The Detroit Tigers shot out to a hot start in 2015, but things have not been too good for Detroit since then. They’ve won just five of their last thirteen series. The team’s active six-game losing streak is its longest in four seasons.
The title of this year’s serial Tigers feature at this site, Window Shopping, comes from the common theme of Detroit season previews that, with respect to a World Series championship, the team was trying to keep open its “window of opportunity,” assuming that proverbial window had not already slammed shut under the weight of expensive long-term contracts, aging players, and perceived defensive burdens.
After the last month and a half, though, it is as if these window shoppers, gazing upon the Commissioner’s Trophy in a fancy Harrod’s storefront display (did we fight the Revolution for nothing??), reached into their back pockets in consideration of making the eventual purchase, only to find they suddenly had no money, no credit cards, no traveler’s checks, nothing. They’ve been robbed.
The Tigers are in a tailspin, and it isn’t exactly anyone else’s fault. Their recent struggles have come in games against teams largely regarded as mediocre or worse, including the Athletics, Angels, and Brewers. What’s happening?
After starting the season with an 11-2 record, the Tigers have gone 17-24, and their performance somehow has felt even worse. By my count, since April 21, the date they entered with that 11-2 mark, Detroit has a -19 run differential. Only two other American League teams– the White Sox and Red Sox– have worse run differentials during that period, and only one AL team, Toronto (187), has allowed more runs over that span than Detroit’s 185. Of course, the Blue Jays also scored 213 runs in those games, a number that dwarfs the Tigers’ 166 and is the most in the league. On the other hand, just seven AL teams have scored fewer than 166 runs since April 21, and two of them, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, still maintained positive run differentials. (Both Sox teams, along with Seattle, Baltimore, and Oakland round out this low-scoring group.) In terms of offense and defense (the fundamental terms of competitive team sports), it’s hard to be worse than Detroit right now.
Offense fueled the Tigers’ strong start, and its disappearance has triggered their decline. They averaged 5.38 runs per game through April 20. Since then, though, they’ve scored just 4.05 runs per game, a drop of more than a run and a third. Omit a blowout 13-1 win against the Twins on May 14, and that per-game scoring average falls to 3.83. No bueno.
It’s been almost thirty days since Victor Martinez has appeared in a game for the Tigers. Just last season, he performed so well at the plate that he finished second only to Mike Trout in the MVP vote as a designated hitter. Due primarily to an offseason injury to his left knee that hasn’t healed, Martinez has been a painful shell of his former self, and the team finally sent him to the disabled list after a May 18 game against Milwaukee. This almost certainly was the right move for Martinez, but the team has not been able to replace even his diminished production. In fact, they’ve been worse on offense since Martinez stopped playing:
In descending order, the above shows Detroit’s offensive production for the entire season; the last thirty days, back to May 5, which incorporates Martinez’s last ten games; and the last fourteen days, back to May 21, which includes no Martinez games. The trend is unmistakable: team production is down across every offensive indicator. Causation cannot be presumed, but the team was better with Martinez in the lineup, even in his obviously injured state, and his replacements haven’t picked up the slack in his absence.
Baseball remains a team sport, and the pitchers haven’t been totally innocent. As of April 29, the entire starting rotation was included among the best thirty pitchers in baseball. Today, only two remain in that group, and David Price has fallen from second to fifteenth, while Alfredo Simon is down from seventh to twenty-sixth. Shane green continues to be inconsistent, and Anibal Sanchez is having something of a home run problem. The rotation is not nearly as bad as their bat-swinging counterparts, though, and the surprise of the first third of the year may be the success of the bullpen, once the team’s most glaring weakness.
The American League in general, and the Central division in particular, remains wide open. The lucky Twins, of all teams, find themselves tied for first place in the division, and they have the second-most wins in the league. The Tigers are down, but they are not yet out. To right the ship, they are going to need to start hitting soon, though. I suggested going with offense at last year’s trade deadline. (The team traded for Price instead.) If the Tiger bats don’t come alive in the next couple weeks and they want to make a push for another playoff run, they should look to bolster their offense from the outside as the summer season heats up.
Window Shopping: Shut the Door, Tip Your Cap – 5/28
Window Shopping: Ian Kinsler’s Walking, Not Running – 5/15
Window Shopping: What’s a Shane Greene? – 5/8
Window Shopping: Tigers Roaring Out of the Gate – 5/6
Snapshot: How good has the Detroit Tigers starting rotation been to date? – 4-29
An audible discussion of current baseball topics – 4/27
The Criminal Mind: Measuring Radical Changes in Base-Thieving Habits – 4/16
Shane Greene Outduels Burnett as Tigers Hurdle Pirates to Avenge Only Loss – 4/15
Detroit Tigers 2015 Season Preview – 3/12