During spring training a year ago, six young pitchers competed for the fifth spot in the Detroit Tigers starting rotation. This year, there are just two pitchers battling.

But the competition might be just as interesting.

Right-hander Rick Porcello has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason and also recently got a raise to $5.1 million for the 2013 season. He struggled at times in 2012 and finished 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA. Opponents hit .310 against him. His WHIP was a career-high 1.531.

Still, Porcello has 48 victories at age 24 and has the potential to be a solid starter, whether he does it in Detroit or somewhere else.

Left-hander Drew Smyly surprised many (but not all) when he earned the job as the fifth starter out of spring training last season. He pitched extremely well at the start of the season and turned in a solid year overall. Smyly went 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 23 appearances, including 18 starts. He had a 1.268 WHIP.
Based on the numbers from last season, it appears that the Tigers should go with Smyly over Porcello. But that is a simplistic view of the situation. In the end, the Tigers might choose to go with Porcello over Smyly for a variety of legitimate reasons.

The Tigers might prefer to go with a starter (Porcello) who has averaged more than 170 innings in his four seasons in the majors over one (Smyly) who threw fewer than 100 in 2012, his second season as a professional. They might prefer to go with a pitcher with a longer track record over a second-year player.