Miguel Cabrera stays positive in 2021, and the Detroit Tigers outperform expectations

Before the 2021 season began, we, along with everyone else, predicted that it would be a historic season for Miguel Cabrera. The team’s veteran anchor had within range two of baseball’s all-time career benchmarks: 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. On August 22, Cabrera knocked his 500th career homer over the right-center fence in Toronto, becoming just the twenty-eighth player in MLB history to accomplish that feat. And, even in the face of declining batting average and power production, Cabrera came within a baker’s dozen of 3,000 hits. He finished the year with a career total of 2,987, teeing up another exciting celebration for early in the 2022 season.

Also significant: according to WARP, Cabrera was a positive-value contributor to the Tigers in 2021. While not remotely glamorous, his 0.7 WARP represented his best seasonal performance by that metric since 2016. It also marks his nineteenth-consecutive year as a positive WARP contributor, keeping alive the possibility he finishes his career among the elite, selective group of players who played at least twenty-one seasons without tallying a negative in the wins-above-replacement column. Among active players, only Yadier Molina (eighteen seasons of positive WARP); Robinson Cano (sixteen seasons of non-negative WARP); and Joey Votto (fifteen seasons of non-negative WARP) even are candidates to join this group in the next six years, and the best bet probably is that none of them will make it. As much as anything, Cabrera’s contract, under which he’s signed through his twenty-first season (with extremely unlikely to vest options for more beyond that), makes this achievement a possibility.

As for the rest of the team, there were some other things to like in 2021 too. Other outlets have covered player and prospect development more comprehensively, so I’ll just add a note that the team as a whole outperformed the major projection systems’ preseason expectations (PECOTA: sixty-six wins; FanGraphs: seventy-one wins) by notching a lofty seventy-seven wins. There were some nice winning stretches this season, including a hot start to the second half, which afforded them, with five games to go, mathematical possibilities of finishing with a .500 record and second place in the division (alas, neither of those things occurred).

Finally, on the subject of projections and expectations, had 2021 played out the way PECOTA saw it before the season started, we would have seen some special oddities:

Cabrera didn’t hit a triple, and Buck Farmer did not earn his first career save, the latter a big miss for our readers, especially since the Tigers released Farmer in mid-August after just 35.1 innings pitched. Jeimer Candelario was not caught stealing all year, though, and Matthew Boyd at last notched a sub-4.00 ERA season. Not bad!

As nice as those small accomplishments appear, their respective contexts provide additional color. For Candelario, it was a nothing-ventured-nothing-lost situation. While he wasn’t caught stealing for the first time since 2017, nor did he successfully steal a base, something that also last occurred in 2017. Candelario, it appears, was not part of A.J. Hinch’s base-stealing revolution in Detroit. For Boyd, his 3.89 ERA made for a career-best mark, but it wasn’t a career-best season for him, as the Opening Day starter appeared in just fifteen games and pitched fewer than eighty innings, missing all of July and nearly all of August and September due to soreness in his throwing elbow. Boyd, who may be headed to free agency, likely would’ve traded a slightly worse ERA for a full season of healthy starts in 2021. A difficult reminder that PECOTA may be able to tell us the what (at least fifty percent of the time, anyway), but not the how or why.

Now it’s onto the postseason (the AL wild card round begins tonight) and, hopefully, an exciting and active offseason for the Tigers, who appear ripe to move aggressively back into contention for the division in 2022.

Detroit Tigers 2021 Season Preview

The day is here. A full season of baseball, we have many reasons to hope, lays before us. The Detroit Tigers’ opening contest, a home divisional matchup with Cleveland, begins at 1:10 this afternoon. It will be, we must begin by noting, the first opening day without Al Kaline as a part of the Tigers organization since 1954.

The leading public projection systems don’t particularly care for what they see in the Tigers roster this year (PECOTA: sixty-six wins; FanGraphs: seventy-one wins), but even seventy wins would feel like a good accomplishment for a team that hasn’t bested that mark since 2016.

With championship contention out of the question, the focus turns to individual accomplishments. In that regard, most of the spotlight rightly belongs to Miguel Cabrera. A full, healthy season puts in play for him in 2021 two major offensive milestones: 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Cabrera’s place in Cooperstown already is assured, but these are lifetime-achievement benchmarks it’s difficult to imagine absent from his resume. Cabrera enters the season second on both the active hits (2,866) and home runs (487) leaderboards, trailing only Albert Pujols in both categories. Most observers are targeting August and September for Cabrera to hit these historic points. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch him pass other big names– Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds– on his way there.

