Saving Detroit: Tigers Notes, 8/8/17

detroit tigers notes

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:

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Window Shopping: Pigs in the Pen

It’s July, which means it’s time for MLB teams to sort out their trade-deadline strategy. While fans distract themselves with All-Star festivities, general managers are preparing to execute player transactions in attempts to load up for a playoff run or, in acceptance of their near-term fates as noncontenders, build for the future.

In this context, the Detroit Tigers find themselves in a bit of a bind. After a very strong start, they’ve slid back to a .500 record and have been entrenched in the middle of the AL Central, never too far out of first place, but never really within striking distance. Would a first-place finish from this position be unprecedented? Hardly. Can they claim a fifth-consecutive division title without making a significant trade this summer? Almost certainly not. The Tigers’ record is not a product of underperforming their potential; instead, it likely is a reasonably accurate reflection of this team’s collective ability to date, warts, lower-body injuries, and all.

There is no question that the Tigers should be buyers this month, however thin their wallet may be with currency in the form of desirable prospects. I can’t say with any certainty whom Detroit should acquire this month– starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels are the most valuable targets on the market, but the sellers’ prices may be too rich for the blood of the Tigers’ farm system– but I do agree with the prevailing preference for bolstering the pitching rotation. Shane Greene‘s floor proved too low to allow the team to continue to wait to see how high his ceiling might go, Alfredo Simon’s regressed to the very average levels we should have expected out of him as a starter, and, with appearances in just four games in 2015, Justin Verlander’s projected resurgence isn’t happening. The return of game-calling extraordinaire Alex Avila to his precarious post behind the plate can’t fix that many holes, and neither, I suspect, can J.D. Martinez‘s unsustainable home-run rate. Detroit needs to find another starter.

The trade-deadline attention on the pitching rotation represents a shift of attention away from their bullpen, the conventionally identified leading source of all of the Tigers’ problems. Continue reading

The DET Offensive: Playoffs?!? Playoffs.

Playoffs? Well yes, actually. The Tigers clinched the AL Central championship in game 160 of the season, thereby securing their position in the playoffs. Their first series opens tonight in Detroit. At the beginning of the season, everyone expected the Tigers to take this division and to take it handily. In the end (indeed, a few days before the end), they took it, but they certainly didn’t take it handily. In fact, as anyone tracking this feature (or, you know, watching the games) knows, this team has been down more than it’s been up this year, and it certainly has underachieved. Fortunately for Detroit, the White Sox, who led the division most of the year, were even worse down the stretch and allowed the Tigers to slip into the postseason.

The playoffs are a brand new season, though, and they start tonight, when the Tigers host the red-hot Oakland Athletics. (The ghost of Brandon Inge undoubtedly haunts this series.) There are some good points and some bad points for the Tigers as they enter the postseason. The regular season pretty well illuminated the bad parts. As for the good parts, the abbreviated nature of postseason series should allow Detroit to hide most of its weaknesses, which generally relate to depth. Pitching rotations and rhythms take on a whole new feel in the playoffs, which is a good thing for this Tiger team, which as a bullpen that is unreliable, to say the least. Local talk radio has been critical of manager Jim Leyland’s lineup decisions, but he seems very focused on putting his best offensive lineup on the field for the playoffs, and no longer appears interested in jockeying the batting order.

The first pitch of the A’s-Tigers series– a five-gamer– is just under an hour away, and Justin Verlander will be on the mound for the home team.

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Previously
You forgot about J(ustin Verlander) – 10/1
Get perspective
 – 9/12
Everybody knows this is nowhere – 8/31

Now it’s just offensive – 8/29
Explode! – 7/23
Halfway at the Half-way – 7/9

Interleague
 Play – 6/26
Call the Experts! 
 5/26
Recipe for a Slumpbuster
 – 5/2
Delmon Young Swings and Misses
 – 4/30
Brennan Boesch’s Birthday – 4/12
Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep – 4/9

The DET Offensive: Interleague Play

It has been a tough first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, who are struggling just to get to .500. I wrote before that the best way to get out of a slump is to invite the Royals to your yard. That sort of worked, but it didn’t really cure any ills in the longer term. After this month, though, I have a new recipe: play the National League.

The Tigers began interleague play on June 8 in Cincinnati, and they won each of their interleague series except for the last one, taking two of three from the Reds, Cubs, Rockies, and Cardinals and avoiding a sweep in Pittsburgh with a game three win against the Pirates, the team with the second-best home record in all of baseball. The Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates are good, and the Cubs and Rockies are quite bad, but Detroit’s performance on a given night seemed to have little correlation to the strength of their opponent. MLB, unlike the NFL or NBA, is a situation in which any team can beat any other team on a given day, but I think this is more a reflection of the Tigers’ internal struggles.

Injuries continue to be an issue, the most troublesome example of which is all-star catcher Alex Avila’s knee and leg problems. Fortunately, Gerald Laird has proven to be a more than serviceable backup, but Jim Leyland consistently and accurately insists he has yet to have his best lineup on the field for any meaningful stretch of games. Utility man Don Kelly also is out as a result of flinging his leg into a barrier at dead-sprint speed.

On the positive side, Doug Fister looks to be healthy and back on the path towards pitching effectiveness. Ditto on the latter for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The shining star continues to be Austin Jackson, who is hitting very well in the lead-off spot while recording zero errors in center field.  Keep reading…

The DET Offensive: Tigers open 2012 season with Sawks sweep

Alex Avila’s walk-off homer– the first for any player in the young 2012 season– in the bottom of the eleventh last night secured a season-opening sweep of the Boston Red Sox in a series that showcased the promised strength of this Tigers team and cast some light on potential weaknesses going forward.

This lineup was expected to be absurdly productive on offense, and they did not disappoint. Over the three games, they scored 26 runs on 39 hits, including seven home runs, all from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Avila.

The first game, a 3-2 victory, showed that ace Justin Verlander was picking up where he left off last season, a dangerous prospect for opponents considering the fact that the pitcher won the Cy Young and the MVP last year. Batting pyrotechnics in the second game, a 10-0 win, were enough to momentarily overshadow the injury to Detroit’s #2 starter, Doug Fister, who landed on the 15-day DL because he sprained a side muscle after pitching 3 2/3 shutout innings. This injury could damper the Tigers’ hot start, especially since the team has “no clue” who Fister’s replacement will be. Manager Jim Leyland:

I have no idea who’s going to start. Don’t ask. Please. I have no clue. I just told you that. There’s no sense searching. I have no clue. I keep trying to make that perfectly clear to you guys, but you keep searching. I have no clue who’s going to start. None.

… We will have a starter at the appropriate time. Who it is, I have no clue. None. Next question

That’s concerning. Number 3 starter Max Scherzer got shelled in the third game, and relievers Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit looked a bit out of sorts in this first series. If Tiger fans learned anything from 2006, it’s that a baseball team that lives by its offense can die by it when the hits evaporate. This team is both more balanced and more offensively powerful than that team, which made it to the World Series, and last year’s squad, but it looks like they are going to be able to need to bat their way through some early defensive hiccups to continue this strong start. If any team can do it, though, it’s this one.

For now, it feels really great to open the season in grand winning fashion, sweep a media darling like Boston, and find out that the grand slugging experiment, initiated when the Tigers signed Fielder to replace the injured Victor Martinez, really works.