Impact Player: 1B Miguel Cabrera
Impact Pitcher: RHP Justin Verlander
Best Reliever: RHP Joel Zumaya
Top Prospect: RHP Jacob Turner
General Manager: Dave Dombrowski
Manager: Jim Leyland (424-387, .523)
RHP Brad Penny, RHP Joaquin Benoit, C/DH Victor Martinez
DH/OF Johnny Damon, C Gerald Laird, SS Adam Everett, RHP Jeremy Bonderman, RHP Armando Galarraga, RHP Eddie Bonine
In the world of perennial underachievers, the Detroit Tigers are at least running for mayor; hell, they may even be the incumbent. Detroit waded through another mediocre campaign in 2010 finishing with a dead even .500 record of 81-81, despite having the sixth highest payroll in baseball at just under $123-million.
Heading into 2011, their payroll is a bit lighter; according to Nick Piecoro of azcentral.com, they’ll enter the year with the 12th highest payroll at approximately $105-million, but that’s still enough to expect results in the AL Central. Since advancing to the World Series in 2006, the Tigers have compiled a record of 329-320 and despite routinely being talked about as a favourite in the AL Central; they have finished no higher than second in that time.
In this past offseason, the Tigers made some horrific decisions such as retaining Jhonny Peralta to play shortstop, something he is no longer suited for at all, and signing middle-reliever Joaquin Benoit to a 3yr/$16.5-million deal despite the fact that last year was a breakout year at age 32. Taking the cake was the signing of Victor Martinez to a 4yr/$50-million contract despite the fact that he’ll mainly be a DH and DHs that produce at his level offensively are a dime a dozen. There’s little question that at the age of 32, his offensive numbers will also soon be in full decline, if they aren’t already.
Those deals may haunt the Tigers more in 2012 and 2013 than they will this year, but a defence that will be nothing short of terrible might have its deleterious effects on the 2011 team too. There is still a rotation here to fall in love with (which also has the potential of being a disaster) and a lineup that should produce, so the Tigers could be in the mix in the AL Central, but might be out of it after the first month
Justin Verlander is an undisputed ace. Entering his prime at the age of 28, Verlander has already proven himself to be a true number one starter and once again dominated in 2010. His 2.97 FIP was third in the AL and fifth in baseball. He’s also proven to be durable with four consecutive years of at least 200 innings pitched. If nothing else, the Tigers can be assured that they will be fine at the top of their rotation.
After Verlander, the Tigers have the potential to field a very good rotation, but it’s a rotation that is still kind of unproven and volatile. Max Scherzer has excellent stuff, but can at times struggle with his command. When he’s on there are few better pitchers, when he’s off it’s disaster. Last year he was good most of the time posting a 2.63 K/BB ratio, a 3.50 ERA, and a 3.71 FIP. His awkward delivery scares some people as he looks one pitch away from a massive shoulder injury.
Rick Porcello is still just 22-years-old but struggled in 2010 finishing with a 4.92 ERA and 4.31 FIP. According to his advanced pitch value statistics, his fastball was his only truly effective pitch, while his changeup was only marginally better than average and his breaking stuff was awful. Unless he figures out his secondary stuff, he may end up like another Jeremy Bonderman.
After dominating in the bullpen in 2010 with a 3.23 FIP and 0.28 HR/9 rate, Phil Coke is going to take another run at starting, while veteran Brad Penny will look to rebound in 2010 as the fifth starter. If either falters, the Tigers don’t really have the in-house candidates to replace them, but both could stick and be very good at the back end f the rotation.
That lack of depth really does put them in a sticky situation if expectations are not met or injuries become a factor, hence my warning in the introduction.
Jose Valverde is back as the closer for 2011 after posting 26 saves in 2010 with a 3.00 ERA and solid 3.78 FIP. One point of concern is that he put up a career high 54.7 GB% which will certainly fall back to his career average of 39.7 this season. It may not hurt him (in fact with the middle infield defence in Detroit, it may help him) but it’s still something to watch out for. Also, at 33, he may start a decline soon.
Benoit will be Valverde’s primary setup man and could be the closer beyond this season with Valverde’s contract potentially ending at the conclusion of the year. He was terrific in 2010 with the Rays putting up a 1.34 ERA and a 2.43 FIP, but at 32 is very likely to experience a massive regression in 2011 and beyond.
Joel Zumaya had an average fastball velocity of 99.3 MPH in 2010 and, when healthy, is absolutely dominant. He appeared to be finally getting there last year when in 38.1 innings he had a 2.58 ERA and 2.50 FIP. His strikeout rate is oddly low for a guy who throws as hard as him, but he was still very good. If Valverde leaves after the season and Benoit struggles, a healthy Zumaya could end up being the closer.
24-year-old Ryan Perry could still end up starting someday, but he’ll toil in the bullpen again in 2011. Last season he posted a 3.59 ERA but his staggeringly low strike out rate hurt his FIP which came in a 4.23. If he gets back to striking people out, he should be fine; if not, there could be trouble in the future.
