Monthly Archives: October, 2013

The Best Tigers Moments of 2013 – #19

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

For the next several weeks we’ll be rolling out our list of the best The Moment’s of 2013. The list is the product of winnowing down 173 moments from April to October into the best twenty. They vary in their importance but all captivated us in an important way. A few are silly, a few are excellent plays, and a few will travel down in Tigers lore. I hope you enjoy it.

#19 – Miguel Cabrera Walks Off the Royals

[click to play]

This moment makes the list on its own merit but also gets a nice boost from the set of circumstances that brought it into the world. The Tigers had a 3-2 lead entering the 4th inning and they looked poised for another close victory over the Royals before things got out of hand.

It started with a foul ball that the umpires missed leading to a run and a Jim Leyland ejection. If that doesn’t seem interesting enough, it also lead to a Brayan Pena ejection. Now I have your attention. The score was 3-3 entering the bottom of the 4th inning but the Tigers retook the lead on a Miguel Cabrera RBI double, putting them up 4-3. It stayed that way until the 7th inning when Drew Smyly allowed a game tying homerun to Sal Perez just two batters after relieving Doug Fister.

In the bottom half of the inning, Prince Fielder smacked a solo homerun to put the Tigers back on top 5-4 but that lead lasted about five minutes thanks to a lengthy and dangerous outing by Jose Veras that thankfully only yielded a single run to tie the score at 5. They headed to the bottom of the 9th, tied at 5, with Miguel Cabrera due up first.

The Royals went to the talented Aaron Crow with the hope of pumping fastballs by the game’s best hitter. Crow threw one low and away before challenging him in the zone on pitch Cabrera would foul off. From there, he threw two more out of the zone to set up a 3-1 fastball at 93 mph in a location that would generously be described as “sucky.” You can watch the video above, but the graph below can give you some idea of what happened. Someone came very closer to winning a new set of tires as the ball just missed the Belle Tire sign in RF and Mario Impemba gave us one of his best calls of the year.

Miguel Cabrera is on this list quite a few times thanks to his amazing year, but only 18 total moments rank above this one on our list.

How Was The Game? (August 17. 2013)

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The Best Tigers Moments of 2013 – #20

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

For the next several weeks we’ll be rolling out our list of the best The Moment’s of 2013. The list is the product of winnowing down 173 moments from April to October into the best twenty. They vary in their importance but all captivated us in an important way. A few are silly, a few are excellent plays, and a few will travel down in Tigers lore. I hope you enjoy it.

#20: Alex Avila hits a grand slam off Stephen Strasburg

[click to play]

Beating an under-performing Nationals team doesn’t jump out as one of the more important wins of the 2013 season, but the way in which the Tigers scored the decisive runs earns it a place on our list. Entering the day, Alex Avila was hitting .193/.289/.309 and had struck out 29.6% of the time. The year was looking like a nightmare. He had performed better in July after coming off the DL, but he was still nowhere near where he wanted to be.

That night, he drew a tough assignment – Stephen Strasburg. Now Strasburg wasn’t getting the kind of national attention some other young stars were but his season was extremely impressive once you got beyond the ridiculous standard he set for himself. To date, Avila had 6 HR and all were against fastballs between 89-94 mph.

Then came his 6th inning at bat against one of the best arms in baseball. Strasburg got ahead 0-1 before putting two inside and leaving the count at 2-1. The bases were loaded. The score was tied. Strasburg came down and in at 96 mph. To date, Avila had exactly one hit against a pitch 96 mph or higher which got through a hole on the ground against Fernando Rodney.

On this night, he turned on it and sent it flying deep into the Michigan summer. 5-1, Tigers lead. Here comes Avila. You know the rest. From that day forward he hit .299/.377/.514 and looked a whole lot like the Alex Avila who took the league by storm in 2011. He led the Tigers staff through one of the best pitching seasons of all time and punctuated it with a couple more appearances further down this list.

The season didn’t start very well for Avila, but as the summer wore on his luck started to turn. It’s not often than a .190 hitter makes the great Strasburg hang his head in shame, but on July 30, 2013 that’s exactly what we saw.

