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

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

Window Shopping: Shut the Door, Tip Your Cap

As I write this, his elbow likely is spontaneously combusting, but it’s beginning to look like the Detroit Tigers finally have a reliable closer. Joakim Soria has been both busy and successful this season, appearing in twenty-two of the Tigers’ forty-eight games so far, allowing just three runs and one blown save in that span. Eight of his twenty-two appearances have been on no rest, and six more were after just one day of rest. Since Joe Nathan went down with a season-ending injury, the ninth inning has belonged to Soria, and, on a couple recent occasions, part of the eighth inning as well. Soria’s success is quite welcome, and this expanded use of his closer also reflects well on manager Brad Ausmus, who was criticized for what appeared to be inartful handling of his relievers last year.

Whatever the cause of Soria’s rediscovered success this year, along with the positive contributions of his fellow relief pitchers, the Tigers suddenly find themselves with one of the best bullpens in baseball, as measured by ERA. (They were fourth-worst in 2014.) This reversal comes not a moment too soon for Detroit, where, with Victor Martinez back on the DL, the offense has evaporated like a mid-May snow melt. Thanks in no small part to Soria, though, the team was able to win two of three in Oakland while scoring just four runs in the entire series. The closer appeared on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, allowing two hits, one walk, and no runs in 2.1 innings pitched to seal both victories. Below is the final pitch of yesterday’s game, which is not unpleasing to watch.

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Window Shopping: Tigers Roaring Out of the Gate

At one month old, the MLB season now has accrued a sufficient sample size of free time to permit me to compile the opening post of this site’s regular Detroit Tigers series for 2015, Window Shopping. Last year, I came out of the gate a bit too hot, burned out, and had to take the month of June off. This year finds your resident Tiger tracker more balanced and measured in his approach. This year’s Detroit Baseball Tigers have a more balanced look too.   Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Closing the Book on 2013

Rock and Roll never forgets, and neither does ALDLAND. Last season, I took a look at whether the Tigers struggled to score later in games, a trend that, if shown and in combination with the team’s bullpen woes, would make comeback wins less likely. While the preliminary numbers suggested I was onto something, the trend appeared even more pronounced with one-hundred games’ worth of data. The purpose of this post is to make good on the promise implicit in that last one by completing the full season’s worth of data.

First, an aside on data collection. I previously gathered and organized these inning-by-inning run totals by hand because I didn’t realize Baseball Reference actually tracks that information. In order to maintain the same error potential, and because B-R doesn’t separate the runs/inning between wins and losses, I’ve updated (a simplified version of) my chart as I did before.

r-in 2013

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The Forgettable Gene Lamont

These days, Gene Lamont is known, if at all, as one of the holdover members of Jim Leyland’s merry band of ice-cream-nibbling baseball veterans, now filling the role of bench coach for rookie Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. Attentive fans might know that he, along with former first base coach Andy Van Slyke, were together with Leyland in Pittsburgh when the skipper managed the Pirates, and even that Lamont himself managed those Pirates when Leyland left Pittsburgh to manage the Marlins and Rockies. If the Tigers fan we’re describing is me, then that’s pretty much the extent of common Gene Lamont knowledge.

As I wrote last month, if baseball fans think of one thing when they think of 1994, they think of the Montreal Expos. Everyone agrees they had the best team in baseball during that shortened season and would’ve won the franchise’s only World Series had it not been cancelled due to a labor dispute, potentially changing the course of baseball history in the process. Everyone, that is, except for Gene Lamont.

On Sunday, FanGraphs posted an interview with Lamont, who was the manager of the Chicago White Sox from 1992-95. Excerpts from that post follow:    Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Waiting for Takeoff

A month into the season, the Detroit Tigers sit atop the tightly bunched AL Central with a tenuous 12-9 record. The team, guided by first-time manager Brad Ausmus, looks and feels much different than it did over the last two years. Whether due to the change at the helm or a not-quite-coherent set of offseason moves, the 2014 Tigers appear to have traded identity for tactics and strategy. Thus begins Flying Tigers,* our third Detroit baseball series.

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When Jim Leyland announced his retirement following the end of the 2013 season, we knew Motor City baseball would be different in 2014, but we didn’t realize just how different it would be.     Continue reading