It is early in the 2023 MLB season. Very early. Less-than-two-weeks-in early. Not-even-ten-games-played early. Additionally, I take no pleasure in writing what you’re reading, because it is not good news, and because it now is nearly almost-astonishingly early in the 2023 MLB season.
On the other hand, if the thing I was writing was good news, I might not qualify it or hesitate to write about it or share it with the many manys of readers of this website. If the 2023 Detroit Tigers were so extremely separating themselves from the MLB pack in such a singular– but also good– fashion, you would be reading about it here, and you would want to be reading about it here. This is that, but the bad version.
By way of substantive introduction, Detroit does not have the worst record in baseball. They’re very close to having the worst record, and the reason they don’t have the worst record is at least partially circumstantial. The Tigers are tied with the Oakland A’s for the fewest wins (two apiece), but the A’s have played– and lost– one more game than has Detroit. Oakland seems to have better players than Detroit, though, at least if you grant any credence to FanGraphs wins above replacement as a reasonable general indicator of player performance. According to that metric, Kyle Muller, Ryan Noda, and Zach Jackson each have contributed more to the A’s than any player has contributed to the Tigers.
Considering the fact that, by fWAR, the Tigers’ best player so far in 2023 has been Matt Vierling, and further considering that Vierling is by that same measure the 258th-best player in baseball this season, it isn’t that surprising that another team might have multiple players who have been better than the Tigers’ best player. Nor probably is it surprising that more teams than just Oakland would, so far, have multiple players better than the Tigers’ best player. Maybe it’s mildly surprising that every other team in baseball has multiple players who rank higher than the Tigers’ best player on the fWAR leaderboard, but you probably figured that’s where this was going to end up.
Vierling, in case you never heard of him before two weeks ago, was a fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame by the Philadelphia Phillies, for which he debuted in 2021. In thirty-four games that season, he hit .346/.364/.479 and played first base and outfield. In 117 games in 2022, he hit .297/.351/.648 and played all over the field. On January 7, 2023, the Phillies sent him to Detroit along with Nick Maton and Donny Sands in exchange for Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens. Vierling played especially well in the Tigers’ two wins this season, both of which came on the road against the defending-champion Houston Astros. In those two games, he had six hits, including a home run and a double, a walk, and three RBI. In the rest of the games, he has a total of two hits (both singles) and one walk.
The Tigers are back on the road tonight in Toronto and Vierling is back in the starting lineup, hitting third. The A’s are in Baltimore with Muller scheduled as the starting pitcher and Noda hitting second.