In a season of great moments, this one trailed only 19 others. Watch the video and enjoy. Only 156 days until Opening Day.

How Was The Game (July 30, 2013)

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The Tigers Offseason Checklist

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

 

All of these subjects are going to get individual attention after the World Series wraps up and the Hot Stove starts heating up, but I wanted to offer a few opening thoughts about what the Tigers should/need to do this offseason to put them in position to win in 2014 and beyond. These are idle thoughts at the beginning of a longer offseason agenda. Feel free to share your own.

1. Find a manager

This one is obvious because their last manager just retired, so the first step is to find his replacement. I’d love to see them modernize with someone like Dave Martinez from Tampa Bay, but the Tigers have a long history of grabbing people from the Dombrowski pipeline. They should either go with someone fresh and new or with someone already on the inside. Brookens or Lamont could keep things pretty stable, which could be useful, but if you’re going to shake things up, don’t sign someone who has been passed by like Dusty Baker.

2. Extend Rick Porcello

I’ve been banging this drum for a while now, but it’s time to pony up. You have a very good starting pitcher (2.9-3.2 WAR in each of the last three seasons) who hasn’t yet turned 25 years old. He’s never missed a start due to injury and showed tremendous signs of development this year. He’s a free agent after 2014 and should get a nice contract if he hits the open market, likely from a team who really understands what Porcello could do in front of a great defense. Porcello’s free agent deal would start at age 26 – which is generally considered the first year of a pitcher’s prime. That’s the guy you lock up. I think a 5 year extension buying out 2014 and then his first four free agent years would be smart. Given the rising salaries in baseball, I think something like 5 years and $60 million might work well for both sides. I might even consider something in the $70-80 million range if the free agent prices look big this year. I’m way more interested in a long term deal for Porcello than for Scherzer.

3. Figure out left field

Dirks and Tuiasosopo did a fine job platooning out there for most of the year and Peralta handled the position in the playoffs, but Nick Castellanos is coming and should be ready to go out there on opening day. This might be a spot where the Tigers could look for make a big free agent splash, but this is their primary hole going into the year and the sooner they make a decision the better. Give the job to Nick or don’t, but don’t leave everyone hanging.

4. Re-up with Omar

Infante has turned himself into a very nice regular over the last few seasons thanks to better defense, baserunning, and offense and remains in his early thirties. If he’ll go for it, a nice 2 year deal worth something like $20-$25 million seems reasonable. I don’t have a good sense about what the rest of the league thinks about Infante, but the crowdsourced project at FanGraphs offers a 3 year, $30 million deal as an expectation. He’ll get somewhere between $9-$12 million a year, it’s just about the years for most. Unless you’re thinking about using Peralta there, just sign Infante and don’t worry about it. I’m not against bringing Peralta back either at 2B or LF, but I think he’s worth more to other teams than he is to the Tigers.

5. Get Cabrera healthy.

Duh.

6. Sign lots of relievers

Everyone’s reaction the Tigers bullpen is always to spend big money on magic relievers who are invincible. Well, relievers are really fragile and often fall apart very quickly. You shouldn’t buy brand names, you should buy a bunch of journeyman and count on one or two to offer you great seasons. You have Smyly, Rondon, and Veras set in the pen and have guys like Alburquerque, Coke, and Putkonen to handle the lower leverage spots. You need to find something like 100 good innings on the market. I’d advocated for 3 or 4 buy-low gambles rather than one or two huge deals. I think if you look at the good bullpens in baseball, most of them include relievers who are having unexpectedly good years. That’s the model.

7. Dance with the ones that brung ya

The Tigers came within two wins of the World Series with an injured Cabrera. Now isn’t the time to overreact. This is a team with a window. Scherzer, Porcello, Fister, Cabrera, Martinez, Hunter, and Infante all have deals up after 2015 or sooner. Now isn’t the time to think about retooling for the future. Now is the time to go all in to try to win with this team. Trying to get cute by trading Scherzer is idiotic given what teams are likely to offer. That said, if the Royals offer you WIl Myers, you jump at it and don’t get sentimental. The Tigers should focus on making small moves, not big ones. This is a great team that can’t stay together forever. It’s going to start getting very expensive in a year or two, so now is the time to strike.

