Tigers Win a Road Trip

So the Detroit Tigers had a winning record on their first west coast trip of the year. They got solid pitching performances from Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and Phil Coke (his most recent start withstanding). Ryan Perry took a flight to Seattle to rejoin the team and face one batter today.

There’s no question that replacing Enrique Gonzales with Perry makes the bullpen better. Perry gives the Tigers a legitimate seventh inning guy, leaving Daniel Schlereth and Brayan Villarreal for the sixth or to get a tough out.

Ryan Raburn hit a home run while playing second base and hitting second. If he were better defensively at that position I would love to see him start there every day. However, I think defense up the middle is the most important thing for a baseball team. That’s why I think it’s time to give Scott Sizemore a chance this year at second base.

I really think the reason the Tigers were able to win this game was a managing blunder by Eric Wedge. In the third inning he allowed his left handed starter to pitch to Miguel Cabrera with a runner in scoring position, two outs, first base open and a Jhonny Peralta on deck. I don’t know in what world it makes sense to allow the Tigers’ best player to beat you. Remember this is a lineup that is collectively batting .244 and Cabbie came into play batting .400 against lefties.

What about Peralta you ask? He came into play hitting a whopping .063 against lefties. BINGO! Perhaps decisions like that are why Wedge is no longer managing the second place Cleveland Indians.

I also don’t think the importance of the Tigers not winning the series against the Oakland Athletics can be overstated. Going into the series, I would have been happy with the outcome, but expectations are not set in stone. Rather, they are very fluid. Once the Tigers took the first two, they went 2-3 for the rest of the road trip. Against two teams that are not that good, that’s not that good.

Now, the Tigers come home to face a struggling Chicago White Sox team and the Seattle Mariners again. I would like nothing more than to end this weekend with the White sox buried in the AL Central standings after a Tigers sweep.

The projected pitching matchups for the series with the south- siders are: Mark Buehrle vs. Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson vs. Brad Penny and John Danks vs. Max Scherzer. I don’t know if the Tigers are definitely ahead in any of those matchups.

The lineup is going to struggle in the absence of Victor Martinez. Today, the Tigers had Jhonny Peralta batting fifth and Raburn second. These are guys who belong in the bottom third of a contending team’s lineup.

I’m not worried about Jose Valverde, even after giving up a home run in the ninth inning today. He still converted his third save of the year. Unless Ozzie is able to get his club playing better baseball, there is little reason to expect anything less than a series win for the Tigers. That’s even with expecting Penny to give away a game.

I checked facts on Yahoo! sports and Baseball-Reference.

#FreeScottSizemore

Before the season started, I predicted the bottom third of the Detroit Tigers lineup combined to hit .243 last season, and didn’t think they would improve much this season. So far, Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila have combined to hit .244 with 17 RBI and 5 HR.

Those power numbers are a little better than I expected, but their overall performance is right about where I thought they would be. Surprisingly, Avila has managed to trail only Cabrera in OPS at .887.

The unexpected, or more damaging if not unexpected, trouble with the lineup has come from the 1, 2 and 5 holes. Austin Jackson, Will Rhymes and Victor Martinez (who is aparantly nursing a sore groin) have combined to hit just .211 with 35 ks. There is no way a team can compete with those numbers coming from the heart of its lineup.

For tonight’s game in Seattle, Ryan Raburn is getting the start at second base. One would think that putting a guy who hits a HR every 20 ABs at 2B would improve the lineup significantly. In some sense that is correct. There is certainly more power in Raburn’s bat than Rhymes’.

However, the drop off on defense is terrible. I don’t understand why Scott Sizemore isn’t getting a call to try his hand at second base this year. In a very small sample, Sizemore has an OPS of 1.027 at Toledo this season. He only has one more strike out than walks.

Since April 10th, Magglio Ordonez has played in 2 games. He is yet to play in consecutive days. Nobody has said his ankle is healthy. Why didn’t the team put him on the DL, and give him enough time to fully heal? It would have been an opportunity to call Sizemore up and give him some starts without using an option on Rhymes. It would have taken the decision making process over who to start in LF out of Leland’s hands. Brennan Boesch plays RF, Raburn LF.

Of course, I’m not a doctor. I don’t know how serious Ordonez’s ankle is. I just think the team would be better served with finding out what Sizemore has at the major league level a year after his ankle was surgically repaired.

I also saw on Twitter today that the Mets are unlikely to offer Jose Reyes the $100M contract it would take to keep him. I called for Reyes to be the Tigers’ top priority for the offseason in this article on April 5th, so of course I would like to get him early.