The rest of the Tigers roster has perhaps more modest goals for this season. The PECOTA projection system sees a few interesting individual achievements of varying significance for a handful of players. Will Opening-Day starter Matthew Boyd finish the season with an ERA under 4.00 for the first time ever? Will Buck Farmer post his first career save? Will Jeimer Candelario go all year without being caught stealing for the first time since 2017? Will Cabrera hit his first triple since 2016?

Detroit fans definitely like Farmer’s odds. As fun as it would be to see Cabrera leg out another triple, I think I’m rooting for Farmer, if only because that might help my nickname for him– Deer Hunter– finally gain some traction.

The Candelario item highlights a broader strategic shift toward what seems like it will be a more aggressive style of play coming from new manager A.J. Hinch. After leading the Houston Astros from the bottom all the way to the top and then losing his job and serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Hinch found a new home with the team for which he played an unmemorable season of third-string catcher nearly a decade ago. Although there is and will remain a cloud over it, Hinch’s managerial championship pedigree and association with some of the game’s brightest minds (a little too bright, perhaps) in Houston, together with his playing experience that includes time behind the dish in Detroit and his relative youth (he’ll turn forty-seven next month), all suggest he could be the best version of what the Tigers thought they’d found in Brad Ausmus back in 2014.

While Hinch appears to be a steady hand at the helm, this ship will sail only as far as ownership allows. As some of the team’s top pitching prospects begin to ripen, the task of finding run support for that budding rotation remains at the feet of Chris Ilitch. When the iron is hot, will he spend like his father did to add key free agents and push the team back into the top tier of contention? Or will he continue to churn the roster, keeping the team mired in a hunt for nothing more than intransigent mediocrity? I really like the Julio Teheran signing this offseason, but it’s moves of a different kind– think Prince Fielder or even Justin Upton, like Teheran, also a former Atlanta Brave– that soon will be needed. Is the young owner truly motivated to win? We’ll know before long.

For now, we have at our own feet that pure and exciting thing for which there is no need to wait: the Detroit Tigers are playing baseball today.

RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.

The rise of mechanized automation was supposed to ease our human lives. Instead, it has led to increased unemployment and longer, more laborious hours for those fortunate enough remain on the job. We at ALDLAND are here to swim against that current by compelling our metal creations to improve our earthly experiences. Rest assured, demanding readers: plenty of hand-crafted, free-range baseball coverage is on its way to these digital pages. But why wait for a man-made preview post when the computers can do the work for us?

With brevity as our computing watchword, here‘s the projection for the 2020 Detroit Tigers from Baseball Prospectus: a 69-93 record and a zero-point-zero-zero-percent chance of making the playoffs. BP’s PECOTA system sees only one other team, Seattle, with no shot whatsoever at the postseason, and only five, Seattle, Kansas City, Baltimore, and San Francisco, posting fewer wins.

On an individual basis, PECOTA expects eight Tiger players to add at least one win above the contribution expected of a replacement-level player (2019 WARP in parenthesis):

  • Matthew Boyd: 2 WARP (3.7)
  • Jonathan Schoop: 2 WARP (0.3)
  • Niko Goodrum: 1.7 WARP (1.6)
  • C.J. Cron: 1.6 WARP (1.3)
  • Miguel Cabrera: 1.4 WARP (0.3)
  • Christin Stewart: 1.2 WARP (-1.3)
  • JaCoby Jones: 1.1 WARP (0.0)
  • Joe Jimenez: 1 WARP (0.9)

Last year, only four Tigers– Boyd, Goodrum, Nicholas Castellanos, and Buck Farmer–contributed at least 1.0 WARP to the team.

On the whole, this is a very Professor-Farnsworth-good-news moment for Detroit fans. No one really anticipated seeing Tiger baseball in October 2020, but the fact that the robots think the team will win almost two-dozen more games than last season– that’s almost four extra wins every month– and feature twice as many productive-ish players is reason enough to be encouraged, at least relatively speaking.

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Previously
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?
RKB: An unprecedented offseason move?
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation