salary commitments in place, projections can't be the only consideration. Maybe the rotation got younger? Here's a comparison of the average ages on 2015 Opening Day between the two groups.
Nope. They didn't get any younger. Porcello and Greene are the same age, and Simon is older than Scherzer.
I mentioned salary commitments. Maybe the Tigers' rotation got cheaper? Here's a comparison between the two groups on total 2015 salaries (data from Cot's). Scherzer's wonky contract wonks up the comparison, but humor me.
|Group||Total Salary (in millions)|
Whoa. There's a place that's in favor of the Tigers. That's a fairly significant decrease in 2015 salary. So, projected wins decreased, but so did salary commitments. How does that affect the $/WAR? Are the Tigers any more "efficient" with their dollars?
|Group||$/Average Projected fWAR (in millions)|
Ah. Well. I was kind of hoping to find that the Tigers were more efficient with their dollars in 2015, but it appears not. Given the error in working with projections and considering only 2015 commitments, I'm not confident in saying that for sure, though. Alfredo Simon comes off the books after this year, and Shane Greene is probably making the league minimum or close to it. Maybe the Tigers got a little more inefficient and a lot less talented, but they gained a cheap, long-term piece of the rotation in Shane Greene. They also avoided paying Max Scherzer an accounting abomination of a contract.
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Overall, the Tigers are worse right now. However, after this season, only Verlander, Sanchez, and Greene are still on the team. The Tigers should have some money with which to woo potential free agents like Jordan Zimmermann, or they can focus their efforts on their exclusive negotiating window with David Price. The Tigers' rotation is unquestionably worse for 2015, but they freed up salary for improvements elsewhere while still paying close to the same amount per win and gained more financial flexibility long term. In a division in which the Royals probably got worse and the Indians didn't do much, that's not all bad.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Cot's Contracts.
Kevin Ruprecht is an Associate Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.