The State Of The Tigers

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been taking a look back at the 2013 Tigers and looking forward to the 2014 version of the team. We’ve taken a look at the rotation, bullpen, infield, and outfield – and somehow Avila and Holaday ended up not finding a home within any of those posts (Happy Birthday, Alex!). Let’s now take a look at the team as the sum of its parts.

They’re Going To Be Different

Five critical pieces of last year’s team are gone and Smyly is in an entirely different role. Peralta, Infante, Fielder, Fister, and Benoit will all wear different uniforms in 2014, which means a number of key positions will feature new players. New doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse, but it does mean that the style of play is going to change a good deal. And that’s before you consider that the manager and a good portion of the coaching staff is different, as well.

They’re Going To Play Better Defense

You can never predict baseball, but it’s safe to say that an infield consisting of Castellanos, Iglesias, Kinsler, and Cabrera will be better than one that included Cabrera, Peralta, Infante, and Fielder. How much better is up for debate but earlier this offseason, I estimated the difference being somewhere between one and six wins. That seems like a big range, but the lower bound is an improvement, so it’s going to be a feature of the team. You don’t have Fielder and Cabrera playing at spots at which they were among the very worst in the league. You’ve gone from a pretty good shortstop to a great one, and you’ve made a lateral move at second.

They’re Probably Going To Run More

Rajai Davis alone is going to double the team’s SB totals, but Kinsler runs the bases a little bit, and basic addition by subtraction will help by getting Fielder off the basepaths. Guys like Jackson, Dirks, and Iglesias might also be turned loose on the bases by the new coaching staff, but that remains to be seen.

They’re Probably Going To Hit Less

The Tigers traded offense for speed and defense this offseason, there’s no question. Fielder to Castellanos is a step down. Peratla to Iglesias is a step down. The differences aren’t huge, but if you had to bet, you’d bet on the 2014 Tigers being worse at the plate than the 2013 Tigers. We’re talking about a win or two worse due to Fielder’s down season, but that might end up being an important win.

The Rotation Will Be Worse

This one is cheating because it was pretty much impossible for it to get better. The 2013 Tigers were one of the best couple of rotations in baseball history, so even if they kept the band together, it wasn’t going to measure up. That said, trading down from Fister to Smyly, in addition to the natural regression, leaves the Tigers at least two wins worse in 2014, but probably something closer to four or five wins worse. That’s still amazing, but it’s worse.

The Bullpen Didn’t Really Get Better

The words “Joe Nathan” inspire confidence, but Benoit was a very good reliever last season. You lose Smyly for Krol, which is a downgrade. You gamble on Joba, who has stuff but hasn’t been effective in a very long time, and then you go to battle with Rondon, Al-Al, Coke, and Putkonen – all of whom you had last year. Coke should be better and Rondon could make a leap, but even if you squint, this is the same quality bullpen at a higher price.

They’re Still Going To Be Good

The opening sections make this sound like a doom and gloom post, but it isn’t. The Tigers were a great team in 2013. They won 93 games, but that includes completely phoning it in during the last five days of the season, having a completely injured Cabrera for the last six or so weeks, and some general underperformance of their peripherals due to some extremely weird management decisions that would be hard to repeat (Read: Valverde). The Tigers were a true talent 96-97 win team last year that won 93. This year, they’re probably a 90-91 true talent team that could win anywhere from 86 to 96 games. There are always elements of luck and fortune, but the Tigers are the best team in their division pretty comfortably. The Royals are better this year, the Indians are probably worse, and those other two teams don’t even register.

The Tigers stumbled through this offseason after the Fielder deal, but they were working from such a position of strength that it’s probably not going to matter as far as the regular season goes. There’s plenty left to happen before Spring Training and real baseball, but as the offseason winds down, the Tigers are a weaker version of a really strong team. That’s not satisfying relative to what they could have been, but it’s still not something over which to lose your head. They’re going to be good, but we’re past the point of good being a novelty. This is going to be a transition year for the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bad one.

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10 responses

  1. One vield reference to the new manager and his staff. The effect of Ausmus and his staff on the team is hard to predict but I have a good feeling that the team will benefit from a new staff and different managerial style.

    The last two years Leyland took a beating from the fans it seemed but the players loved him. Looking back he did a great job at accepting blame for failure and not letting it get past him. His style was admittedly “old-school” and after a few years fans, including me, got tired on how he handled the bullpen, and even the starters among other gripes along the way.

    Ausmus is an unknown as far as what he will bring to the manager role since he has never really been a manager, does the Israel team count? I like that he is younger, can relate to the players and brought in some fresh coaches. When he first got hired it felt like the Tigers were handing the keys of a Porsche to a 16 year old kid. I like what he has done so far and look forward to what he can do with that Porsche. And if it doesn’t work out for Ausmus, fans love to hate on people and now that Leyland is gone who are we going to complain about now?

    1. I actually meant to link to my posts about Ausmus from earlier in the offseason. I’ll add those in!

  2. The huge unknowable is injuries. It is hard to imagine the rotation going the whole year essentially intact again–that basically never happens, and Verlander is already showing cracks in his iron man act in January. On the other hand, six months of Cabrera vs. the four and a half we got last year might wipe out a lot of the downgrade on offense. VMart has shaken off his rust; he was useless until the weather warmed up last year, Avila could conceivably be much better, and Dirks as well.

    1. The way our winter has been going it wont warm up until July. I don’t think Vmart is the only Tiger that has problems with the cold, but it can’t help on his old knees. It seems a lot of Latin players have a harder time hitting in the cold, I have no stats to back this up just my opinion.

      1. I looked it up. For his career, Vmart has a .293/.361/.446 slash in April, .269/.328/.432 in May, his worst month. Career slash is .303/.369/.464, so April is pretty close, especially if you factor in last season’s face plant.

      2. One last thing; Victor’s Sept/Oct slash is .324/.397/.495, his best. Which tends to put doubts on the cold weather theory.

  3. Neil: Speaking from 17 miles from Comerica Park, I agree with your overview of the club’s potential for 2014. Of course, no one knows. Regarding the starting staff, just as it will be very unlikely Scherzer will repeat 21-3, it would be just as unlikely that Verlander won’t get more run support than he got last season. Baseball is a quirky game and no one knows who will have their best year or a season-long slump. They say Dombrowski is smart poker player but he’s doesn’t know how the game is going either. That’s why he threw a lot of his cards out and picked up a bunch of new ones.

    I read the discussion of WAR on this site and wanted to call your attention to my new blog called Stats by Katz. The blog I posted a few days ago is called WAR Against OPS. I’ve been a SABR member-historian since 1983, but I think its time to start simplifying stuff.

    Check out my baseball blog (just created) and leave a comment while you’re at it. The blogsite is http://statsbykatz.blogspot.com/.

    Lawrence Katz

    1. Have you read up on wOBA? It does a nice job weighing everything properly. wRC+ is essentially the same thing, but it’s adjusted for park and league average. There’s also nothing wrong with showing the full slash like AVG/OBP/SLG.

      I rarely use OPS. It’s fine, but we have better. Anyway, lots of links in the Stat Primer section on wOBA/wRC+/etc

  4. I can’t argue with any of your comments. I think you’ll enjoy the 2014 season. For all his faults, Dombrowski understood it was time for a change.

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