Left-handers Brad Thomas and Daniel Schlereth will also be in the fold in 2011. Thomas, 33, came back to American pro-ball after playing two years in Korea and posted a 3.89 ERA, but his mediocre peripherals led to an elevated 4.39 FIP. Schlereth could really be something special as a left-handed setup option in the near future.
The last bullpen spot with be fought for by Robbie Weinhardt and non roster invites John Bale, Enrique Gonzalez, and Fe-Tu Ni. Again, the lack of depth in this regard leaves the Tigers very vulnerable to injury.
The signing of Martinez should not slow the development of Alex Avila at catcher as the team still plans to use him as their starter. Martinez was allegedly signed to spend most of his time at DH, being used only sparingly as a backup to Avila behind the plate. Avila, like most of the Tigers is below-average defensively and last season took a huge leap backward at the plate. He hit just .228 with a .656 OPS in 2010 and will need to be better in 2011 to keep his starting job.
Martinez could still end up the everyday catcher if Avila continues to flounder with the bat. Super-utility man Don Kelly can play just about every position and should also get some time behind the plate.
The Tigers and their fans must be internally hoping that every ground ball is hit directly at third baseman Brandon Inge. Inge is no longer an elite defensive player, but is still regarded as well above-average. His offensive ability is the question mark after he posted an underwhelming .247/.321/.397 slash line in 2010.
Up the middle the Tigers actually think that Peralta can play shortstop and Carlos Guillen can play second base. Those two are easily going to be the worst defensive middle-infield paring in all of baseball. At the plate, Guillen is serviceable and was solid last year in limited playing time. If the 35-year-old stays healthy he should be okay. Peralta, on the other hand was not very good in 2010 between Cleveland and Detroit finishing with a .249/.311/.392 slash line and a .309 wOBA. It was the second straight down year for Peralta who looks to be in early decline. He has posted WAR ratings under 2.0 in three of the last four years.
At first base, Miguel Cabrera is one of the truly elite hitters in the game. His 1.042 OPS was second only to Josh Hamilton in all of baseball and his wOBA was third in baseball behind Hamilton and Joey Votto. For some reason he’s not considered in the class of other elite first basemen and he should be. He is awful defensively though and that won’t help Peralta and Guillen.
Kelly can play anywhere in the infield although he’s better in the corners and the team also has veteran Ramon Santiago who can play anywhere across the infield and will provide much needed defensive help up the middle. His 2.0 WAR last season was higher than Peralta’s 1.4.
The final infield spot is probably Will Rhymes’ to lose after he posted an impressive .304/.350/.414 slash line in 2010 in limited playing time although second baseman Scott Sizemore will also be in the mix. Both players will have a shot at the second base job if Guillen proves unable to handle the position defensively.
The highest WAR on the team last year, besides Cabrera’s, belonged to rookie centerfielder Austin Jackson who did everything well in his first tour of duty. He was a solid hitter who posted a decent OBP, he stole 27 bases, and he was a fine defensive centerfielder finishing with a 5.4 UZR rating. He could be a perennial all-star.
Magglio Ordonez was brought back on a one-year deal after a solid year in 2010 when he was healthy. Ordonez posted a .303/.378/.474 slash line and accumulated a 2.5 WAR in only 84 games. At 37 his health is obviously an issue and taking him out of rightfield may do a lot to preserve him throughout the year. Unfortunately, rightfield is where he’ll play.
The leftfield job will likely be split between Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn. Boesch has plus power but had the same OPS as Avila at .736 in 2010. He struggled immensely against righties, but tore apart left-handed pitching, which is odd for left-handed hitter. Raburn had more even splits and had a solid .814 OPS with 15 homeruns in 2010. He can also provide more depth in the infield. Defensively, neither is very good, which is okay because they’ll fit in with the rest of the team.
Kelly can play anywhere and be considered solid defensively, but in left and centerfield in 2010, he was outstanding posting 32.8 and 61.4 UZR/150 ratings in those positions respectively. He may be the most valuable defensive utility man in baseball.
Martinez’s offensive numbers may look great at catcher, but playing at either first base or DH, those numbers don’t look much better than average, which again calls into question his rather large contract. He may be good enough in 2011 to warrant the deal, but he is bound to decline going forward and that will not look good on GM Dave Dombrowski and company. He might be a better defensive first baseman than Cabrera which means he’ll spend some time there as well as at catcher in 2011; that will also give Ordonez some much needed days off defensively.
Chart detailing lineups and such? Clicky, clicky.
The Tigers have enough raw talent to compete in the AL Central but they strike me as a team who’s on the verge of total collapse. The rotation has potential, but outside of Verlander, the volatility scares me…a lot. Defensively, they will be disastrous and will cost their pitchers more than a few runs and wins throughout the season. The Tigers just keep towing the mediocre line.
Final Prediction: 82-80, 3rd AL Central.