While trades– including a trade of Justin Verlander– technically remain a possibility at this point in the year, it looks like the Detroit Tigers will content themselves with playing out the final two months of this season with their current crew and an eye toward the future. For this site, that probably means that the pages of this season’s Tigers diary will be a little emptier than they might be if the team were more aggressive in the trade market or competing for a playoff berth. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting items to track, though. Here are a few:
- Justin Upton: As highlighted here last week, Upton’s been trimming his bugaboo strikeout rate, but he’s continuing to strike out in bad situations. Since that post, he’s appeared in six games and added four two-out strikeouts to his total, pushing him into a tie for eleventh on the MLB-wide list (minimum 100 two-out plate appearances) in 2017. With 3.6 fWAR, Upton continues to be the team’s best position player by a comfortable margin, as well as its best overall player. In that post last week, I speculated that Upton is unlikely to opt out of his contract this offseason due, in part, to a weak market for corner outfielders with his profile. Over at The Athletic’s new Detroit vertical, Neil Weinberg is more optimistic about Upton’s open-market prospects, calling the “odds that Upton opts out . . . quite high.”
- Miguel Cabrera: I’ve been working up a full post on Cabrera’s tough season, which has a good chance to be the worst of his career. (For a forward-looking analysis, my career comparison between Cabrera and Albert Pujols is here.) Besides the obvious drop in production, one thing that jumps out is his batting average on balls in play, which, at .296, is below .300 for the first time ever (career .345 BABIP). Last month, Weinberg did the logical thing and dove into Cabrera’s swing profile and batted-ball data tabulated by StatCast. The problem, from our perspective, is that there isn’t a ton there. Cabrera continues to rank high (currently number one, minimum 200 at bats, by a large margin) on the xwOBA-wOBA chart, an indication that he’s making good contact despite poor results. From watching games this season, it seems like Cabrera turns away from inside (but not that inside) pitches more often than in years past, which makes me wonder if he simply isn’t seeing pitches as well. (Weinberg noticed that he’s swinging less often than usual at inside pitches.)
When observing the decline of a great player, it can be fun to take a break from the dissection to remember his youth, which the remarkable achievements of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper gave us occasion to do today:
- Comerica Park: Part of the reason why Cabrera is atop that xwOBA-wOBA leaderbord, where four of his current or recently former teammates– Victor Martinez, Alex Avila, Nicholas Castellanos, and James McCann– join him in the top fifteen, involves the dimensions of the Tigers’ home field. Aside from San Francisco’s cavernous AT&T Field, no park suppressed both overall scoring and home runs more than Comerica, which FanGraphs called “the homer-killing park. Comerica has logged homer park factors of 72, 86 and 70 from 2015-17. The hardest fly balls in the game have been hit in Detroit this season. Hitters should be batting .350 AVG-1.030 SLG on them, but are actually posting a .291 AVG-.811 SLG line, the 5th least fly ball production in the game. This underscores how great Miguel Cabrera has been for so long. Only 63.4% of 105+ MPH fly balls have left the yard here. Cheaper homers are much harder to find as well, as only 33.9% of 100-105 and 11.9% of 95-100 mph fly balls have left the building.” We also need to keep in mind the possibility that there is “something weird going on” with ball-in-play tracking at Comerica Park.
- Victor Martinez: I’ve written plenty about good Victor Martinez, so I must at least note bad Victor Martinez, who, like Cabrera, is setting up for one of his worst seasons ever. By fWAR, he’s been the worst player on the team this season, and he still is due $18 million next year, his age-thirty-nine season. Martinez is unlikely to retire early– $18 million goes a long way on a cattle ranch— and, as maybe the slowest player in the sport, the former catcher and first baseman isn’t going to add value anywhere outside the DH spot, and, at this point he isn’t actually adding value there. Some have suggested the team should approach Martinez about a buyout, but that strikes me as an unlikely possibility. A more realistic vision of 2018 sees Martinez on the roster but with reduced playing time as the team shifts bats like Castellanos, Jeimer Candelario (part of the return for Alex Wilson), and, possibly, Upton around the corners of the field.
In terms of team-level things to root for this season, finishing with a winning record would be nice. At 51-60 with fifty-one games to go in a second-half schedule that should be easier than their first-half schedule, this seems like an achievable goal.
Decoding the Upton Myth – 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home – 7/21
Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship – 6/27
Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton – 5/31
Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8