For all the hype and trade interest generated by Detroit pitchers Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer, you should really be paying attention to Spencer Turnbull.
You’d be forgiven if you haven’t been watching much Detroit Tigers baseball the past few years. The Tigers have been taking their lumps as they work through a rebuild. The only reason this article came to be is that I happen to be a Cubs fan, whose team fell victim the to the Tigers last night.
The man on the hill was 27 year old righty, Spencer Turnbull, who went on to throw 5.2 scoreless innings, with 3 hits, walks, and 5 strikeouts. Take 60 seconds to check out the highlights, and you’ll see Turnbull pump some high octane stuff past the heavy hitters in the Cubs lineup. Lots of fastballs 94-97, Turnbull’s hardest pitch topped out at 98 which is especially impressive for a starting pitcher.
I was intrigued, turns out this wasn’t a flash in the pan, Turnbull has been a really good pitcher since he came up in 2018, had an under the radar season in 2019, and is continuing to overpower hitters in 2020. In 2019, he pitched 148.1 innings with a 4.61 ERA, 3.99 FIP, good for 2.9 fWAR.
That 2.9 fWAR figure put him in the same category as the more well known Jon Gray and Max Fried. A clear strength of Turnbull is his ability to keep the ball on the ground, posting a 48% GB rate, a top 20 mark, matching that of Charlie Morton, Clayton Kershaw, and Noah Syndergaard.
Turnbull’s electric stuff was already mentioned but just how good is his velocity? At 94.4 MPH, Turnbull has the 15th hardest fastball among starting pitchers in 2020. More impressive is that he has two different fastballs, a high spin 4 seam he throws all over and a wicked turbo sinker he pounds the bottom of the zone with. His slider is also nasty, here you can see Nick Castellanos falling victim. That’s a pretty impressive arsenal for a guy you probably didn’t know much about until today.
Turnbull at present is a solid mid-rotation pitcher who should have the staying power to contribute to the next competitive Tigers team. With a few adjustments, whether that is improved command or another step forward with generating grounders, Turnbull might even have some ace level seasons given his premium stuff.
Detroit Tigers fans need any positive thing to help them through their rebuild, with Spencer Turnbull in the rotation, they now have a damn good pitcher to watch every 5 days.