Jim Leyland’s Legacy

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Jim Leyland changed Detroit. Not all at once and not all by himself, but he’s responsible for where we stand today. It’s easy to be unsatisfied two days after getting bounced from the postseason, but in the last eight years the Tigers have made it to the playoffs four times and won their first round matchup all four times. They never won the last game of the season, but they made it deep into the postseason in half of Leyland’s eight years. That’s pretty impressive considering they hadn’t made the playoffs in the 18 previous seasons.

Leyland never won the big win in Detroit, but most managers don’t. The Tigers won 700 games during Leyland’s eight seasons. Only four organizations won more – the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Phillies. In the eight years before that only the Rays won fewer games. Some of that credit, maybe even most of it, belongs to Dave Dombrowski and the owner that told him to build a winner, but Leyland gets some of it. Maybe even a lot of it.

I firmly believe that good players will win regardless of who sits in the manager’s office but there is variation among the results of equally talented teams. It’s Dombrowski’s job to build the team and it’s the players job to succeed on the field, but managers play a role in getting the most out of the people under their control. Managers execute strategy, but they also define the workplace and help motivate and teach their players.

I don’t think we can quantify the impact of a manager with the information available to us. I’m not sure if the difference between Ned Yost and Joe Maddon is five games or twenty games, but managers do matter. I’ve never been a huge fan of Leyland’s bullpen choices or use of the bunt or really any of his assaults on modern strategy, but his players adore him. That matters. I don’t know how much, but just because I don’t have a good answer doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Leyland changed the culture in Detroit and there’s a lot to be said for his ability to recruit free agents and make young players feel at home. If you like your boss, you’re going to perform better. Players adore Jim Leyland. It’s clear from their comments but it’s also clear from the polling conducting by outlets like SI that ask who players would most like to play for. I don’t know if Leyland’s clubhouse skills add ten wins to the Tigers or if they add two, but all else equal I’d rather have a manager that players want to run through a wall for than a manager they don’t.

From a tactical standpoint, the Tigers can do much better than Leyland, but from an interpersonal perspective he’s one of the best there is. I don’t think good leaders and good tacticians are mutually exclusive. I’d like the next manager to push the right buttons and stroke the right egos. Both are valuable and we should always strive for the best possible mix of both qualities.

My lasting images of Leyland are from the early days. He used to march out to the mound and talk to pitchers, I miss that. And I remember him being carried off after the homerun in 2006 and the first time he cried like a baby on television. Like every Tigers fan, I wanted to strangle Leyland at times, but I also know that the Tigers are better off because he came here. He didn’t win the big one, but I don’t hold that against him. There’s only so much a manager can do.

I don’t know who the next manager will be. I have some suspicions and some suggestions, but that comes later. For now, let’s tip our caps to Jim Leyland. Somewhere along the line the Tigers went from laughingstock to powerhouse and I’m not entirely sure if that would have happened if not for Leyland. An ending isn’t something to be sad about, necessarily. It was time for Leyland to call it a career and he went out on his terms with the organization in much better shape than when he arrived. I don’t know how much of that is because of him, but I know some of it was and I will always be grateful for that.

The First Last Word on the 2013 Tigers

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In the days and weeks ahead of us, I’ll spend a lot of column inches breaking down the 2013 Tigers. There’s so much to analyze and dissect. This was one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history and arguably one of the best Tigers teams of all time. Miguel Cabrera had what I suspect will stand as the feather in his Hall of Fame cap. Sanchez, Fister, Scherzer. Everybody. So many great moments and great seasons. That’s what will come next. I’ll also talk a lot about the way forward and how the 2014 Tigers will look different from the 2013 version. There’s lots of ground to cover there, too. History marches on.

First, it’s time for perspective. We’ll talk about the rest later. Everything else can wait. Right now, we have to figured out how we, as fans, move on with our lives. That sounds melodramatic, but I bet most of you are already nodding your heads.

I think it’s important to remember a few things. To start, the Tigers made it deeper into the postseason than all but two teams. The Red Sox and the Cardinals are the only ones still standing and those are two great teams and great organizations. I think the Tigers were the best team in baseball this year, but it was darn close. There’s no shame in a Bronze metal.