There was an article on DetNews.com today saying the Tigers have three legitimate pitching prospects who can’t all make it to the show. One or two of them in a package, if you can get Reyes to sign an extension makes this team much better.

Also notable is the fact that the Tigers starting pitching has been performing well. I honestly don’t expect them to keep it up. Apparently Justin Verlander is over his early season struggles, even though he sometimes throws the ball wherever he wants. However, can Phil Coke keep up his impressive performances? Can the Tigers average 1.1 wins per start by Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello? I think it’s obvious the Brad Penny experiment has failed. There’s just not enough left in that arm. It’s time to give somebody like Jacob Turner a chance to see what he can do against big league talent.

I wish I could be more positive about what the Tigers are going to be this year. I just can’t. I’m only still confident in my original prediction of a third place finish in the Central because the Twins and White Sox are both playing so poorly also. I don’t really think Either Cleveland or Kansas City will continue to outperform the field in the central, but wouldn’t be surprised if the Royals hang around in the race all year. 

Opening Day Win.

Start the ticker-tape parade! Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers was a success by any measure. The weather was a bit chilly, but the rain stayed away. The crowd was one of the largest in Comerica Park history. Of course, the most important thing for the team is they won.

Tom Gage wrote this piece for the Detroit News, basically telling fans to relax and enjoy the Opening Day win. I would love to do that. However I see too many glaring holes in this team to really enjoy this win. Sorry Tom, I have to grumble.

The Tigers won a game against the youngest team in baseball. They won against a team with a payroll under $40M. They faced a pitcher who has a career ERA of 5.53 and is even worse against the Tigers.

When it was apparent that Kyle Davies wasn’t going to magically regain some semblance of control, Ned Yost turned to Nathan Adcock. A guy picked up in the rule 5 draft from Pittsburg. This is when the Tigers inconsistencies really showed up.

Adcock couldn’t make the 40 man roster for the Pirates, yet over 3.1 innings the Tigers could only manage 4 hits and no runs. Maybe the Pirates missed something, and Adcock will be a quality major league reliever. I doubt it.

I have to admit that so far this season the bottom third of the lineup has been achieving more than I thought they would. Brandon Inge, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta all have batting averages of at least .286 and have combined for 11 RBI. If those three can continue to produce, this team will do much better than I predicted. I just expect water to find its level over the course of the season.

Detroit Tigers pitching is going to struggle all year in the sixth and seventh innings. Yesterday, the team got a good start from Max Scherzer who went six innings and only gave up one run. He turned it over to the bullpen in the seventh with a four run lead.

It took 25 pitches for Tigers relievers to get out of that inning. Brayan Villarreal seems to have good stuff, but lacks the polish that comes from experience. That makes sense for a guy who only has a handful of games above A ball.

Today the Phil Coke experiment begins. The Tigers need a left handed starter. Coke will get his first start against a team that outside of Billy Butler is less frightening than most National League lineups.

Very little will be learned today, good or bad. Coke deserves a couple turns through the rotation to see what he brings as a starter. If the Tigers can get 5.1 innings with an ERA under 4.50, I think Coke’s transition to starter will be called a success.

What do you guys think? What are your expectations for Coke as a starter?

Who should be a Tiger in 2012

Because I don’t have much faith in the Detroit Tigers’ ability to compete this year, I thought I would take a look at their projected roster for 2012. I went to Cot’s to get the contract status of all players on the current roster as well as who would be free agents next year.

Players under contract for 2012 are Miguel Cabrera ($21M), Justin Verlander ($20M), Victor Martinez ($13M), Joaquin Benoit ($5.5M), Brandon Inge ($5.5M), Jhonny Peralta ($5.5M), and Ryan Raburn ($2.1M). Jacob Turner will likely fill a spot in the rotation, and his 2012 salary will be somewhere between $.8-2.1M depending on when he breaks in.  

Rick Porcello has a $1.344M club option that, unless his arm actually explodes at some point this year, I think is a no brainer to exercise. There is also a $9M club option for Jose Valverde which I think is a lot more performance based.

The Tigers will have four players eligible for arbitration after this year: Phil Coke, Ryan Perry, Max Scherzer and Brad Thomas. Don Kelly, Ryan Perry and Clete Thomas could become arbitration eligible depending on how much time they spend in the majors this year.

That means, before any arbitration hearings or contract extensions (and assuming the team exercises their options or spends $9M on a closer) the Tigers have committed roughly $80M to 10 players.

Notable free agents after the 2011 season include Carlos Guillen ($13M), Magglio Ordonez ($10M), Brad Penny ($3M), Joel Zumaya ($1.4M), and Ramon Santiago ($1.25M).

