So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.
The Motor City Kitties were supposed to roar last year. Adding Miguel Cabrera to a potent lineup already featuring star-caliber outfielders in Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, and (to a lesser extent) Marcus Thames, plus the capable bats of Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, and Ivan Rodriguez was supposed to be the sort of move that would make for, according to some predictions, a 1000-run season for the Tigers - which would be just the 8th time since 1900 that such a feat would occur. And, everyone's favorite former GM Steve Phillips went on record as saying that it would be the "most dynamic offense in the history of baseball."
Now. Phillips' patented ridiculousness out of the way, the Tigers had a fairly respectable offense last year. They put up 5.02 runs per game, 5th in MLB, and had Gary Sheffield launched his 500th, they would've had 5 hitters put up 20+ home runs. There's good balance from top to bottom in the lineup, featuring two of the best players in the game in Cabrera and Granderson, and a healthy season from an aging (aged?) Sheffield can only help. The Indians are the only team in the AL Central that can compete in the batter's box.
The Tigers troubles, however, came from the mound. Their pitching was, in a word, abysmal. They managed to give up 5.29 runs per game - outdoing their prolific offense - which was "good" for 27th in MLB. They had one (1) consistently capable starter in RHP Armando Galarraga, he of the career minor league 4.13 ERA, who was excellent all season, posting a 3.73 ERA and 33.2 VORP, both team bests, in 30 starts. Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, and Nate Robertson...well, give them credit for showing up, we guess. At 33, 30, and 28 starts apiece, they at least gave the team some innings. However, in Rogers and Robertson's case, they might as well have stayed home; each posted a negative VORP, meaning a replacement level player - basically any minor leaguer getting a cup of coffee - would have outperformed them. They also posted respective ERAs of 5.70 and 6.35. Outstanding work, gentlemen. Verlander had high points during the year, but was mostly a disappointment; mechanical troubles undermined the promise he'd shown the last few seasons, and he limped to the finish with a 4.84 ERA to go along with a 12.3 VORP.
PECOTA projected record: 81-81, 2nd in AL Central
KCSD projected record: 83-79, 1st in AL Central
We think the Tigers get a bit of a bad rap for the disappointment of last season; the lineup should be huge again this year, and the pitching can only improve. Right?
Around the Horn
C Gerald Laird: .262/.324/.407, 10 HR. Laird showed a lot of promise in 2006, putting up a .296/.332/.473 line, but has since scuffled in part-time duty with the Rangers. With Matt "Mr. Misty" Treanor backing him up, he should get the opportunity for plenty of ABs, and we think he can improve on the last couple seasons.
1B Miguel Cabrera: .311/.389/.583, 38 HR. One of the best pure hitters in baseball, Cabrera arrived with a lot of expectations on his head, and didn't disappoint. He led the AL in HRs and total bases, but his batting eye went significantly downhill - to wit, his OBP dropped from consecutive seasons of .400+ to .349. He's demonstrated in the past that he can be a patient slugger, and we think he'll be just that this year, and be an MVP contender.
2B Placido Polanco: .299/.342/.390, 5 HR. Never a KCSD favorite, Jawbone Polanco has made his money being a slap hitter who has enormous contact ability and is difficult to strike out, but has little else to offer. Roughly an average defender, he'll contribute a more or less empty .300 or so average, which is fine for the keystone.
3B Brandon Inge: .241/.301/.417, 12 HR. Finally, the Angry Inge has a position all to himself. We like him for his high socks and his 2006 season, where we're pretty sure he set a record for home runs out of the 9 hole with at least 20. We take pride in our research here. Unfortunately, that was 3 seasons ago, and there likely just isn't that much left in his bat, especially for a third basegentleman.
SS Adam Everett: .237/.288/.332, 0 HR. Ugh. A throwback to the halcyon days of the all-glove no-stick shortstop, Everett is a whiz with the leather and a fizz with the bat (we're sorry). The Tigers D was pretty terrible last year, which didn't help the pitchers, and Everett certainly represents a commitment to fixing that.
