2018 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

detroit-tigers

At last, Opening Day is here, and the 2018 Detroit Tigers season preview you absolutely need now is ready for you. For the fourth consecutive year, Mark Sands, my Banished to the Pen colleague, and I have prepared a Tigers season preview, which is available right now on that site. For the second consecutive year, our preview takes on a slightly less formal format. In light of the significant roster turnover the team has experienced, we thought it would be helpful to tell the story of this team by focusing on some of its new faces, together with some updates on the current roles for the familiar guys.

First pitch is at 1:10 todaytomorrow. Until then, and long after, one assumes, the full preview post is available here.

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

fiers mlbn

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

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

Old English D: A Look Back at Tigers Uniforms (via The Hardball Times)

parts-of-the-dIn late January, the Detroit Tigers announced an alteration to their iconic home uniforms that, depending on your level of uniform awareness, was either a seismic change or a minor detail but unlikely to be anything in between. The Tigers’ Old English “D” is the second-oldest mark in baseball, trailing only the Athletics’ “A,” which can be traced back to 1866. However, for most of their history, the D on the Tigers’ caps has differed, at times slightly, at others quite drastically, from the D on their jerseys. This offseason, the Tigers decided to put an end to that discrepancy by replacing the D on their jerseys with the one on their caps.

The decision was superficially logical (the D’s should match), but disregarded the history of one of major league baseball’s classic uniforms. Not only had the two D’s never really matched (with the possible exception of the 1929 road uniform, though uniform manufacturing was so inconsistent then that even that could be called into question), but the now-discarded Jersey D (as I’ll call it from here on out) pre-dated the first use of the Cap D by 52 years.

By transferring the Cap D to their chests, the Tigers have removed a version of the D that dated back to 1908 in favor of one that has been in continuous use only since 1968. If anything, the discrepancy between the D’s was more representative of the Tigers’ uniform history than any single D could be, with the possible exception of the now-discarded Jersey D. … Read More

(via The Hardball Times)

Addressing the sports consequences of the Disney-Fox deal

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As highlighted in this week’s Sports Law Roundup, Disney and Fox are entering into a doozy of a media deal that involves everything from movies to television shows to streaming platforms to sports programming. This transaction has Star Wars components, Hulu components, and Simpsons components that, rightfully, are making headlines. It would not be surprising, however, if some of the most visible changes for viewers that result from this asset purchase, for which approval by various supervisory entities remains pending, come for consumers of sports media.

In an article out today, Will Leitch sheds some light on how this sale may affect the sports-media landscape:   Continue reading

Sports Law Roundup – 12/1/2017

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Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Streaming data: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that ESPN may share an individual’s streaming device identification number and record of videos watched without violating the federal Video Privacy Protection Act because that information does not constitute “personally identifiable information” under that act. The First Circuit previously had ruled that such information could be personally identifiable information, especially where combined with geolocation data, but that now is regarded as the minority position.
  • Bird death: A Massachusetts appellate court affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a truck manufacturer and the owner of automotive-related equipment in a wrongful-death case brought by the widow of Mark Fidrych. Fidrych died in 2009 of accidental asphyxiation when his clothing became entangled in the equipment while he was working underneath his truck. The court agreed that the equipment was dangerous and could have been designed in a safer fashion, but, because those designs were not defective and the risk that led to Fidrych’s death “arose out of the addition of other components and the decisions made, and actions taken, by downstream actors, the defendants had no duty to warn of those dangers.”

Sports court is in recess.

What happened the last time the Lions played the Browns in Detroit

In a few ways, it’s irritatingly cumbersome to write about the history of the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. Long synonymous with deep NFL failure, these two teams were very competitive and successful in that period of professional football that doesn’t count anymore (i.e., the pre-Super Bowl era), meeting in multiple NFL Championship Games in the 1950s. That lengthy historical leap isn’t quite a smooth one, though, since there’s a corporate continuity problem on Cleveland’s side due to team owner Art Modell’s controversial move and (sort of) transformation of the team into the Baltimore Ravens in 1996, with the “Browns” not returning to existence until 1999.

