The Last Night of the Tigers Dynasty That Wasn’t (via Baseball Prospectus)

Over the next several seasons, we’ll see the Tigers get worse before they get better. The veterans who remain will be traded or allowed to walk. Mildly youngish players like Daniel Norris and Nick Castellanos will be given more time to showcase why they should or shouldn’t be part of the future. And general manager Al Avila will likely hoard prospects as he looks to restock a bottom-10 farm system.

This doesn’t look like a Yankees rebuild-on-the-fly situation. It looks like the Tigers might be the new Reds, Phillies, or Braves. It looks like Tigers might be in the basement for a while. Memories of yesteryear rarely dull the pain of today. But still, the baseball world owes it to the Tigers to remember those early 2010s teams one more time before a new Dark Ages of Tigers baseball begins. Because dear lord, they were a lot of fun.

None of this is meant to dig up old wounds for Tigers fans. In fact, the goal is here is quite to the contrary; to remind people that the early 2010s Tigers weren’t also-rans or lucky bastards or frauds. They were really good. Good enough to win it all, if another bounce or two went their way. Good enough to win it all more than once if a half-dozen bounces went their way.

Over the next few seasons, as we watch Mikie Mahtook struggle in center field and Matt Boyd struggle on the mound and countless other journeymen, misfits, and youngens flock to Detroit, try to remember the good ole days. Remember how scary it was seeing “Cabrera, Fielder, Martinez” in the heart of a lineup. How exciting the prospect of “Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez” was in 2013. How easily the Tigers could bash you into a pulp or marginalize your best hitters. And how Dombrowski made “mystery team” mean something.

They say the journey is more important than the destination. That feels less true than ever in an era where every pitch, error, swing, and call is dissected on Twitter, debated on TV, and picked apart in online columns. But for the 2011-2014 Tigers, it has to be true. History will not remember them as winners, but we should not forget them as entertainers and craftsmen, as teams built to thrill and wow and dazzle.

That all ended officially on August 31, 2017, though we’d seen it coming for years. Justin Verlander is in Houston, Detroit is rebuilding, and time marches on. The Tigers’ watch has ended, but they are not forgotten. … Read More

(via Baseball Prospectus)

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Saving Detroit: Tigers in Retrograde

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I thought we already covered this, Brad.

After a pleasantly surprising series sweep of the White Sox, the Tigers have lost eight of twelve and fallen to fourth place in the underwhelming AL Central. Rather than capitalize on a slow start by Cleveland, Detroit is struggling to keep its head about the .500 winning percentage waterline, and a deeper look into their 32-36 record suggests it’s an accurate reflection of who they’ve been to this point– no bad luck to blame so far. At least Victor Martinez is out of the hospital.

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Previously
Saving Detroit: Fixing Justin Upton – 5/31
Saving Detroit: Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2

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In the history of Major League Baseball, there’s only been one player with the first name Anibal. Anibal Alejandro Sanchez broke into the majors in 2006 with the Florida Marlins. He, along with Omar Infante, came to Detroit in the middle of the 2012 season in a trade. In 2013, his first full season as a Tiger, Sanchez produced by far the best season of his career (6.1 bWAR, 6.0 fWAR, 5.1 WARP). It’s been all downhill since then, though, and his move to the bullpen in 2016 seemed inevitable if only because he remained signed to a starter-magnitude contract that made totally cutting bait a pill too difficult to swallow. Sanchez didn’t make the transition especially well, however, and things have not improved in 2017. It’s come time for the Tigers to release this former fish.

After an especially bad weekend in Oakland capped a rough start to this season for incumbent closer Francisco Rodriguez, I (along with everyone else in the world) wrote on Monday that manager Brad Ausmus needed to demote K-Rod immediately. Ausmus agreed and did so, promoting Justin Wilson to the closer role, although the first run with the new top-line bullpen arrangement showed Ausmus still has room for improvement there. Dynamic, leverage-oriented bullpen management is pretty difficult to accomplish, though, and Sanchez has become a much clearer and more present danger to the team’s success than any further usage optimization of the capable portion of the relief corps.

Sanchez, as a converted starter who used to be good, would seem to be the optimal long relief guy, but he has foundered in that role, and if it seems like he gives up a home run every time he comes into a game, well, you’re not far off.

Last night in Arizona, Sanchez made his first appearance in over a week and immediately surrendered back-to-back home runs to the first two batters he faced. Although the Tigers’ offense had evaporated in the desert heat that night, those two homers Sanchez allowed felt like the real mortal blow that destroyed any hope for a comeback.