Side note: Everyone seems to be all about defense this year, since the Rays went from worst to first in defense and subsequently from laughingstock to AL champion. But...come on, does this really mean that Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu don't get signed until just before Spring Training, and even then, on cut-rate deals? Manny Ramirez, one of the 5 best right handed hitters OF ALL TIME, remains unsigned, presumably because he can't play defense. Teams have the money to throw at him - look at the Braves offering 60 mil to AJ "Contract Year" Burnett! You're telling me they couldn't give Manny that money for 3 years? They don't need the LF help? Not to mention the fact that defense is the hardest skill of all to quantify. What a terrible offseason this was.
ANYWAY, LF Carlos Guillen: .296/.360/.468, 14 HR, 10 SB. Guillen had been a pretty subpar defender at short, so the move to left makes sense. If he can stay healthy, his bat will play there for at least another year or two, and the dude wears so much Phiten that he can't help BUT stay healthy. We love that stuff.
CF Curtis Granderson: .298/.376/.539, 27 HR, 18 SB. Down year for Granderson in '08, but he was hindered by injuries. At 28, he's still in his prime, and we think he's a great sleeper candidate. We'd forgotten how good he was until just now, but the kid has it all.
RF Magglio Ordonez: .308/.389/.485, 20 HR. Oh-wee-oh Magglio has been well above-average since the Tigers took a chance on him following his '04 offseason experimental knee surgery. He rightfully received MVP consideration two seasons ago, and while he won't approach that level as a 35 year old, he's still a force to be reckoned with.
From the Bump: Starters
RHP Justin Verlander: 196 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 164 K, 65 BB. We think that Verlander, 26, is still a beast from the mound. He had mechanical troubles and consistency issues last year, sure, but he was 25. He is still developing, and was posting some of the better pitching performances in the league the two years before. When he hits his prime, he's going to be scary.
RHP Jeremy Bonderman: 160 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 130 K, 60 BB. Bonderman flew back to Detroit today for tests on a "stiff right shoulder," which is the first setback thusfar in his recovery from a series of medical disasters last year. He had a blood clot (and a rib!) removed last year, so hopefully that's an issue of the past, but it appears that a heavy workload at a young age took its toll on the promising Bonderman. He, too, is only 26, but we have less hope for him than for Verlander.
RHP Armando Galarraga: 150 IP, 4.82 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 100 K, 50 BB. Galarraga was, as mentioned, very good last year, but there's nothing in his minor league track record to suggest it's for real. With a full season of scouting reports on him now, let's see how he and the hitters adjust to each other - we're not betting on it working out in his favor.
RHP Edwin Jackson: 152 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 110 K, 60 BB. We think Jackson - only 25 - is going to have a breakout year this year. His control remains an issue, but he has great stuff, and should just be learning how to harness it. With a set spot in the rotation, he should be able to hone his craft well enough to be an above-average pitcher.
LHP Nate Robertson: 120 IP, 5.10 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 80 K, 50 BB. The begoggled lefthander isn't especially good at throwing baseballs, but neither are Zach Miner and Dontrelle Willis (how the mighty have forgotten how to throw strikes). Rick Porcello is the future, and these guys are just keeping a rotation spot warm until he's ready. Hopefully they don't cost the team too many games in the meantime.
From the Bump: Relievers
Closer Brandon Lyon: 55 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 30 K, 12 BB, 29 SV. Yet another middling solution at closer for the Tigers, Lyon will likely continue the Todd Jones tradition of exciting-in-a-bad-way saves, but they're saves nonetheless - which is to say, meaningless unless you're playing fantasy baseball.
Setup man Joel Zumaya: 60 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 65 K, 40 BB. The flamethrowing righty has struggled with his health in the last couple of seasons, and it's entirely possible that his arm simply can't handle the stress of throwing as fast as he does - consistently over 100 mph - over a full season. But we remember an ESPN article where it mentioned that he hit 100 over 200 times in 2006, and we're always going to love him for that, poor control be damned.