AL Central Previews: Detroit Tigers
by, 03-20-2014 at 05:45 AM (427 Views)
Content originally posted at Kevin Slowey was Framed!
I wrote a preview for each AL Central team this week. The Tigers preview appears in full below this section. If you are interested in the other four teams, just click on the team name below:
5. White Sox
That's how I think the teams will finish as well. You can read why if you'd like. Here's my Tigers preview:
The Tigers have won three consecutive AL Central titles and look like the heavy favorites to win their 4th in a row. They have the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer. They have the reigning AL MVP and current best hitter in the World in Miguel Cabrera. They have one of the best starters of this generation in Justin Verlander. They have a potent offense, a loaded rotation and a respected front office. However, they have a new manager with an aging roster and they made some questionable moves in the offseason. Some visible cracks are starting to appear. Are they good enough to hold off the rest of the division for at least one more year?
Ian Kinsler, Robbie Ray and Joe Nathan
Ronny Paulino, Duane Below, Rajai Davis, and Joba Chamberlain
Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Omar Infante, Brayan Pena, Jhonny Peralta, Darin Downs, Jose Veras, Prince Fielder and Doug Fister
My favorite offseason move?
I guess it was the Kinsler trade. They had to make room for Nick Castellanos and moving him to the outfield would take away one of his biggest assets, his defense at third base. Thus, someone had to move and Fielder was the guy. They saved a bunch of money too.
More importantly, are they better than last year?
I don't think they are. They barely won the division last year and I think they got worse. They traded Doug Fister for players who won't really help in 2014 and they replaced an elite closer with another elite closer, but one who is approaching 40. There's a path to an 81-win season for this team, although I don't think that will happen.
Awesome Name from the Organization
Former Twin Alert!
Torii Hunter and Joe Nathan, combined age = 77.
C Alex Avila SP1 Justin Verlander 1B Miguel Cabrera SP2 Max Scherzer 2B Ian Kinsler SP3 Anibal Sanchez 3B Nick Castellanos SP4 Rick Porcello SS Eugenio Suarez SP5 Drew Smyly LF Don Kelly SU Joba Chamberlain CF Austin Jackson SU Bruce Rondon RF Torii Hunter CL Joe Nathan DH Victor Martinez
The Tigers have an excellent lineup. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections has their lineup projected for the fourth most runs in the American League. Fourth, huh? I would have thought higher without looking. Pecota has the Tigers projected for roughly 50 more runs scored than the Twins, which seems really low. The Tigers scored 182 more runs than the Twins in 2013. It doesn't really add up.
Then, I look at their lineup and I can see why BP would be just a bit skeptical. Prince Fielder is gone. Ian Kinsler may be a better overall player due to speed, body type, position and defense, but he can't hit like Fielder. Jhonny Peralta is gone, replaced initially by Jose Iglesias and now potentially with Eugenio Suarez. Those two may field better than Peralta but they aren't in his neighborhood on offense. Nick Castellanos is a rookie. Torii Hunter is 38, Victor Martinez is 35 and even Miguel Cabrera is 31. It's possible that their lineup is significantly worse than last year as three of their five best hitters are on different teams.
The Tigers are clearly putting more emphasis on defense. They traded Prince Fielder to open first base for Miguel Cabrera. That helps their defense. They plan to use Nick Castellanos at third. That helps their defense. They had intended to use Jose Iglesias and his weak bat at short. That would have helped their defense but he has major shin splints and will miss a bunch of time. Now, an unproven rookie with good, but not great defensive skills will play short. Ian Kinsler is just ok. Torii Hunter is a shell of his former defensive self. Austin Jackson and Alex Avila do a fine job, but they aren't plusses. They addressed their defense, but bad luck and older players may undermine everything.
There is no way to spin the Tigers' rotation in a negative direction, right? They have the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner (Max Scherzer), another worthy candidate from 2013 (Anibal Sanchez) and one of the best starters from the past decade (Justin Verlander). However, they did trade away a fourth good starter (Doug Fister) to free up money to spend on a closer (more on that later).
Drew Smyly will slide into the rotation in 2013. He's just 25 and has great promise as a left-handed starter. However, he wasn't great in that role in 2012 and he was great as a reliever in 2013. He'll also have to build arm strength as he only threw 76 innings in 2013. Rick Porcello rounds out the rotation and he's a statistical darling who hasn't put it all together just yet. He's an elite ground ball pitcher with a good strikeout rate and a better walk rate. That said, his career ERA is 4.51. He should be better than that, but he hasn't been. Can he be relied upon to finally break out in 2014?
Fister had a 115 ERA+ in 2013. I doubt that Porcello or Smyly achieve that number, which means the rotation could be worse than last year. This does not even address the fact that both Scherzer and Sanchez pitched better than they ever had before in 2013. Will they be able to match their career-best seasons in 2014? Oh, and Justin Verlander's strikeout rate has dropped in each of the past three seasons, while his walk rate has increased.
The Tigers replaced Joaquin Benoit with Joe Nathan. Nathan is four years older, $5 million more expensive and equally productive. Nathan does have a lot more career saves though. Nothing against Nathan, but the perception was that the Tigers traded Fister to free up money to sign Nathan. If that's true, it's a downgrade when you consider everything involved. Bruce Rondon is sitting there, ready to take over as closer. If given the opportunity, he could be at least 80% of Nathan at 5% of the cost. Rondon and Fister or Nathan and Smyly? Which pair would you rather have?
Now consider that the bullpen was weakened with Smyly's move to the rotation. And, that move might not even work. I would try it too, as a 4th starter is more valuable to me than a set-up man, but it's not without risk. The rest of the bullpen is shaky. Phil Coke is a character. Al Alburquerque can be dominant, but he can walk the universe too. The Tigers did sign Joba Chamberlain and he's never been mysterious or inconsistent. Nathan and Rondon are good, so the bullpen can be solid. The cost of building that solid bullpen might have been too high though.
World Series aspirations?
They have them, but I don't see it. I think Boston is better. I think Tampa Bay is better. I think Oakland is better. I think Kansas City might be better. That said, if everything clicks, they could easily compete for the World Series in 2014. Their top three starters are as good as any top three in the Majors and Miguel Cabrera is still in his prime.
Can the Twins finish ahead of them?
It would be very unlikely and require a massive collapse from the Tigers' older players. The Twins can't match up with the Tigers, especially in the rotation, where the Tigers have a massive and almost unfair advantage (from the perspective of a whiny Twins fan). Even if things fall apart for the Tigers in 2014, it would be more relative to their expectations and I doubt they would collapse to the point of a losing season.
Projected AL Central finish - 1st
My head still puts the Tigers at the top of the division. I hold no ill-will toward the Tigers. I watched them lose 119 games in 2003 and their fans deserve some success after such a pathetic stretch of seasons. There's just something about this team that I don't like. In past years, it has been their defense. While they have addressed their defense, they've mostly gone from bad to not bad and I'm not sure that's enough. Their offense is slightly worse and their rotation isn't the lock that it appears to be. Their bullpen is just fine and they don't have a lot in the system to fill needs as they arise. The Royals are a legitimate threat to the Tigers in 2014 and Father Time is a legitimate threat to the Tigers in 2015 and going forward.