This is who Sanchez is at this point. Among qualified relievers in 2017, only one pitcher is allowing home runs at a higher rate than him (none have allowed more, total, than him), and Sanchez has been used more than everybody in the “top” twenty on that list. This now is an untenable situation, and it probably has been for some time. Continue reading

[UPDATED] Catching Fire: Mike Drop

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UPDATE: Approximately seven minutes after we published this post, the Tigers took our advice and traded Aviles to the Atlanta Braves.

It’s reassuring to know that General Manager Al Avila has joined Brad Ausmus as an ALDLAND reader. If you would like to peer inside the mind of the Tigers GM, the original post remains below.

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The clock is ticking louder than ever on the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 season, and, just at the very moment the team needs to be putting its best foot forward in an effort to win crucial games that will determine whether they make the playoffs, they are running out some of the worst lineups they’ve used all season.

Injuries are largely to blame for this untimely suboptimal roster utilization, as Detroit currently is without Cameron Maybin, Nick Castellanos, Jordan Zimmermann, Jose Iglesias, Shane Greene, and (sigh) Mike Pelfrey. In addition, Miguel Cabrera left last night’s game with what appeared to be a left shoulder injury, and his status is uncertain. Manager Brad Ausmus, facing this many significant losses, obviously is handcuffed– he has little choice but to lean, undoubtedly more heavily than he would prefer, on his reserves, backups, and alternates.

Modern MLB roster construction, with its emphasis on relief-pitching specialization, leaves little room for backup position players. The Tigers, like most American League teams, essentially have three: a backup catcher, and two other “utility” fielders, who can play a variety of positions whenever a regular starter needs a break, or as a defensive replacement late in games.

For Detroit, those two guys are Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles, and they aren’t very good. Back in June, when Iglesias was struggling, I wondered whether Romine, who appeared to be a very solid stand-in at short when given the opportunity, should take over the job? Nope. Back in March, before the season even started, I was worried about the scouting report on Aviles, which was starkly negative:

Aviles is no longer useful in a baseball sense[, and] his inability to reach base (.279 OBP from 2013-15) makes him a complete zero on offense, while what’s left of his defensive and baserunning abilities have become liabilities.

Harsh and, so far, accurate. Unsurprisingly, when both Aviles and Romine are in the starting lineup, Detroit almost always loses.   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox

With the 2016 MLB season roughly one-third complete, this series has touched on possible changes the Detroit Tigers might make at the catcher and shortstop positions and now turns to the starting pitching rotation.

To begin with the good news about the Detroit Tigers’ pitching, we almost have to begin with the bad news, which is that the presumptive lock for an above-slot number three starter, Anibal Sanchez, was so bad through his first eleven starts that he’s been demoted to the bullpen. Another potential starter, Shane Greene, has continued to be unable to prove he can hold down a starter role, and still-semi-prospect Daniel Norris has battled injury and efficiency problems that, so far, have kept him in Toledo and out of a rotation spot in Detroit. Thankfully, Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Verlander have, for the most part, been very solid in the first two spots, and rookies Michael Fulmer and, to a lesser extent, Matt Boyd, have arrived this year as big-league-ready starters.

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A weakness common to all Tigers starters this year has been an inability to pitch late into games, but the arrival of Fulmer in particular has allowed the team to bolster an already-improved bullpen with extra tweener (i.e., not quite starter material yet/anymore) arms like Sanchez and Greene, with Boyd, who has been a bit homer-prone of late, a possibility to join them in the near future. Brad Ausmus and Al Avila have done a good job of rotating these arms through a suddenly thick bullpen, making frequent use of Toledo options where available, to the point that many Tigers fans are experiencing a creeping and unfamiliar sensation of actual comfort with their team’s pitching staff. These are strange days indeed.

If they want to return to the familiar, however, they need not look too hard, because every fifth game or so begins with Mike Pelfrey on the mound.   Continue reading

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” feature spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent St. Patrick’s Day with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:   Continue reading

Snapshot: How good has the Detroit Tigers starting rotation been to date?

No, Justin Verlander hasn’t appeared in a single game this season. Yes, it’s still early in the year to be issuing deeply meaningful assessments of baseball team performances. No, I still have not pulled together a proper introductory post for this season’s Tigers series. Instead, you’ll have to get by with this extensive team season preview, which remains not wholly inaccurate, a writeup on Detroit’s bounceback from its first loss in Pittsburgh, a quick peek at changes in team base-stealing profiles, a podcast from earlier this week, and the following snapshot of the Tigers’ rotation through twenty-one games.