I know a lot of you don’t want to hear that. It was World Series or bust. But this is baseball and baseball is ridiculous. This isn’t the NBA. The best teams don’t always win and games are heavily influenced by randomness. You can do everything right, spend every dollar you have, and pray to all of the right Gods and you still might not win it all. That’s the game. You can’t be mad at the Tigers for what is inherent in the sport.

And you can’t ignore Miguel Cabrera’s injury. The Tigers lost three ALCS games by one run. A healthy Cabrera helps them win one of those games. There’s nothing you can do about that. That’s how life works. The Tigers lost their best player at the worst time. Hard to overcome. Bad break.

People are going to talk about the bullpen. It’s not great, but the Tigers lost 1-0 in Game 3 and 4-3 in Game 5. The bullpen didn’t do that. Bullpens are bullpens. Sometimes they blow games. If you’re upset about your bullpen being fickle, start working on cloning Mariano Rivera.

And Prince had a bad series and a down year. He makes a lot of money and that invites criticism, but give the guy a break. He’s not trying to play poorly. He’s not trying to suck. You’ve all had those days and those weeks when you just can’t get anything right. I know you want to be angry and run the guy out of town, I guess you’re entitled to that opinion. But he’s one of us and that’s not how I’m going to treat family. Prince had a bad year off the field. He doesn’t need you on his back, he needs you watching it.

There’s more to say about how Leyland managed the team, too. I’ve been critical and I think my critiques have been fair. But they didn’t lose because of him. They lost because the other team was better. Leyland could have been better this year, but they made it to the ALCS in spite of that and didn’t lose in the ALCS because of it. I think the TIgers would be better off going in another direction next year, but I’m not losing sleep if he comes back. He loves the city and his players love him.

I think it really comes down to your expectations. When a baseball season starts, I expect the team to give me six months of entertainment. I want them to give me something to laugh, cry, cheer, and argue about. I want to win, but winning isn’t the only way I’m happy. They did their best. They showed up. That’s all I really ask. Maybe you demand more, but they gave you a lot. They took the Red Sox to six games. There isn’t really much farther you can take it. Yeah, they came up short, but if you demand a championship every year, your expectations are the problem, not the team.

I had fun this year. I love this team and I really enjoyed writing about them and interacting with all of you. I’m sick to my stomach that it’s over, but that’s not because I’m disappointed. I’m just sad that it’s over. I hate coming home after a long day and not being able to turn on the Tigers. Win or lose, the season ends in 11 days.

It’s going to take a few days to really come to terms with it, but when you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here. This was a great year. A fantastic year. Even if you’re not quite ready to see it yet.

How Was The Game? (October 19, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

The end of the line.

Red Sox 5, Tigers 2 (Sox win the series 4-2)

Most of the time, I love endings. I like getting to the end of books, movies, TV shows, parts of life, etc, but the end of a baseball season never come easy. The Tigers played their final game tonight, on the road at Fenway Park. They trailed 1-0 after 5, but grabbed a pair of runs in the 6th to back Max Scherzer, but faltered in their attempt to pile on thanks to a baserunning miscue by Fielder. They led 2-1 entering the 7th inning – nine defensive outs away from forcing Game 7. The gates opened in a variety of ways in that inning in part thanks to a call. In part thanks to a bobble by the best defender we’ve got. In part thanks to a terrible 0-2 pitch from the reliever we acquired to settle our pen. There wasn’t one thing that did the Tigers in on Saturday night. It was a lot of things. There’s no shame in the overall result – losing to the Sox in the ALCS – given that the Tigers best player was a shell of himself for the entire postseason, but this particular one stings. It’s always going to sting. That’s how this works. We pour our hearts into the season and baseball crushes us. It’s designed to crush us. It’s impossible to know how things would have been different if any one of the mistakes had gone differently and you shouldn’t bother trying. The Sox and the Tigers were the two best teams in the AL and the Tigers lost in 6 games with their best player held together with duct tape and superglue. The result doesn’t bother me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. They’ll go back to the drawing board this winter and fine tune the roster that’s come 6 or fewer wins from the World Series in each of the last three seasons and will likely send Justin Verlander to the mound against the Royals on the final day of March, five long months from now.

