Written by Robert Democh
Published: 17 March 2009
The Tigers season could have been summarized with a guest appearance by David Bowie singing “Panic in Detroit.” 2008 was that kind of year. The hitting performed as expected but the pitching was reduced to rubble. The staff ERA, WHIP and BAA descended into the murky bottom rungs of the league and contributed strongly to a sub-.500 second half (36-40). Make no mistake: This remains a high octane offense weighed down with mediocre pitching. Gaze beyond the stripes to discover some solid fantasy values.Top Tier:Miguel Cabrera (1B):
Cabrera switched leagues prior to last season, joining the Tigers after spending five years wreaking havoc on NL pitchers while with Florida. He’ll turn 26 in April and has already assembled an impressive resume: 30 or more homers four of the last five seasons and five straight years of at least 110 RBI. His .292 average last year was disappointing only by his own impeccable standards (from 2005-2007, he averaged .327). And he’s durable, averaging 552 seasonal at bats for his career. Although he couldn’t outrun Rush Limbaugh, Cabrera represents fantasy gold given his durability and consistency. He’s a consensus first round pick, so bid accordingly.
Curtis Granderson (OF):
Curtis Granderson does it all: average, steals, runs, home runs and (some) RBIs.
A perennial favorite in fantasy circles, Granderson resembles a Grady Sizemore lite, blessed with a similar blend of speed and power and (unlike Sizemore) the ability to hit for high average. Taking his career bests in each 5X5 category yields the following: 122 runs, 23 homers, 74 RBI, 26 steals and a .302 average. Now if he could just deduce how to combine those ingredients into one unforgettable season. He’s matured as a hitter, overcoming early knocks on his talent by steadily reducing his strikeouts (from 174-141-111 the past three seasons) and raising his average against lefties (.259 last season versus .160 in 2007). Granderson has the potential to go 25-25 with a .300 average while scoring a ton of runs batting atop a powerful Detroit lineup. Second Tier:Magglio Ordonez (OF):
The 35-year-old Ordonez remains a bona fide hitting machine, boasting a career .312 average. He hasn’t jacked 30 homers since 2002, settling comfortably into the 20-25 range. Along with the elevated average, Ordonez provides ample RBI (100 plus the past three seasons) and runs scored, making him a slightly undervalued four category mainstay. Although he’s remained injury free in recent years, the one caveat is he’s a slightly above average risk and is going to experience a drop off one of these years. There’s no indication it will be 2009, so don’t hesitate to strike if he falls to you in the seventh round. Justin Verlander (SP):
The acknowledged ace of the Tigers, Verlander looked the antithesis of one in 2008. He led the AL with 17 losses, more than his combined total in 2006 and 2007 (15) while recording a hideous 4.84 ERA. His K:BB rate fell below the coveted 2:1 benchmark favored by most fantasy gamers. Verlander hasn’t forgotten how to pitch, demonstrated by allowing less than one homer per nine innings and maintaining a quality 0.81 strikeout rate in 2008. He needs to overcome control issues (which he has yet to address this spring) to regain upper tier status. He’ll be available at a substantial discount in most drafts, presenting a high risk/high reward scenario.
Carlos Guillen (3B):
We’re being somewhat charitable placing Guillen in the second tier. Age and chronic back problems have ended his stint as a regular third baseman with the Tigers wisely placing him in left field. This should keep him on the field more and enhance his production. Last year was the first time since 2005 that Guillen failed to gain 500 at bats and is a harbinger of a career in decline. He can still be a steady contributor (15 homers, 10 steals, .290 average) off your bench and should be netted at a bargain price in the middle rounds. Third Tier:Placido Polanco (2B):
He’s slow and will be fortunate to attain double digit homers. Despite that, Polanco is one of the safest second base options once you move into the middle draft rounds. The reason is his consistent contact, allowing him to unleash a relentless array of line drives. Day in, day out Polanco can be depended upon to fill up the stat sheet. He’s not glamorous, meaning his stellar career OBP (.350) and BA (.305) are often overlooked. Polanco figures to score 90 runs and drive in 60, making him a valuable commodity often available as a smart end game pick. Jeremy Bonderman (SP):
Since recording back-to-back 14 win seasons in 2005-06, Bonderman has spent more time conferring with doctors than with catchers. Much of 2008 was lost to a blood clot that could only be treated by removing one of Bonderman’s ribs. Detroit’s optimism for 2009 was dashed when Bonderman developed a sore shoulder after his initial spring training appearance. As his injury history lengthens, Bonderman’s ability to last a full season is in serious doubt. A wait and see approach is recommended. Question Mark:Gary Sheffield (OF):
It’s been a spectacular career but the curtain is being lowered on the Gary Sheffield Show. A bad shoulder plagued the 40-year-old for all of 2008 and was surgically repaired in October. Sheffield has agreed to serve as full-time DH this season to avoid aggravating it He showed flashes of his once awesome power last year, blasting 19 round trippers in 418 at bats. If his shoulder cooperates, he could provide 20 homers and a .250 average.
Sleeper Alert: Brandon Lyon (RP):
Lyon was acquired from Arizona in the off-season and leads the trio of hurlers competing to be Tigers closer. Detroit manager Jim Leyland appears to favor Lyons, dropping hints that he prefers deploying Fernando Rodney in a set-up capacity and Joel Zumaya for multiple inning situations. Recall that Lyon was cruising along as the D-Backs closer last season (26-for-31 in save opportunities) before a sudden September meltdown saw him yield to Chad Qualls. There’s open debate whether Lyon has the mental toughness to endure the inevitable ups and downs of closing over a full season. Expect him to cough up some saves to Rodney and Zumaya. Great Debate: Armando Galarraga (SP):
Detroit had the foresight to acquire Galarraga from Texas prior to the start of the 2008 season and he provided an immediate return on investment. Although Galarraga struggled as fatigue set in during September, his first full big league season was an unqualified success: 13 wins, a 3.73 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 179 innings. He’s no speed merchant (a 0.70 K rate) and is inclined to surrender the long ball but exhibits respectable control (2:1 K:BB rate). With a potent attack behind him, Galarraga is a good bet to at least duplicate last year with some upside potential.
Prospect Watch:Rick Porcello (SP):
Detroit's top draft pick in 2007, the 19-year-old Porcello served notice he’s looking for a penthouse view, posting a 72:33 K:BB ratio in 125 innings at High-A. A stiff elbow caused him to concentrate on development of his curve and changeup, making him a better pitcher. He posted fewer strikeouts than expected given a mid-90s fastball, but with added experience and missing a few more bats, that number should trend upward this season. Porcello is realistically a year away but with the rash of injured Tigers hurlers, could conceivably see action this season. More likely, he’ll develop his craft at Double-A. You’d be wise to tuck him away in keeper leagues to exploit his enormous talent.