This morning, Baseball Prospectus released a new pitching metric, Deserved Run Average (“DRA”), which is designed as a replacement for ERA. You can read more about DRA here (and a nauseatingly detailed exposition of it here), but the one-line summary is simple: “By accounting for the context in which the pitcher is throwing, DRA allows us to determine which runs are most fairly blamed on the pitcher.” After all, that’s what we want to know when we look at a pitcher’s ERA. DRA, it would appear, allows us to know that with greater accuracy.

With that new tool in hand, here are 2015’s most valuable pitchers so far, factoring in their newly calculated DRA:

dra-pwarp-4-29-15Plenty of familiar names on that list, especially for Tigers fans, who will find all five of this season’s starters– David Price (#2), Alfredo Simon (#7), Shane Greene (#9), Anibal Sanchez (#15), and even Kyle Lobstein (#22)– among the thirty most valuable pitchers of this young season.

Through thick and thin offensive production thus far, plenty of credit for the team’s 14-7 record is due to the starting rotation, which, you need not be reminded, unloaded Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello in the past two offseasons. Surprisingly, so far, so good.

Max Scherzer scouting report (backup catcher ed.)

My first post over at Banished to the Pen, a new baseball blog, takes a very serious look at a rumor of debatable seriousness: that the Texas Rangers considered adding Max Scherzer as a backup catcher before he signed as a starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals.

The full post is available here.

Flying Tigers: The State of Baseball in Detroit

The Detroit Tigers, once unequivocal favorites to run away with the AL Central, today find themselves clinging to a wild-card spot. And today is a good day. A if-the-season-ended-today-the-Tigers-would-make-the-playoffsish day. Not all days are those days these days.

Even with a 7-3 record over the last ten games (you’re glad I didn’t write this post ten games ago), Detroit has a losing record so far in the second half of the season (23-24, -4 run differential). While the offense, unaddressed before the trade deadlines, continues to be a problem, injuries to Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Joakim Soria effectively negated any defensive gains resulting from the team’s only two late-season trades.

The group of “rational Tigers fans” beat back even the slightest hint of worry with blanket appeals to the greatness of the historically great members of this Tigers team. “Don’t read too deeply into the struggles you’re seeing because this team has MIGUEL CABRERA, who can’t possibly lose” or whatever. It’s important to vent, though. And to be honest (and, you know, rational). Cabrera can barely walk right now. Yes, he’s leading the sport in doubles this season, but that’s because his power has evaporated (i.e., he’ll probably finish the year with half as many homers as he hit last year and, at very best, the third-worst HR season of his career). His injuries mean that Victor Martinez has to spend more time playing first base. At age thirty five, Victor’s having a breakout power year, but he has no knees, which makes it tough for him to defend first. J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler’s bats have cooled off after hot starts. None of the various replacement-level players filling time at short can hit, and there’s a noticeable problem with catching the ball to tag out base stealers.

How do things look with a month, twenty-four games, to go? Continue reading

Flying Tigers: How the David Price trade could help the bullpen

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As the aftershocks of the David Price trade continue to ripple across the baseball landscape, Tigers fans still are trying to understand the meaning and implications of the move. My immediate reaction was mixed, generally because starting pitching seemed like the least of Detroit’s postseason needs, one of the most glaring of which remains a shallow, untrustworthy bullpen with nothing to speak of from the lefthanded side.

While I do think the Tigers should move Justin Verlander to the ‘pen in October, Price may be able to address the team’s relief-pitching deficiencies in his role as a starter. In 2014, Price has pitched more innings and more innings per start than any other Detroit pitcher (numbers from Baseball-Reference):

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Price has been going deeper into games this year than any member of the Tigers rotation. If he can continue to pitch into the seventh or eighth inning on a regular basis, that could reduce the number of relievers needed in that game and preserve bullpen options in other games.

The measure of this impact is likely to be small, but like Victor Martinez’s extended plate appearances, these could be the sorts of small advantages that, in the aggregate, push one team past another.

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Previously
Trade Deadline Explosion – 7/31
Where are the Bats?
– 7/31
Detroit finds relief, but at what price? – 7/24
Closing Time? – 6/4
Closing the Book on 2013
– 6/2
Victor Martinez, Professional Hitter
 – 5/7
Actually Mad Max
 – 4/29
Waiting for Takeoff – 4/28