The Detroit Tigers have struggled to start the 2019 season. They are currently 18-23 and have one of the worst offenses in baseball. But in the middle of a rebuild, it was to be expected.
But what hasn’t been expected is the pitching brilliance of rookie Spencer Turnbull. Turnbull, the Tigers’ 2nd round selection in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Alabama, has been a revelation for a team with few bright spots through a quarter of the season.
He has always had solid stuff and put up respectable numbers throughout his minor league career. In his five years at various stops in the minors, he went 24-22 with a nice 3.60 earned run average and 8.5 strikeouts per nine. In his only two starts at the Triple-A level with the Tigers’ affiliate Toledo Mud Hens, he went 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA and had 19 strikeouts in 13.1 innings.
But Turnbull made his major league debut last year and showed no signs that he could or would be a big contributor, at least in the near future. After being called up in September, he appeared in four games (three starts) and went 0-2 with a 6.06 ERA. He also had a 1.28 WHIP and 8.3 strikeouts per nine. Not exactly sterling numbers.
This season has been a different story. After the Tigers lost Michael Fulmer for the season due to Tommy John surgery, there was an opening in the starting rotation. Turnbull came out and had a great spring training and has continued that in the regular season.
So far on the season, he has started eight games. He has gone 2-2 with a sparkling 2.42 ERA and has racked up 44 strikeouts in 44.2 innings pitched. He earned his first career MLB win on April 23 at Boston, where he pitched five innings and gave up zero runs on three hits and four walks with two strikeouts. If it weren’t for teammate Matthew Boyd having a pretty good season himself, Turnbull may get more recognition as the ace of the staff.
But, as always, with the good there is also some bad. Turnbull walks a lot of batters, and thus, has a high WHIP, and can get himself in trouble from time to time. In his eight starts this year, he has a 1.20 WHIP and walks 3.6 batters per nine.
Those issues haven’t hurt him too much this year, though, as he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any start so far. And while his record doesn’t scream a great pitcher, the Tigers have given him poor run support in almost every start, as they are averaging under three runs a game in his starts.
Turnbull isn’t exactly young by baseball standards, especially with players getting called up sooner and younger than ever before, as he is already 26 and will turn 27 later this season. But he has shown through a quarter of the 2019 season that he can be a contributor and possibly a solid number two or three starter for this team in the years to come while they continue their rebuild.
While the season is still young, Turnbull has put himself squarely in the American League Rookie of the Year conversation and hasn’t shown any signs that he won’t be there all year.
His next scheduled start comes today at home against the scuffling Oakland Athletics (19-25) at 1:10 P.M. ET.
All stats are courtesy of Baseball-reference.com and ESPN.com.