The Moment: Martinez drives in a pair to take the lead in the 6th.

How Was The Game? (October 17, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

A missed opportunity.

Red Sox 4, Tigers 3 (Sox lead series 3-2)

Anibal Sanchez (3 GS, 16.1 IP, 4.41 ERA, 5.07 FIP) had a bad inning. That’s about the size of it. He gave his team 6 innings, but he allowed 3 runs in the second and one more in the third to leave the Tigers trailing 4-0 early. They clawed back thanks to some amazing defense by Iglesias some timely hits that pushed across single runs in the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings, but the key moment was Cabrera grounding into a double play with two on and no out in the 7th inning to quell the rally and keep the Tigers from completing the comeback. The Tigers certainly had their chances in this one, but a few key mistakes pushed them to the brink of elimination, requiring two victories in Boston to claim their second straight pennant. Game 6 will be Saturday with Max Scherzer (16 IP, 2.25 ERA, 1.92 FIP) on the hill thinking about getting it to Verlander on Sunday.

The Moment: Jose Iglesias makes the most preposterous play in baseball since his last most ridiculous play.

iglesias

How Was The Game? (October 16, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Business as usual for the pitchers, business like August for the offense.

Tigers 7, Red Sox 3 (Series Tied 2-2)

A day after falling to the Sox 1-0 and three days after losing in soul-crushing fashion, the Tigers turned to  Doug Fister (2 GS, 12 IP, 3.00 ERA, 3.05 FIP) to keep them from the brink of elimination. Fister did his job, holding the Sox to a single run across 6 innings courtesy of 7 K and 1 walk, but for a change of pace the offense carried the load. Jim Leyland made a much publicized lineup change and Jake Peavy’s three walk inning collided with a misplay from Pedroia and a couple of Tigers hits to generate a runaway inning in which the Tigers jumped ahead for good. Jackson also reached base four times in his new spot and Cabrera stole a base because that’s apparently what you do if you hit second. All in all, the Tigers handled their business and turned the series into a best of three with Anibal Sanchez (2 GS, 10 IP, 4.35 ERA, 5.66 FIP), Scherzer, and Verlander lined up to go in Games 5, 6, and 7.

The Moment: Hunter doubles in a pair in the 2nd.

How Was The Game? (October 15, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

An outage.

Red Sox 1, Tigers 0 (Sox lead series 2-1)

Justin Verlander (3 GS, 23 IP, 0.39 ERA, 0.75 FIP) entered this one on fire and didn’t slow down, giving the Tigers 8 innings of 1 run baseball featuring 10 strikeouts and very little trouble. The only run he allowed came on a solo homerun but unfortunately his offense couldn’t provide the equalizer despite a couple of late chances. They had two on in the 8th with one out but Cabrera and Fielder went down on strikes and their leadoff runner was erased in the 9th on a double play ball that came a pitch after a very low strike was called on Jhonny Peralta. The Tigers pitchers did the job on Tuesday but the bats didn’t come through and handed homefield advantage back to the Red Sox. We were treated to a pitchers’ duel and a brief power outage in Game 3, but hopefully Doug Fister (1 GS, 6 IP, 4.50 ERA, 5.38 FIP) will make sure the only thing lacking power on Wednesday are the Red Sox bats.

The Moment: Verlander dominates again.

Photo courtesy of @stoofner

Photo courtesy of @stoofner

Ortiz, Benoit, and What We Expected To Happen

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

 

In an attempt to heal from Sunday night’s crushing defeat, I looked into how predictable/unpredictable Ortiz’s homerun was off Benoit. The answer, both. Benoit was one of the best right-handed relievers against lefties this year and hadn’t allowed a single lefty to take his changeup out of the park. On the other hand, Benoit’s first pitch to lefties is extremely predictable, so it can’t be too surprising that Ortiz was waiting for it.

Normally, everything I write about the Tigers is published here, but I used some fancy software through one of my other writing gigs to generate some of the graphics, so it’s going to live over at Gammons Daily. Fear not, here’s a link to the post. Enjoy/try not to do harm to yourself after reading it.

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