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.

Mr. Scherzer goes to Washington


Overnight, the long-anticipated news of this baseball offseason finally broke: The Washington Nationals won the Max Scherzer sweepstakes by signing the former Detroit Tiger to a seven-year, $210 million contract.

Scherzer made news last March when, heading into his final season before becoming a free agent, he turned down the Tigers’ six-year, $144 million offer to stay with the team. That failed (from the team’s perspective) dance fouled up a variety of personnel matters for Detroit. They had already traded Prince Fielder and much, but not all, of his contract to Texas and starter Doug Fister to Washington for figuratively literally nothing all probably in an attempt to clear the books for Scherzer’s new contract. When Scherzer balked at the offer, the team responded by giving Miguel Cabrera all the money. Last season got off to a rough start, and, at least from a business perspective, Scherzer was at the center of it.

Max probably was my favorite amongst a very likable group of guys playing for the Tigers over this last stretch of seasons. His relief appearance against Oakland in the 2013 playoffs always will be among my most favorite half-innings of baseball.   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):

TigersPitchingDepth

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

Flying Tigers: Trade Deadline Explosion

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In developments that can only be described as shocking, the Tigers executed a last-minute trade for pitcher David Price, sending Austin Jackson to Seattle and Drew Smyly to Tampa. (Seattle also sent Nick Franklin to Tampa.) The trade was finalized while Detroit was in the middle of a game both Smyly and Jackson had started, and Jackson had to be pulled off the field when the deal was done.  Continue reading

Flying Tigers: Actually Mad Max

maxscherzersportsillustratedcover

Detroit starting pitcher Max Scherzer is the subject of this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story. The cover’s headline is “Mad Max’s $144 Million Bet,” and it asks whether Scherzer “Made a Dumb Wager on His Future.” Scherzer, who wanted all contract discussions to end by the time the season started regardless of whether he reached a new agreement with the Tigers, was not happy with the way SI framed the story about him, telling the Free Press he was “frustrated that they chose to put the contract stuff on the cover.” The reigning Cy Young Award winner elaborated:

When they approached us, [Tigers media relations] and I, we specifically asked not to make the story around the contract. … They assured us it wasn’t going to be like that. They chose a different route, and we felt like we were lied to and misled.

I didn’t want it to be about that. I’m a baseball player. I want to talk baseball. It’s frustrating when you get lied to about that.

The magazine responded that they knew Scherzer did not want to discuss his contract situation “in detail,” but stated that they did not make any promises about how they might present that subject in the context of the article.

The article itself (I’ll post a link once it’s available online) really does not spend much time on the contract issue at all. It’s mentioned roughly twice in the feature but never substantively analyzed. On the whole, the article actually is a nice profile of Max at an important stage of his career. It spends far more time discussing his analytical development at Missouri– the importance of the pitch following a 1-1 count, for example– and his development of a curveball with Detroit pitching coach Jeff Jones than it does his employment status and prospects.

The sensationalism of the cover’s “$144 Million Bet” language, described as a “dramatic $144 million offer” on the article’s introductory page, has the look of an editor’s efforts to boost general interest in the piece and the magazine as a whole. That introductory page asks, “What does [Scherzer] know that we don’t?” If that really was the question author Albert Chen was seeking to answer when he interviewed Max and wrote this article, he surely would have spent more time discussing broader matters of age, endurance, and pitcher decline than he did.

Those topics are there, of course, and so is the contract. It would be irresponsible not to include all of that in a Scherzer profile published this week. But Chen’s article doesn’t deliver on the sensational promises of his editor’s cover, and readers should be glad it doesn’t. They’ll learn a lot more about Scherzer in Chen’s article and have a more enjoyable time doing so than they would from a poorly sourced pot-stirring piece more suitable for ESPN First Take.     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

[UPDATED] Fistered: Tigers lose starting pitcher to the Nationals

News broke last night that the Detroit Tigers traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, the team’s second major move of this young offseason. (They traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last month.)

In exchange for Fister, the Nationals sent Detroit Steve Lombardozzi Jr., a utility player; Ian Krol, a left-handed reliever; and Robbie Ray, a left-handed starting pitcher in the minor leagues. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said that Krol “can step right into our bullpen and has the potential to be a No. 1 lefthanded reliever,” and he called Lombardozzi “one of the best utilitymen in baseball.”

It’s tough for me to evaluate this trade, because I’ve never heard of Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray. I’m far from a league-wide expert on players, but that may be an evaluative statement, however. I know Dombrowski has committed to moving Drew Smyly into a starting role, but I thought it would be Rick Porcello, or perhaps Max Scherzer, who departed to make room for Smyly. The decision to move Fister surprised me, and although I don’t know anything about Lombardozzi, Krol, or Ray, I can’t help feeling like Detroit got too little in return for the very solid Fister.   Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Playoff Prelude

The Tigers look to get their train back on the tracks in Oakland tonight in game one of their American League divisional series. Detroit will send twenty-game-winner, Cy Young frontrunner, and probable ocular unicorn Max Scherzer to the mound in a pitching matchup against [all the overweight and PED jokes] Bartolo Colon. The Tigers and A’s played each other pretty evenly this season, and Detroit had to face Oakland in last year’s playoffs. What I remember from that series is that Coco Crisp is ruthless. Oakland may not be a top-tier team, but they are a frightening playoff foe. Detroit’s strength right now is its starting pitching, and the team will need to rely heavily on its defense– keep an eye on Jhonny Peralta in left field, and recall that Atlanta’s decision to start a catcher in left field hurt them last night— until it can get its bats going again.