Additionally, for teams as old and geographically proximate as these two, the Browns and Lions meet only infrequently in the regular season. In the forty-seven NFL seasons since the NFL-AFL merger, Cleveland and Detroit have played each other just eleven times. Though they faced off only twice in the 1990s, there nevertheless was an effort during that period to drum up a rivalry of sorts in the form of “The Great Lakes Classic,” which was centered around preseason meetings– there even was a trophy, which, suitably, was modeled after the region’s most famous shipwreck, the Edmund Fitzgerald. The “Classic” fizzled, though, during a particularly unmemorable stretch for both teams:

Over the GLC’s 13-year run, the Lions and Browns were two of the three losingest teams in football, per Pro Football Reference. Over those regular seasons they ran out 29 different quarterbacks, gave 13 different skippers the whistle and posted a collective .339 winning percentage.

It obviously is tough to get excited about either of these teams on their own, much less when they’re playing each other. But a recent game in this series, the last one played in Detroit and the only one played in Ford Field, offered some real drama. Thankfully, the NFL Films crew captured it.

The 2009 season was Matthew Stafford’s rookie year, and he started ten games at quarterback for Detroit that season. On November 22, the Browns came to Ford Field, where, with 5:44 left in the fourth quarter, they found themselves with a six-point lead thanks to this blast-from-the-past play:

browns 11-22-09

Stafford now is the highest-paid player in NFL history, but, in 2009, Lions fans still were in the process of figuring out what the team had in its top overall draft pick out of Georgia. He’d soon let them know:

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The Lions will look to make it four in a row over Cleveland on Sunday. A win coupled with a Packers loss to the Bears (who knows) would give Detroit clear possession of second place in the division, which, in my opinion, remains winnable even if I refuse to buy into the hype train the national media runs out after Lions wins in nationally televised games. I’m thankful for the exposure, to be sure, but people are making way too much out of Monday Night Football wins over the Packers and New York Giants, two teams going firmly in reverse this year. The Sunday Night Football loss to the Steelers should serve as a strong reminder that the Lions have done nothing to demonstrate week-to-week continuity, and that red zone offense, in particular, remains a significant weakness. They’re only in the mix because of the poor quality of their divisional opponents. Here’s hoping they can capitalize on a weak nonconference opponent this week. In case you missed it, the Browns, at 0-8, are deep on the Road to XVI.

Tigers make no waves with garden-variety hire

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In a move sure to disappoint many, the Detroit Tigers’ managerial search reportedly is over after less than two weeks, and the team appears to be set to announce former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire as the replacement for Brad Ausmus. From the article announcing the decision:

What separated Gardenhire from the rest of the pack?

Multiple sources told The Athletic’s Katie Strang that Tigers general manager Al Avila entered the process leaning heavily toward a candidate with previous MLB managerial experience. Gardenhire was seen as a seasoned, battle-tested option in this regard.

In his thirteen-season tenure as the Twins’ skipper, he compiled a .507 winning percentage. In twenty-seven playoff games, he posted a .222 winning percentage. All of those playoff wins came in his first three seasons (2002-2004) with the club, and Minnesota missed the playoffs entirely, and by wide margins, in his final four seasons there (2011-2014).

In my opinion, Gardenhire is the worst sort of “old-school” manager who lacks the ability to adapt to the modern game or develop young talent, two things of critical importance to this Tigers team in 2018 and beyond. He’s Jim Leyland without the edge, wit, or soul (which is to say: not Jim Leyland). He’s Dusty Baker without the success. He’s Clint Hurdle without the willingness to learn and adjust. He’s basically Bryan Price’s dad. Which is to say, not good, and vanilla at best.

To this, Tigers fans should say: “no thank you.” That a coaching search that supposedly began with fifty names ended like this reveals a front office more tone-deaf than previous personnel decisions indicated. Research indicates that managers probably have little impact on game outcomes, and if Gardenhire is coming to Detroit merely to serve as an interim stopgap during the rebuilding process, so be it. If that’s the case, though, why not bring in someone younger and cheaper who at least offers the possibility of growing with the players and the club and developing into a long-term solution? Or, why not promote from within, like the Atlanta Braves did with Brian Snitker? The team’s coaching ranks weren’t short on people “with previous MLB managerial experience,” including Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont.

