|The Detroit Tigers- What the heck happened?||| Print |||Send|
Written by Tom Lindsey (Contact & Archive) on April 18, 2008
Luckily the Indians, the Tigers‚Äô biggest threat to the AL Central crown, have now joined them in the cellar.¬† The lack of equal criticism directed at the Indians is an important reminder of how easily small and early sample sizes can be deceiving.¬† While a very similar article could be written about the team in Cleveland, this one will focus on the problems associated with Mo-Town, both in terms of perception and performance.
With Curtis Granderson out of the lineup with an injured finger early on, the Tigers start only one position player under thirty.¬† And, in fact, there are only three hitters who should not concern you in 2008, those being Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, and Miguel Cabrera.¬† All three are still within -- or close to -- years we would describe as a player‚Äôs prime, and all three have been relatively consistent offensive performers.¬† Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the other six players.
The Tigers‚Äô problem with name recognition begins with Ivan Rodriguez.¬† No longer a treasured asset, Pudge logged an 85 OPS+ in 2007 and still managed to make the All-Star game.¬† He is a player in steep decline, failing to achieve a .300 OBP in two out of the last three years.¬† While his defense is still very good, finding defensive replacements at catcher is not one of the more difficult tasks in baseball.¬† Ivan now profiles as a player very similar to Bengie Molina, yet he makes twice as much and is ten times more respected.
Bengie Molina- 284/.317/.448
Ivan Rodriguez- .286/.306/.434
Even if you give the defensive edge to Pudge, which I think most would (correctly or not), Molina is a fantastic defensive catcher in his own right, and indeed, has two gold gloves to show for it.¬† However, the point is not that Molina is an underrated-superstar, but rather that Rodriguez is, at best, an average backstop.¬† This is not a position of strength for them, and there is the very real possibility that it only gets worse in 2008.
After I-Rod, there are three players who seem almost certain to regress in 2008.¬† The trio consists of Magglio Ordonez, Granderson, and Edgar Renteria.¬† All three players are well above-average at their respective positions, but all three players had seasons in 2007 which I do not think can or will be described as ‚Äútypical seasons.‚ÄĚ¬† Ordonez had his best season in‚Ä¶ forever.¬† His .363 batting average, at .052 points above his career average says fluke, and his .381 batting average on balls in play screams it.¬† Granderson had a similar, albeit less dramatic occurrence of this (.360 BA on balls in play), and his numbers in the major leagues are better than any season he had in the minors.¬† Now, this happens to players from time to time: Grady Sizemore, a player many want to compare Granderson to, had a similar phenomenon occur before breaking out.¬† However, age is a very important factor for any prospect, and I believe you will find that Sizemore‚Äôs age (21 during his last year in the minors) is a critical component.
Renteria, also like Ordonez, had an uncharacteristic year in 2008, putting up a .390 on base percentage and slugging in the high .400‚Äôs.¬† The last time Edgar managed this, he hit .287/.327/.401 the following year.¬† Correlation does not prove causation, we all know that, but that‚Äôs certainly not a good indicator for ‚Äė08.
We move on, finally, to Gary Sheffield and Jacque Jones.¬†¬† Sheffield, at 39 years old and coming off of a season in which he managed to hit just .265, is an easy target.¬† But as easy as it is to point to Sheffield for the Tigers‚Äô failures and decline, I believe this to be a hasty judgment.¬† While the batting average is down, the plate discipline and power remain.¬† Despite his age, Sheffield needs only to revert back to his usual batting averages to once again become an extremely productive hitter.¬† Jones is quite another story, not only for the fact that he‚Äôs historically been a pretty mediocre hitter, but also for the fact that he‚Äôs entering the decline stage for mediocre hitters.
What we shouldn‚Äôt lose sight of, though, is that the Tigers only start one distinctly below average player (Jones).¬† Regression or poor performance can be expected from five or six players on the team, and they are certainly being overrated when projected to score 1000 runs, but they should still be a very good offensive team overall.¬†
While there have been problems with the pitching, I believe they have been largely overstated.¬† Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman (of whom I am a big fan) give them two pitchers whose combined production should warrant about 400 innings of 4.00 ERA.¬† Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, too, should offer a similar amount of innings, and both have good chances to keep their ERA‚Äôs in the high-4‚Äôs or lower.¬† Kenny Rogers, the wildcard of the rotation (he is the gambler, after all!), is only a problem if you consider him the 2nd starter, rather than the 5th, which I believe describes his talents (at this point in his career) more accurately.¬† When a player is as old as Kenny Rogers, you run the risk of him falling off of a cliff every season.¬† But when a player is Kenny Rogers, he often proves a lot of people wrong.¬† The bullpen, while decidedly below-average, has upside with Denny Bautista, and should only get better by the second half with possibly healthy returns by Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya.
Right now, the Tigers are averaging 4.2 runs per game on offense and 6.3 R/G from their pitching staff.¬† Though these are both statistical outliers, the larger one for this team is the runs allowed.¬† This is not a team that‚Äôs going to give up 1020 runs this season, and they should continue to see these numbers reverse themselves.¬† The Tigers are a good team whose offense should be good enough to bail out an average pitching staff with little depth.¬† Though many hitters on the team are overrated, nearly all of them are still above average.¬† The Tigers should only be considered disappointing in that they now have a better chance of not making the playoffs than they do of making them which, according to Baseball Prospectus, was not true at the beginning of the season (their chances of making the playoffs were slightly over 50% when simulated with PECOTA forecasts).
What happened to the Detroit Tigers?¬† They got off to a fluky bad start.¬† If you‚Äôre a Tigers fan, you should be pretty upset with the baseball gods right now, but there is nothing that can be done about it.¬† Though the players should bounce back significantly, they did manage to put themselves into a mathematical hole.¬† Not getting any younger (I‚Äôm a genius with this kind of insider information!), Detroit has severely hampered one of its window years before massive rebuilding must take place.¬† Apparently merciful, the Indians provide hope that not all is lost.