Tonight’s game starts at 9:37. Stay tuned here for details about a possible live blog for the game, and, as always, follow us @ALDLANDia for the latest and unfiltered greatest hot sports takes.

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Previously
Playoff Time – 9/30
Heeeeeere’s Jhonny?
– 9/12
Crime & Punishment – 8/7
Trader Jose(s) – 7/31
100 days of summer run distribution – 7/25
Are the Tigers the unluckiest team in baseball? – 6/28
Forget what you know
 – 6/25
History and Revision – 6/12
Tigers beat Braves 7-4 as part of series sweep of visiting Atlanta
 – 5/7
April in the D – 4/26
Jet Set (Sigh?)
 – 4/23
Run distribution, science, and the likelihood of a Detroit comeback – 4/15
WSJ throws a wet newspaper on the Tigers’ 2013 chances
 – 4/3
A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger – 3/29

The Departed – 3/14

Bay of Cigs: Playoff Time

The regular season is (basically) over. October begins tomorrow. The Tigers are in the playoffs. All of this is good news, and the AL Central-clinching game– Jim Leyland’s emotional 700th win with the Tigers– was worth celebrating.

These Tigers are built to contend for and win a World Series championship, so, for Detroit, the real action begins in Oakland on Friday.

Unlike the A’s, the Tigers are entering the playoffs cold and disjointed. First and foremost, Miguel Cabrera’s abdomen/groin injury/ies appear anything but resolved. There’s no question that he’ll be in the lineup for every game this month, but I have plenty of questions about how productive he can be. Without his consistent hitting power, together with a serviceable level of capability on the basepaths and on defense, it’s difficult to see how Detroit can defend its American League championship and make a return to the World Series. Little is publicly known about Cabrera’s current health aside from what can be gleaned from watching him play, but I’m worried about the signals the visuals and the team’s silence are sending.

Second, the bullpen continues to be a serious weakness for Detroit. This has been an issue since day one of this season, and while it seems like there’s been some progress on that front, I don’t feel a lot more confident in the middle relief after 162 games than I did in March. There’s help here, though. Because the playoff schedule is such that a team only needs, at most, four starting pitchers, the Tigers can move Rick Porcello into the bullpen. Kid Rick is pitching very well right now, and he should be able to fill most of the middle relief gaps.

Third is the issue of late-game run support. I first raised this issue early in the season, and when I checked in after 100 games, the numbers looked even worse. I’ll do one more check of these numbers, but  my sense is that this is an area where the Tigers have improved a little bit. If this remains a problem, the pressures of the playoffs may exacerbate it, however.

Fourth, as more of a note, Justin Verlander probably should be the team’s fourth starter in the playoffs. The question I have about him is not about the number of “smart,” “rational” Tigers fans you can whip into a rage by talking about Verlander’s struggles, but about whether Leyland really will use Verlander as the third or fourth starter in the playoffs. I believe he will. Max Scherzer and, increasingly, Anibal Sanchez have separated themselves as Detroit’s clear top two starters, and if the Tigers are to succeed this month, it will be on the strength of their arms.

Fifth, Jhonny Peralta’s back with the team, and not a moment too soon. It looks like Peralta will be taking over a weak left field for the Tigers in the playoffs. Detroit needed his bat in the lineup, and there isn’t anywhere else to put him. He rejoined the team for their last regular season series, and he had a double and an RBI in his first game back. He had two hits in the second game of the series, and none in three at bats in the third game. Being a shortstop, his fielding abilities in left, backing up Cabrera’s limited range at third, raises some concerns, particularly with starting shortstop Jose Iglesias’ recent case of bilateral shin splints, but, as stated, there aren’t any viable alternatives here.

As a final note, I think it’s the case that you know your own team, and therefore your own team’s weaknesses, better than you know anything about your team’s opponent. These Tigers are very good, and have been historically good at times this season. Starting Friday, we’ll find out whether they will be at their best when there’s no other option.

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Related
Full postseason schedule
Tigers-Athletics preview

Previously
Heeeeeere’s Jhonny? – 9/12
Crime & Punishment – 8/7
Trader Jose(s) – 7/31
100 days of summer run distribution – 7/25
Are the Tigers the unluckiest team in baseball? – 6/28
Forget what you know
 – 6/25
History and Revision – 6/12
Tigers beat Braves 7-4 as part of series sweep of visiting Atlanta
 – 5/7
April in the D – 4/26
Jet Set (Sigh?)
 – 4/23
Run distribution, science, and the likelihood of a Detroit comeback – 4/15
WSJ throws a wet newspaper on the Tigers’ 2013 chances
 – 4/3
A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger – 3/29

The Departed – 3/14