Written by Sandy Hemenway
Published: 01 May 2007
Detroit surprised just about everyone in 2006 by jumping from 71 wins to 95 in a single season, before bowing to the Cardinals in the Series. How big was the jump, really? Well, in 2005, the team surrendered 787 runs, (8th in the AL) while scoring only 723 (11th). In 2006, the Tigers led the AL in fewest runs allowed (675) and scored 822, (5th in the AL). The incredible leap in production created a host of fantasy bargains in 2006, but leads to the question this year: Are These Guys For Real?
The Top Tier
SP Jeremy Bonderman – While Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander dominated the headlines, primarily because each won 17 games, Bonderman is actually the best fantasy option in the rotation. While his 4.08 ERA was just a touch higher than Rogers, Verlander and Robertson, he had better personal stats. His 202 Ks was 65 better than Robertson, (and was 6th in the majors). His ERA has dropped for three straight seasons, and he’s only 24, and he also finished 3rd in the majors in DIPS (a much stronger predictor of future performance than any of the other pitcher stats). Having a quality defense behind you certainly doesn’t hurt any. Project him to: 15 Wins, 3.65 ERA, 1.29 WHIP with 205 Ks.
SS Carlos Guillen – Perhaps the most underrated player in baseball today, Guillen was the key man in a very balanced attack, but got almost no press to laud his production. Only three SS had more HRs, only three had more RBI, only two had a better BA. And while some will say he had a career year, the fact is, he had just as good a season in 2004. He’s no fluke. Project him to: .315/20/80 with 17 SBs and 98 runs.
The Second Tier
OF Magglio Ordonez – Despite scoring the 5th most runs in the AL, the Tigers had no hitter smack 30 HRs, and only one (Mags), who managed 100 RBI. This is the ultimate in terms of balanced attack, and the club is deep with decent fantasy options, but has almost no outstanding ones. Mags used to be a top tier guy, but injuries sapped a significant chunk of his power. He’s 33, which means he’s safe average and power-wise for a couple more years, but his SB days are definitely far behind him. He also may be slightly undervalued in some leagues, because there is a tendency to undersell a player who used to be better. Project him to: .305/27/108 and 90 runs, (but no SBs).
CA Pudge Rodriguez – It would be very easy to remember the glory days of Pudge and project him too high. After all, he made the All-Star game last year, batted .300 and even stole 8 bases. But he’s 35 this year, and that’s ancient for a catcher. Even in the AL, where he can DH and save his legs, catching wears you down, and evidence of decline is already obvious. Pudge hasn’t managed 20 HRs since 2001, and won’t break 20 for the rest of his career. His one bright spot is that he still steals bases, (an extreme rarity for catchers), where he relies on base-running smarts instead of raw speed. Barry Bonds also continued stealing 6-8 bases per season long after his knees were shot, too. Project him to: .287/12/63 with 6 SBs. But, be very wary of injury, as he’s managed 4 straight injury free seasons, and at his age, it’s highly unlikely he’ll get through another season unscathed.
SP Justin Verlander/Nate Robertson/Kenny Rogers – I’m lumping these three together, because to a large degree they all fell into the same pile during 2006. But Detroit was riding a “perfect wave” type of season, which isn’t likely to repeat in 2007. All three of these guys had ERAs about 20% better than their DIPs numbers would support. Rogers is the only one with any history of being able to maintain the smoke & mirrors like that, but he isn’t getting any younger or better. While it may be heresy among Tiger fans, these are NOT guys to bet on improving in 2007. Like Chicago from ’05 to ’06, most of this staff is ripe for trouble following their dream seasons. These are basically average pitchers, who achieved above average results in 2007. Typically, there is an equalizing factor the next year. Project them as follows:
Justin Verlander – 12 wins, 4.44-ERA, 119-K, 1.34 WHIP
Nate Robertson – 13 wins, 4.56-ERA, 134-K, 1.33 WHIP
Kenny Rogers – 11 wins, 4.30-ERA, 102-K, 1.35 WHIP
The Third Tier
1B Sean Casey – Good average, limited power, no speed. He’ll be a decent bench guy, who can help prop up your average category, if you happen to be running away from the field in HR/RBI, but generally not a 1B you want starting.
2B Placido Polanco – As a real world player, I actually like Polanco as a solid defensive guy who can put the ball in play. As a fantasy option, his only skill is average, where he’ll consistently post something around .300. But he has no speed and no power, meaning no RBI, and few runs. Like Casey, he’s a bench specialist who can keep your average up for a week or two, but not someone who should be starting.
3B Brandon Inge – The photo-negative of Polanco and Casey, Inge brings a little power and a little speed to the plate, but a dreadful average. And third base is a particularly juicy position these days where HR/RBI guys are plentiful. Moreover, 2006 was a career year for Inge, who had failed to break 20-HRs previously. I don’t believe he has the patience at the plate to develop any further, and also believe 2006 to be a career year rather than a breakout year. I’m projecting him to: .249/19/78 with 7 SBs. Again, a potential backup, but a very weak starter.
SP Zach Miner – With only 93 innings in the majors, it’s very tricky projecting guys like this. In the minors, his numbers dropped steadily as he rose through the system. His control was never that great, (3.41 BB/9), and his K-rate was pretty pedestrian. His one plus was that he was very stingy with the long ball. Given an extra pitch or better control, he could surprise, but I believe this unlikely. I’m projecting him to: 9 wins, 5.35-ERA, 70-K, a 1.45 WHIP, and at least a trip back to the minors at some point in the season, (hence the very low K-total). He could be a sleeper pick near the end of the draft, or a $1 gamble, which is why he’s listed under question mark, instead of third tier.
OF Gary Sheffield – Shef missed most of 2006 on the DL, and he’s 38 this season. He’s also moving to a park that isn’t particularly kind to sluggers. These are all things that work against him. His peripheral association with steroids is also not a plus. This makes 2007 a dangerous year for projecting him. It would be easy to simply take his career line: .297/33/110 and be done with it. But my belief is the combination of age, park, et al is going to reduce Shef’s effectiveness significantly. I’m only projecting a .278/27/91 season for him, (which is pretty darn low considering his numbers for the 7 years prior to 2006). I certainly don’t think he’ll drop that low in most drafts, making him someone I would stay away from. While his upside is clearly known, I think the risk he carries is too great to bank on his typical production this season. But, if he drops too far, be ready to make him a potential steal or discount purchase on draft day.