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

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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

Review: MLB.tv

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For reasons not fully known but likely explained by a slow afternoon at work, I found myself casting online votes for Rick Porcello and Justin Upton to fill out the final spots on this year’s AL and NL all-star squads. Neither made the team, but all was not lost, at least for me.

A few days later, I received an email from Major League Baseball thanking me for voting and offering me a no-credit-card-strings-attached free trial of MLB.tv, the league’s online, live-game-streaming service. I said yes please sir and thank you m’am.

I had used MLB.tv before. Every day, they offer one game as a free game, which feels like an especially nice bonus when it’s your team’s game. Based on that sporadic experience and more consistent use of the service during my free trial, which ended yesterday, I’ve reached the following conclusions:   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 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

Bay of Cigs: Tigers beat Braves 7-4 as part of series sweep of visiting Atlanta

When the top team in the National League and all of baseball traveled to Motown for a three-game series against one of the American League’s best, I promised ALDLAND would be on site as the Tigers closed out April in the D. The following is my report from the weekend.

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Bay of Cigs: Jet Set (Sigh?)

papa jetAirships are away in the Detroit Tigers empire as I write. After a crash landing at the final destination of the team’s only West Coast trip, the Tigers limped back to the Motor City, and promptly (indeed, retroactively) placed Octavio Dotel, who has been pitching without a functioning elbow since Oakland, on the disabled list. In immediate need of bullpen reinforcements, GM Dave Dombrowski & Co., air traffic controller furloughs be damned, revved up the sky fleet. The first move was to bring the franchise’s top relief prospect, Bruce Rondon, in from Toledo, something that admittedly is unlikely to require the services of a jet airliner. But then! Wheels up! Jose Valverde is on a flight to Detroit RIGHT NOW! The town and team turned on the once-perfect (49-0!) reliever after a down year last season, but now, in their need, redemption? The front office is mum for now, but the implication from Valverde’s comments this evening is that, at the end of his short-term minor league contract, he will sign a one-year contract with the club in Detroit.

What does all of this mean for a should-be frontrunner floundering in third place in the weak AL Central with a .500 record? Even though it’s early, and fans of baseball teams that struggle early love to rail against “small sample sizes,” we can set aside results and other numbers and acknowledge that the bullpen was working way too hard this month, and two fresh, if unsteady, arms are sure to provide at least temporary relief for a staff that seems like it could use a collective deep breath. For Rondon, my hope is that he’s ready for the big leagues. For Valverde, I just hope he has enough left to allow the coaches to use him in a way that helps the team. That may be ending this jet-set flourish with something of a sigh, but let it be, in part, a sigh of relief as you remind yourself that at least it wasn’t Brennan Boesch’s birthday flight that landed at DTW this evening.

Keep reading to find out who else will be on a flight to Detroit this week…

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: Interleague Play

It has been a tough first half of the season for the Detroit Tigers, who are struggling just to get to .500. I wrote before that the best way to get out of a slump is to invite the Royals to your yard. That sort of worked, but it didn’t really cure any ills in the longer term. After this month, though, I have a new recipe: play the National League.

The Tigers began interleague play on June 8 in Cincinnati, and they won each of their interleague series except for the last one, taking two of three from the Reds, Cubs, Rockies, and Cardinals and avoiding a sweep in Pittsburgh with a game three win against the Pirates, the team with the second-best home record in all of baseball. The Reds, Cardinals, and Pirates are good, and the Cubs and Rockies are quite bad, but Detroit’s performance on a given night seemed to have little correlation to the strength of their opponent. MLB, unlike the NFL or NBA, is a situation in which any team can beat any other team on a given day, but I think this is more a reflection of the Tigers’ internal struggles.

Injuries continue to be an issue, the most troublesome example of which is all-star catcher Alex Avila’s knee and leg problems. Fortunately, Gerald Laird has proven to be a more than serviceable backup, but Jim Leyland consistently and accurately insists he has yet to have his best lineup on the field for any meaningful stretch of games. Utility man Don Kelly also is out as a result of flinging his leg into a barrier at dead-sprint speed.

On the positive side, Doug Fister looks to be healthy and back on the path towards pitching effectiveness. Ditto on the latter for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The shining star continues to be Austin Jackson, who is hitting very well in the lead-off spot while recording zero errors in center field.  Keep reading…