Gardenhire’s not likely to be a detriment to the team, but his hiring feels like a missed opportunity and serves as a reminder that, after the Verlander decade, the Detroit Tigers’ rebuilding process will be a long and difficult one indeed.

Recalling Mike Pelfrey’s contract on this, the day of John Jaso’s retirement

The Davy Jones of Major League Baseball, John Jaso, says he plans to retire from the sport and live on his sailboat. As the Deadspin writeup notes, Jaso earned roughly $16.6 million in his nine-year career, during which he spent time with the Pirates, Rays, Mariners, and A’s. Not bad for a catcher-turned-first-baseman/corner-outfielder who amassed 6.1 career WARP.

Of course, it’s also roughly the same amount of money– $16 million– the Detroit Tigers agreed to pay Mike Pelfrey for two seasons of work. Pelfrey now has twelve MLB seasons under his belt and -2.5 career WARP to show for it. His -2.2 WARP in 2016, the first year under his contract with the Tigers, represented the worst season of his career after his rookie year. (Pelfrey rebounded to -0.1 WARP this year for the White Sox, who picked up just $540,000 of the $8 million remaining on his contract when they signed him the first week of the season.)

These are the facts, and, viewed together, they don’t reflect particularly well– though certainly in varying degrees of not-well– on anyone involved with the possible exception of the White Sox, who paid essentially the league-minimum salary for 120 innings of slightly below-replacement level starting and relief pitching. Jaso’s probably holding off on his official retirement announcement until he has an opportunity to meet with Al Avila.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf

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)

Saving Detroit: Keystone Light

Ian Kinsler’s 2017 isn’t going that well, particularly at the plate, where the Detroit Tigers second baseman is having, by a wide margin, the worst season of his career. To quickly look at two measures of offensive production, he’s running an 87 wRC+ (100 is league average, and he’s never finished a season below 100) and a .237 TAv (.260 is league average, and he’s only once finished a season below .260 (.256 in 2014)). (Without digging too deep, low power and BABIP numbers may be immediate culprits and evidence of aging.)

As the Tigers look to the future, one of their most pressing decisions will involve how they part ways with Kinsler, who has been a solid performer and veteran leader since he joined the team in 2014. This week, a few additional details have emerged about Kinsler’s contract that may affect both his future trade value and how the Tigers deploy him in the meantime.

Right now, 2017 is the last guaranteed season of Kinsler’s contract. If the season ended today, the Tigers would have the option to keep Kinsler for one more year, in which they would owe him $10 million, or pay him a $5 million buyout and part ways. That “if” comes with a significant caveat, however: should Kinsler make 600 plate appearances this season, the 2018 option would vest, guaranteeing his 2018 contract year. And, if he wins a gold glove award this year, that guaranteed 2018 year would be at an $11 million salary.

The Tigers likely aren’t too worried about either of these two things, because a) they almost certainly would exercise their option to keep Kinsler for 2018 and b) $11 million probably is a fair (leaning team-friendly) price for Kinsler on a one-year contract that shouldn’t adversely affect his trade value.

Still, I’m interested to watch how the Tigers manage him down the stretch. Unless they move him to designated hitter for the remainder of the season, they probably can’t alter his chances of winning a gold glove (he currently leads all second basemen in UZR), but they can ration his plate appearances.

When news of these additional contract details broke on Wednesday, Kinsler had made 522 plate appearances and Detroit had twenty-four games remaining. If he played in every remaining game, he would need to average 3.25 plate appearances per game to hit 600 PA, a reasonable task for a seemingly healthy leadoff hitter. He made four plate appearances that night before being pulled for Andrew Romine on the losing side of a 13-2 game. Assuming he plays in each of the remaining games, Kinsler now needs to average just 3.22 PA/G to make it to 600.

This almost certainly is much ado about nothing, but it’s something to watch as this season winds down that isn’t the scoreboard (or the win-loss columns).

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Previously
An updated look at 2018 (and a quick check on 2006) – 9/1
It’s Over
– 9/1
Upton There – 8/31

A bad time for a bad season – 8/29
Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons – 8/20
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17
 – 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
 – 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
 – 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8