Everyone else is pre-arbitration, and will remain in the organization.

That leaves 4 roster spots available for 2012. I’m operating under the assumption that the Tigers will keep Valverde or will spend for a top level closer. That might be a flawed thought, but I don’t think that decision is particularly critical to the rest of the decisions I am examining.

I’m also assuming anybody who won a roster spot will stay with the team. I know that isn’t a true statement, but it’s a necessary assumption in order to make any argument.

Starting positions that appear filled going into 2012 include 3B (Brandon Inge), SS (Jhonny Peralta), 1B (Miguel Cabrera), CF (Austin Jackson), CL (Jose Valverde), DH (Victor Martinez), C (Alex Avila), LF (combination of Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch).

The team seems determined not to sign someone to play 2B, so that role will likely be filled by either Scott Sizemore or Will Rhymes.

The starting rotation (as long as Phil Coke pans out as a starter) should include: Coke, Justin Verlander, Jacob Turner, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. Benoit, Villarreal, Schlereth, Valverde and Perry seem like solid candidates to pitch in relief next year.  

I think the Tigers have to invest in a solid defensive second baseman who can hit next off season. This should be the number one priority. The list of free agent second basemen includes: Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Luis Castillo, Kelly Johnson and Freddy Sanchez. Shortstops who will be free agents this winter are: Jack Wilson, Santiago, Jose Reyes, Augie Ojeda, John McDonald, J.J. Hardy, and Rafael Furcal. Second basemen who have a club option for 2012 include Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, and Brandon Phillips. Marco Scutaro and Yunieski Betancourt also have club options for 2012.

Obviously if any of the teams decline the options on Hill, Phillips or Cano that guy should be the number one priority (as long as he’s not missing a leg).

Otherwise, I think the Tigers should target Reyes, moving Peralta (if you must play him) to 2B. Reyes is making $11M this year, and I would expect him to command a number close to $12M or $13M, perhaps up to $15M per year if he stays healthy. He has not been a gold-glover in the field, but would be a great guy to have at the top of the order. When he is focused on defense, this article by Andy McCullough explores says he is pretty good out there.

There are a number of outfielders available in free agency next winter including David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, and Michael Cuddyer. I think all of them would be slightly less expensive than Magglio Ordonez and play better defense.

I would love the Tigers to go out and get a legitimate ace to help augment their rotation, but there really doesn’t appear to be one available and if there were, the team probably doesn’t have the money to go after him.

That being said, I think a veteran starter with some upside like Joel Pineiro or Brian Tallet would make a good addition to the team.

If you’re looking for an upgrade over Alex Avilla, there’s not much on the free agent market. Jason Kendall is probably the best option, but at 37, can he be an everyday catcher?

The Tigers don’t have much flexibility for the 2012 season, especially not at the most frustrating positions of 3B, SS or C. However, there will be places to improve the team. Dave Dombrowski’s contract expires after this season, and unless he or the team does something dramatic I would have a tough time endorsing either him or Jim Leyland moving forward.

I also used Yahoo! Sports and Baseball-Reference for stats and information.

Maggs hurt. Still no suprises this season

Well, that didn’t’ take very long. The Detroit Tigers have been hit with their first, albeit minor, injury of the year.

Magglio Ordonez will miss Sunday’s series finale against the New York Yankees. Is anybody actually surprised Maggs is missing time? He only played 84 games last year and is 37 years old. He had his ankle surgically repaired.

I have to give Maggs some credit for the way he ran down a fly ball in the gap early in the game. Off the bat, I thought it was an extra base hit for sure.

$10M is a steal for a guy who can challenge for the batting title and play a serviceable right field. $10M is a lot to pay a guy who can’t stay on the field.

Apparently Victor Martinez is going to catch tomorrow. Max Scherzer is going to have to do a much better job of holding runners than Brad Penny did today. I hope he can show what he had in the second half last year, and the possibility to be a real number 2 starter.

I checked stats and information on baseball-reference and Yahoo! Sports.

Tigers Prediction

The start of another baseball season is just around the corner. I don’t know if I would call myself an expert on baseball, but I do spend a lot of time watching America’s Pastime. The Tigers are the MLB team I know the most about, so I thought it would be fitting to make my first blog post about my expectations for the upcoming season.

Starting Pitching: 

Justin Verlander is the undeniable ace of the staff. He has had only one losing season in his five complete years. If he can avoid the slow starts that have prevented him from reaching 20 wins each of the last two years, he is a legitimate Cy Young  Award candidate.

