Can Daniel Norris help the Tigers now?

The Tigers are still in need of some help in the starting rotation. Michael Fulmer's surprising emergence as a dominant starter certainly provided some extra stability, but it's going to be difficult to remain division-title contenders if Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey are the go-to guys at the back end of the rotation.

Matt Boyd is, you know, okaaaay, but he gets all self-conscious and weird after about four/five innings and twice through the batting order, and then he acts out by giving up lots of extra hits and runs. That won't work.

Mike Pelfrey is ... well, he's Mike Pelfrey. I made a drinking game you can play during Pelfrey starts, but it would probably kill you because it contains conditions like such as "Drink if ..."

  • Pelfrey goes from an 0-2 count to a 3-2 count
  • Pelfrey walks more than one batter in an inning
  • Pelfrey gives up a home run
  • #TeamPelfrey blames the ump for "squeezing" Pelfrey
  • Pelfrey loads the bases 90 times and eventually lets five runs score, but #TeamPelfrey blames it all on one defensive miscue
  • Pelfrey gives up at least four runs, but #TeamPelfrey blames the offense for not giving him any run support

Anyway, the point is -- as you'll see if you just re-read the headline of this post -- the Tigers need help in the starting rotation, and Daniel Norris is ready and waiting in Toledo.

Well, he's waiting, anyway. Whether or not he's ready is another subject.

Norris has overall numbers that are decidedly uninspiring: in 56 2/3 innings, he's racked up an ERA of 5.24 with a 1.606 and a not-very-good BB/9 (walks-per-nine innings) of 4. 

However, #TeamNorris will point out that his K/9 (strikeouts-per-nine innings) is a healthy 9.8, and his FIP (which takes the Mud Hens' questionable defense out of the equation) is a shiny 2.45 -- and after all, his ERA is artificially inflated by a few very bad outings early on in April.

Maybe a fairer examination would be to just look at his last five starts, since Boyd only has four starts in MLB this year, and that's what we're judging him on when we talk about replacing him with Norris. 

In that case, Norris has thrown 28 1/3 innings (an average of 5 2/3 IP per start), posted a 3.18 ERA and a 2.10 FIP, and an eye-catching 10.2 K/9. 

On the down side, his WHIP in that span is still 1.341, and his BB/9 is still 3.8 -- for a reference point, Boyd's BB/9 in his four starts is 3.4 and his WHIP is slightly higher at 1.428.

Enough numbers, though. Let's talk about what the naked eye reveals, because let's face it, neither of these two pitchers has an established track record that makes their numbers predictive. They are both still "prospects" whose evaluation needs to include a few tablespoons of See-for-Yourself.

I had the opportunity to watch video of Daniel Norris's previous two starts in Toledo, and here's where things sit:

  • His overall "stuff" (quality of pitches, movement on  pitches, arsenal of pitches) is better than Boyd's, hands down
  • He really, really struggles with control and command, which somewhat negates how good his stuff is -- a wipeout slider isn't worth much if you bounce it in the dirt
  • Because of his inability to command his pitches, he's quite inefficient -- he'll burn 100 pitches in five innings, and in his last five starts he's average 18 pitches per inning
  • His lack of consistent command also means that he does "The Pelfrey" too often -- letting 0-2 and 1-2 counts turn into 3-2 counts, then walking the batter
  • His fastball can touch 95 MPH at times, and his high fastball gets swings and misses fairly often when he's locating it well, but can also chuck it three feet above the batter's head
  • His curveball is vicious, and gets plenty of whiffs when it's located well, but again, he can't locate it consistently and a lot of times it either bounces or ends up way outside
  • His slider needs a lot of work -- but he can still get whiffs on it when he's not bouncing it in the dirt
  • McCann and Saltalamacchia could bring a fair bit of improvement to Norris's sequencing game -- I saw him throw too many of the same pitch types in a row and felt like he could be better if he'd mix up his selection more
  • Having Kinsler and Iglesias behind him will also help quite a bit -- I saw a few plays where the Mud Hens up-the-middle defense didn't convert balls-in-play into outs, where Kinsler or Iglesias would have made it happen
  • But yeah, command, baby. In five starts, Norris is throwing strikes only 63 percent of the time. That's Mike Pelfrey circa 2015. At least Boyd is chucking strikes at a 65 percent clip

So is Norris an improvement over Boyd, or Pelfrey? 


He certainly has the potential to be leaps and bounds better than either of those two starters, but at the moment, in the present day, I don't think Norris will provide a big uptick in actual results. Yes, his pitch arsenal and movement are wonderful, but it cannot be stressed enough: his command is very inconsistent, and that takes a lot of the shine off of his "stuff." That high fastball that gets a swing and miss is as beautiful as his way-off-the-plate fastball for ball four is ugly.

Boyd and Norris will provide both unsatisfying and satisfying results, but in two different ways. 

Boyd will more easily give up home runs, but Norris will be inefficient and walk too many batters, while mixing in some hard contact. 

Boyd can be efficient and get quick outs on weak contact, but Norris will be filthy and get more strikeouts. 

Boyd will have to leave the game in the 5th inning because his stuff isn't dazzling enough to fool a lineup the third time through the order, but Norris will have to leave the game in the 5th inning because his command sucked and he threw 102 pitches.

So should the Tigers bring up Daniel Norris? Sure, why not? It's not like he's going to be any worse than Boyd or Pelfrey. But I wouldn't expect him to be the Savior of the Rotation either. It's probably a lateral move at best, with the caveat that, if Norris can get even 10 percent better with his command, he'll immediately get better results than anyone in the rotation not named Verlander, Fulmer, or Zimmermann.

Once he fully develops, though, and finds consistent command? He's easily a solid #2 starter who could be every bit as dominant as the version of Michael Fulmer we've been watching this season.
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