DuaneBelowThe internal battle for the final spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation appears to be down to the final two players as the Tigers have announced that Andy Oliver has been optioned to AAA Toledo. He follows Casey Crosby, Adam Wilk, and Jacob Turner as fifth starter candidates to be relegated to the minor leagues. Only Duane Below and Drew Smyly remain from the initial group of six pitchers in contention for the spot.

If we are going ‘by the numbers’ then Smyly maintains a fairly significant advantage over Below, but the spring performance gap isn’t quite as extreme as the surface numbers indicate.

Player

IP

ERA

WHIP

Below

12.1

4.38

1.70

Smyly

12.2

2.84

1.04


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Looking at these numbers there really isn’t a competition in progress. Even with a mediocre outing yesterday (4.2 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR), Smyly’s spring totals are rock solid. But I don’t think he’s actual pitching has been quite that amazing.

Player

BABIP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

FIP

Below

.313

5.8

3.6

1.5

5.13

Smyly

.200

7.1

4.3

0.7

4.21


Both players have a higher FIP than ERA indicating that perhaps they haven’t both been a bit ‘lucky’. This difference is more pronounced with Smyly, who sees his 1.54 ERA advantage slip to ‘just’ 0.92 in FIP. It’s clear that Smyly has benefitted this spring from an ultra low .200 BABIP; if we shift our focus from ERA to FIP, then Smyly’s spring numbers slide from ‘fantastic’ to ‘acceptable’ (although obviously still superior to Below).

I’m not surprised that Below is still in contention, even without exceptional numbers. He has the experience of working in the big leagues with some success last year, and he’s been the “safe” candidate all along. I don’t think he will have to end up outpitching Smyly to win the job (the choice between even candidates should favor Below), but he will have to at least get close to Smyly’s numbers. With only one or two starts left, Below needs to kick it up a notch (and perhaps hope for another mediocre performance from Smyly) in order to win the job.

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