However, there are lots of questions about the rest of the rotation.  Max Scherzer had a good second half, and shows good potential. Rick Porcello had an ERA of almost 5 in his sophomore season, and it remains unclear if he can return to the form that earned him third place in the rookie of the year balloting two years ago. If either of these two pitchers can live up to their potential, the Tigers expect to have a great 1-2 punch.

Probably the biggest key in the Curtis Granderson trade from last off season is Phil Coke. He’s been a starter in the minors, but never pitched more than 135 innings. The big question is if he can make the transition from bullpen to starter in the major leagues. He had a great season pitching in relief last year, and has 3 good pitches so there is hope there.

Rounding out the rotation is newcomer Brad Penny. Penny is coming off an injury shortened season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He has been named to the NL All Star team twice, but his only stint in the AL didn’t go very well. In 2009, he went 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA for the Red Sox. At $3 Million, he’s not a terrible fifth starter, but I don’t expect him to come anywhere close to his peak of 4 or 5 years ago.

Hitting: 

Here is the Tigers opening day lineup:

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Will Rhymes, 2B
  3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Ryan Raburn, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Brandon Inge, 3B
  9. Alex Avila, C

 

The addition of Victor Martinez definitely improves the middle of the batting order. I just don’t think the biggest need for a position player was a defensive liability who can hit for power.

Neither Rhymes nor Raburn have been every day players at the major league level. Raburn is a solid backup who has hit a HR every 20 ABs over the last two years. However, that was when he was a utility player Leyland was using in advantageous situations. Obviously, Brennan Boesch is going to see significant time in LF, especially if he can hit the way he did at the start of last year.

The bottom third of that lineup makes me cringe. Peralta, Inge and Avila combined to hit .243 last year. Inge isn’t getting any younger, and while I’ve long said what he gives on defense outweighs his liabilities at the plate, I just don’t believe that anymore. His range just isn’t what it used to be.

I don’t think the Tigers have any defenders who are above average. Yes that includes Austin Jackson. Jackson makes some spectacular plays last year, but he takes a bad route to the ball too often.

I wish I could write this post and not mention Cabrera’s off season run in with Florida law enforcement. There’s not a whole lot I can add that hasn’t been said already. If Cabrera spends the season sober and focused on baseball, he’s the best hitter in baseball. If he’s hungover most days at the park, he is an average hitter. I don’t think anyone can say with any certainty how his season will play out. Hopefully, for his sake as much as fans and the team he is able to get his life together.

Mags is back at a reduced price this year. I would have liked the team to use him as a DH and make a signing to play RF. However, the free agent list for outfielders this off season (outside of Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth) is full of guys that really have no value outside of DH or backup status. I don’t know what the finances look like, but I doubt the team really has the resources to invest $125M+ it would have taken to land those players (if they had any desire to play in Detroit in the first place).

Relief Pitching: 

By far the best move the Tigers made all off season was the signing of Joaquin Benoit. It didn’t come without questions though. Benoit was an elite pitcher last year. He was coming off shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2009 and had the best season of his career. He posted a 1.34 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP. This was also the only free agent offered a multi-year deal, at three years, $16.5M.

Jose Valverde was the best closer in baseball for the first half last year. However his ERA after the all star break was 5.89. Apparently Valverde had a sore arm for the second half, but never told anybody. If he stays healthy, the Tigers won’t lose many leads late.

Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth are two young power arms that have shown some promise. Perry has shown more in the majors, but some are looking at Schlereth as a future closer.

Speaking of future closers, Joel Zumaya’s injury trouble has shown fans not to count their chickens when it comes to big arms.

The rest of the pitching staff includes Brayan Villarreal, who only has 8 games above A ball; Brad Thomas who had a solid year last season; and Enrique Gonzalez who has largely been a starting pitcher in the minors.

Jim Leyland has said he is concerned about squeezing a few outs in the 6th and 7th innings, citing the missing Zumaya. I can’t say I blame him. Zumaya is a big void, and I don’t have much confidence in most of the options for middle relief. There is a ton of potential but I expect trouble being consistent. I also think the Tigers’ lack of effective fielding will cost their pitching over the course of the year.

Overall Prediction:

I think the Tigers are going to compete in a weak American League Central, but that doesn’t mean much. If there are many injuries I think they could finish the year in fourth place behind the Royals. Last year the Tigers scored 751 runs while giving up 743 last year. I expect little, if any improvement in the number of runs scored, and I expect the tigers to give up around 800 runs.

Final record: 75-87, third in the central. I wouldn’t be surprised if this season ends the tenure of Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland.

I verify all stats on baseball-reference.