The winter months now have us staring into the abyss that is the MLB offseason. Not a lot happens, unless you enjoy the constant rumors that swirl around the ballclub that seem to be made up by bored sportswriters half the time. And rather than address every idiotic gossip story that may or may not have actual legitimacy, I thought I’d spend the next few weeks exploring the past a bit.
I’ll be going position by position across the baseball diamond and giving you my five favorite and five least favorite Tigers that I’ve seen play the game of baseball at each spot. Feel free to share yours, if you want. When it comes to listing personal favorites, rhyme or reason often tends to go out the window. Many times it doesn’t make a lot of sense who you enjoy or detest watching play the game. That’s why I think it’s a fun topic to discuss.
We’ll start this science experiment off with my five least favorite starting pitchers since I became a fan in 1985.
5. Gary Knotts (2003-2004)
For those of you that have been on this ride longer than 2006, you know there are a dozen guys that could end up on a list of bad Tiger starters from the 90’s and early 00’s. Knotts makes the cut due to my memories of him on the mound consisting of the perpetual thought that he could, and probably would, give up a home run on any given pitch.
In 230.2 innings pitched in Detroit, Gary gave up 253 hits, 34 of them long balls. Without looking, I would have guessed it was 84. He had a 5.58 ERA in his time with the team before missing all of 2005 with a shoulder injury. He bounced around the minors and independent ball before retiring after the 2009 season.
Knotts came to the team in early 2003 with my old friend Nate Robertson from the Marlins in exchange for Mark Redman and Jerrod Fuell. Last I heard, he was the pitching coach for Calhoun Community College’s baseball team. I bet they’re awesome.
4. Brad Penny (2011)
Penny has to be the most frustrating starting pitcher the Tigers have employed since returning to relevance in recent years. The guy was a two-time All Star in the National League and a budding superstar in 2003 with the Marlins. Injuries would take a toll on his ability in the coming years.
Brad went 11-11 with a 5.30 ERA while eating up 181.2 innings for the 2011 club. He started the season off well, but kind of went downhill from there. His last Tiger appearance was in the ALCS against Texas giving up 5 runs in 1.2 innings of relief. Perhaps the most frustrating part of watching Penny pitch was the insanely slow pace he pitched at on the mound. It’s bad enough to suck. But to make it take forever makes it twice as hard to watch.
Penny signed with the Japanese Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2012. He allowed six runs and five stolen bases in only 3.1 innings pitched for them before claiming his arm was injured and leaving the game. Two MRI exams turned up negative and the Hawks released him a month later. His $3 million contract was called “the worst decision in franchise history” by a local newspaper there. He later signed with the San Francisco Giants and made 22 relief appearances in 2012 for them giving up 22 runs in 28 innings. But he’ll get a championship ring out of the deal now, won’t he? I feel sick.
3. Nate Cornejo (2001-2004)
Cornejo was as awful at pitching as he was scary in appearance. He was a former first round pick that, like most Tiger draft picks of the time, blew up in their face.
Nate made 56 starts as a Tiger, pitching a total of 313 innings. He accumulated an ERA of 5.41 in that time and allowed 404 hits (38 homers). After being released after the 2005 season, Cornejo was signed by the White Sox where he appeared in four minor league games for them before retiring in 2006.
He was the 34th pick of the 1998 MLB Draft, being selected ahead of guys like Aaron Rowand, Mark Prior, Adam Dunn, Barry Zito, Matt Holliday, Mark Teixeira, JJ Putz, Cliff Lee, and Mark Buehrle. This is also the draft where the Tigers selected Brandon Inge in the second round ahead of all of those guys except Rowand, Prior, and Dunn. That’s depressing.
2. Felipe Lira (1995-1999)
Why Felipe Lira? Quite simply, when I think of the laughably horrible Tiger teams of the 90’s, and more specifically the awful pitching, Lira’s name is the first that comes into my mind. It may not be fair, but it is what it is.
Lira, somehow the Opening Day starter for the team in 1996, went 26-46 in 163 Tiger appearances, 79 of them starts. His ERA was 5.32 and he put up a 1.52 WHIP in that time. He was just a guy that looked like he got thrown out on the mound without ever having pitched before. This happened a lot on the Tiger teams of this era. If you weren’t around for it, you probably have more hair than I do.
Fun fact: Lira gave up Eddie Murray’s 500th career home run. And to his credit, he finished 4th in the AL in shutouts in 1996 with 2. Considering his 5.22 ERA that season, that’s a minor miracle.
1. Jeff Weaver (1999-2002)
Putting Jeff atop this list doesn’t seem fair, in a way, since I actually was a big fan of his when he came up. Considering the alternatives on the roster, it was easy to support the cocky youngster. But a decade later, the mention of his name turns my stomach. If you don’t feel the same way, you weren’t paying attention in 2006.
Weaver was the Tigers’ first round pick in 1998 (14th overall) and their Opening Day starter in 2001 and 2002. Yes, that was the same draft we covered earlier with Cornejo, as the team had two first rounders that year. He made 109 starts in Detroit going 39-51 with a 4.33 ERA. In July of 2002, Jeff was involved in the huge three-team trade with the A’s and Yankees that brought Carlos Pena to Detroit. Weaver struggled in New York and would also go on to play for the Dodgers, Angels, and Mariners. Oh yeah, he’d also spend a year in St. Louis. That year was 2006.
Weaver would be acquired from the Angels in mid-2006 for a minor leaguer named Terry Evans. He continued his mediocre pitching for the Cards until somehow morphing into Cy Young in Game Five of the World Series against Detroit. Weaver pitched 8 innings, allowed 1 run on 4 hits, and was the winner of the clinching game for St. Louis. For that, I’ll never forgive him. The prick.
Also, his brother is a colossal asshole.
Dishonorable mention: Scott Aldred, Omar Oliveres, Willie Blair, Frank Castillo, Dave Mlicki, and, of course, Nate Robertson.