2009 Player Profile: Nate Robertson

The results of our most recent poll indicate that loyal Daily Fungo readers would prefer Dontrelle Willis (43%), Zach Miner (38%) or perhaps even Felipe Lira as the Tigers’ fifth starter over Nate Robertson (19%).

Nevertheless, we want to continue our series of player profiles today with The Nater for two reasons — actually three, I just thought of a third: First, he made more starts last season than either Miner or Willis. Second, I already had the profile written. Last, we’ll do our friend and avowed Nater Hater, Ian Casselberry, a favor and get it out of the way.

Nate Robertson #29

  • Height: 6′ 2″ | Weight: 225
  • 2008 Stats: 7-11, 6.35 ERA

RobertsonHead.jpgThe Tigers had no shortage of pitching frustrations in 2008 and one could argue that the most perplexing of all was Robertson. Once considered a core member of the rotation, the lefthander’s performance in ’08 raised questions about whether he could physically and mentally take his game to a higher level. In fact, Robertson’s season was so off-kilter that he found himself in the bullpen after a 5-8, 5.26 ERA first half.

Things improved little after the All Star Break and the 31-year-old enters 2009 as a major question mark. However, if any Tigers pitcher is likely to adopt the mantra of new pitching coach Rick Knapp – throw first-pitch strikes – it’s Robertson, who had above-league-average success in this area in ’08. (Nearly 60 percent of his initial offerings were strikes.)

A reversal of fortune for the Tigers in 2009 will be tied closely to Robertson’s ability to rediscover his command – especially his slider – and log quality starts. The club hopes an off-season exercise regimen designed to improve his flexibility will help him in the short and long term. Barring a Spring Training meltdown, expect him to return to the rotation in 2009 and to stay out of the bullpen.

2009 Player Profile: Justin Verlander

This is the first in a series of player profiles of the 2009 Tigers. I’ve developed them for each of the position players and the starting rotation — at least some of the pitchers in contention for a rotation spot — and will roll them out over the next week.

We kick things off with birthday boy Justin Verlander who turns 26 today.

Justin Verlander #35

  • Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 200
  • 2008 Stats: 11-17, 4.84 ERA

VerlanderHead.jpgWhen a number-one starter opens the season 2-9, chances are his team faces a severe uphill climb. That certainly was Justin Verlander’s reality in 2008. When the calendar turned from April to May, the Tigers’ ace had a 1-4 record with a 6.60 ERA, and by Memorial Day he was 2-9. But as the Tigers offense started to click in June, so did Verlander.

In nine starts from June 6 through July 20, he went 7-2 including a six-game winning streak. His ERA in June alone was 2.73 as hitters produced a mere .197 average against him. Ultimately the problem for Verlander in 2008 – and the Tigers’ entire staff – was walks. In 33 starts he issued 20 more free passes and fanned 20 fewer men than he did in ’07, fueling a 11-17 record and a 4.84 ERA.

Looking ahead to 2009, the Tigers and new pitching coach Rick Knapp will expect Verlander to have greater command of his explosive stuff and regain the dominant form of 2006 and ’07. Watch for Verlander to reclaim the inner part of the plate in ’09, and use a near-triple-digit fastball and devastating breaking pitches to remind A.L. hitters that he’s one baseball’s elite starting pitchers.