Bay of Cigs: The Departed

Last baseball season, I kept a Detroit Tigers diary here called “The DET Offensive,” a nod to all of the offensive firepower Detroit added in the offseason, primarily in the form of Prince Fielder. This season, the return of Victor Martinez and the acquisition of Torii Hunter make the Tigers even more of a threat with the bat. Their biggest question headed into the year is at the closer position. Jose Valverde had a perfect season two years ago, but he dropped off significantly last year, and GM Dave Dombrowski sent him packing as a result. Phil Coke filled in at that position quite admirably during the playoffs, but for whatever reason, he isn’t being considered for it as we head into the 2013 season. Instead, management seems to be waffling between minor league sensation Bruce Rondon (intriguing) and Rick Porcello (GAHHHHH!).      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: Recipe for a Slumpbuster

When your baseball team is in a bad way like the Tigers have been, what can they do to get out of the collective slump? It’s a question as old as baseball, but if you’re playing in the AL Central anytime between the 1990s and the present day, the return path to winning ways runs through Kansas City. If you can get them to come over to your place, all the better. Mix in young Rick Porcello’s righting ship, add a pinch of Victor Martinez’s happy return to the clubhouse (if not the playing field), and extract Delmon Young’s unproductive toxicity. Score five runs in the first inning. Allow that to rise into a 9-0 lead. Let settle over the remaining five innings into a 9-3 victory.

Keep reading…

The promise of Prince Fielder

I largely agree with Bpbrady and Dave Cameron’s assessment of the deal that made Prince Fielder a member of the team where his (estranged) father was a star. In short, the Tigers had better win a World Series by 2015. Fielder probably is close to his athletic peak right now, but, like Albert Pujols’ new contract with the Angels, compensation doesn’t really ramp up until later.
 
 
ESPN Insider’s Dan Szymborski ran a ZiPS projection for Fielder over the next nine years. Here’s what he got:

 

Those early-contract numbers might look a tad pessimistic, given that Fielder’s coming off a season in which he hit .299/.415/.566 and racked up 5.5 wins above replacement, and he’s just 27 years old, smack in the middle of the age range in which the average major leaguer peaks. But for all of his power potential, Fielder is a lousy defender who’ll play either first base (poorly) or DH. That means he needs to hit a metric ton to yield as much value as a player manning a premium defensive position, like Matt Kemp or even Dustin Pedroia.

The national media reaction to this deal has been pretty tepid: it just seems to be too rich for their liking, and Fielder won’t earn the money over the full length of the nine-year contract. My buddy in Detroit called me a couple hours after the announcement to discuss, and he said that the reaction over there largely remained in the surprised shock stages. The general consensus that’s filtering through there and nationally, though, is that the Tigers over-leveraged their future in an attempt to win now, making this a bad deal for the Tigers. In other words, this 275 lb (and growing), $214 million (and escalating) albatross will be such a drag on the team that it will clearly outweigh any short-term benefits.

This, of course, is hardly the case. The theory underlying the criticism of the Fielder deal is that teams should be trying to build perennial contenders, and that this contract will prevent Detroit from becoming a perennial contender once Fielder’s decline sets in. The second clause in the preceding sentence may be true and probably will be, but the first contains a cliché assumption that is bogus. Maybe it isn’t totally bogus. If some success is good, more success is better, and once having found success, it’s nice to sustain that success. The problem is that very few teams have been able to maintain top-level success. (Moreover, there was no indication that the 2011 Tigers were calibrated such that they were on the cusp of a decade of dominance or anything like that.) Detroit hasn’t won the World Series since 1984, and the years since then have been pretty thin. If presented with the option of winning the division in each of the next three seasons, winning one championship during that period, and then sinking back into mediocrity for the next six years, I can’t imagine a single Tiger fan saying no. Our willingness to forego future stability for an increased chance of present gains has put our economy in the stink pot, but when it comes to baseball, and a team that hasn’t won it all in 28 years, the strategy makes perfect sense.

Keep reading…

Tigers win Game 5, series against Yankees, 3-2

Here's your Game 5 winner

The Detroit Tigers hung on to beat the New York Yankees in a decisive fifth game last night, advancing to the ALCS, which starts Saturday night in Arlington, TX.

I questioned Jim Leyland’s personnel decisions before and during the game, but they turned out to be exactly the right moves. Keep reading…

Jim Leyland’s ALDS Game 5 lineup

When a reader told me he’d seen Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland wearing a suit on TBS last night, I knew something was awry. Earlier in the day, ESPN Insider, Vanderbilt graduate, and Vermonster Buster Olney reported that Justin Verlander would not start Game 5 against the Yankees in New York, and that Don Kelly would start at third, with Magglio Ordonez in right field.

I’ve only ever seen Leyland in a baseball uniform, includng hat, or some other Belichickian attire like a windbreaker pullover or hooded sweatshirt, so to see him dressed as pictured above somewhat shocks my brain.

Less shocking, but still surprising, were Leyland’s starting lineup choices. That Verlander would not start was expected. In the playoffs, you have to be able to count on your number two starter in a must-win game, and Doug Fister is more than competent to handle that task. I’m still scratching my head over the Kelly/Ordonez decision, though, and I’m trying to figure out which came first. Both mostly play right field. Ordonez has been an offensive power in the past, but he generally has cooled off in the last year or two. Kelly usually is described as a defensive replacement, meaning that he does not hit especially well, although he has been making good contact in this series.

Leyland had been working a similar pairing at third base with the recently acquired Wilson Betemit and longtime Tiger Brandon Inge. Like the Kelly/Ordonez pairing, one (Betemit) is the better hitter and the other (Inge) the defensive replacement. Also like Kelly/Ordonez, Betemit’s bat has cooled off in this series, while Inge’s has heated up.

In a vacuum, Leyland’s decision to start Kelly and Ordonez is not necessarily strange, but when examined together with the consequence of that decision– both Betemit and Inge on the bench– I have a hard time understanding it. Which is why I, unlike Leyland, wear a suit most of the time and don’t manage a baseball team. Still, I hope the Tigers aren’t getting away from what got them to this point.