I wasn’t a fan of the Tigers’ offseason strategy – that won’t surprise anyone who reads the site regularly. Up to that point, Dombrowski had made very few missteps as the Tigers’ GM, but he didn’t impress me this winter. Well he nailed the deadline…or he almost nailed it, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The Tigers needed to upgrade in order to be a true playoff contender. The biggest opportunity for that upgrade was in the bullpen, the second biggest was in the outfield.
The bullpen came first with the Tigers nabbing the best reliever on the market in Joakim Soria. Dave paid a steep price by losing Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson, but those players weren’t going to contribute until at least 2015 and Thompson was probably not coming until 2016. The price was high, but the future matters much less to the Tigers than to the average club, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The Tigers need to do more, though. And then Oakland pushed the chips in and grabbed Jon Lester this morning. The AL rival isn’t messing around and the Tigers needed to follow suit. For a while, Andrew Miller seemed like a nice option to upgrade the bullpen, but Dave had other ideas.
Enter David Price and the Rays. The best player on the market and one who is under team control for 2015 as well. The Tigers had holes in the bullpen, but adding to the roster is adding to the roster. An extra win in the rotation will do the trick just like one in the bullpen would. At least for the regular season.
Not only did Dombrowski grab an upgrade for the stretch run, but he replaced Scherzer for 2015. Great. The upgrade is a little offset considering that the Tigers had to give up Smyly to do it. They also lost Jackson. And a very nice prospect. Price is an upgrade over Jackson and Smyly for the rest of the year and probably next season as well. It will cost them in the checkbook, but they have plenty of room to carry Price in that regard. Adames could really help the Tigers in 2017 or 2018, but that’s a long way off. He’s the cost of doing business.
Price makes them a near lock to wrap up the division and makes them even better in the postseason. Maybe getting three relievers instead of a reliever and a starter would be better in the postseason, but Price makes them better than they were otherwise. And then he helps next year too.
Theoretically, the Tigers could have done something better than this, but this was the Tigers grabbing the best two players they could.
So what we have is the Tigers giving up six years of Knebel, six years of Thompson, six years of Adames, four plus years of Smyly, and a year plus of Jackson for a year plus of both Soria and Price.That’s a high cost but it’s one that makes them more likely to win the 2014 World Series and probably the 2015 World Series. And everything after that doesn’t matter.
Let me say that again. Everything after 2015 doesn’t matter. This is the window. Cabrera and Verlander are getting older. Scherzer is leaving. Porcello might be gone after next year. Kinsler won’t be this good forever. The Tigers are going to have a shot this year and next and then they’re going to have to retool. That might only take a year, but it also might take five. And the owner doesn’t care. He’s getting older and wants a winner. The general manager has done just about all he can do in this job except win a title.
This is it. It really is. So the Tigers borrowed from the future to go for it now. And they should have. And they added two great players and I’m excited for the showdown in October.
The only thing Dombrowski got wrong was not going bigger. He could have gotten Miller too. Or Koji. Or Glen Perkins. Or something. Dave made the team better and he did it the right way. My only gripe is that he probably should have thrown two more good prospects at a team to get one more piece. Because it’s now or never. Dave almost nailed it, but he still did one heck of a job. Nothing is going to match what he did in 2011 or in the 2008 offseason, but this might be the one big deal that puts a trophy on Mike Illitch’s mantle.
Money be damned, future be damned. This is it.
White Sox 7, Tigers 4
Drew Smyly (18 GS, 105.1 IP, 3.93 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 1.3 fWAR) threw his final innings as a Tiger. Five innings, four runs, no walks, 11 hits, and two strikeouts. Two innings later he was traded. The game was tied at four and they slowly started to give it away as Jackson was pulled mid-inning to head out in the same trade. Hunter and Martinez had back to back home runs, the bullpen wasn’t great, but it’s hard to think of this game as anything but as a farewell to Smyly and Jackson. David Price is now a Tiger and the Tigers happened to lose today. Justin Verlander (22 GS, 142.2 IP, 4.79 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 1.8 fWAR) will now pitch for his postseason spot starting tomorrow night.
The Moment: Jackson gets pulled mid-inning to an ovation as he’s dealt in the David Price deal.
The Tigers had to do more than just acquiring Joakim Soria. Soria was a much needed boost to the bullpen but you can’t trade two of your best prospects for a reliever if you aren’t planning to plug other holes. The window is closing and the Tigers saddled up by going out and getting David Price to beef up their rotation. The Tigers gave up Willy Adames, Austin Jackson and Drew Smyly in the process with Seattle working as the middle man.
The Tigers paid a high price, but one that had to be paid given the circumstances. Scherzer is likely gone after this year, Martinez is a free agent. Porcello and Jackson (was!) are free agents after 2015. Verlander and Cabrera are exiting their peaks. The Tigers are at a crossroads; go for it or reload. With an aging owner and a very weak crop of teams coming out of the AL East, the Tigers decided to go for it and this is what that looks like. Adding Price solidifies their odds of locking up the division and sets them up for a big showdown with the loaded A’s in October.
The Tigers weren’t satisfied with coming up short three straight seasons and Price will help there, but he will also replace Scherzer in 2015 and make that team a more legitimate contender before the band really starts to break up.
Price is great, he’s having a great year, and the projections love him. He’s a difference maker. He’s under control through next year and that’s as far ahead as the Tigers should be thinking. It’s time to win. They paid a steep price by dealing away prized prospects, but the Tigers are at a place where giving up future value makes sense. It was time to make a huge deal and they did it.
more coming later
Tigers 7, White Sox 2
Max Scherzer (22 GS 145.2 IP, 3.27 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.5 fWAR) faced three batters in the first inning, then Austin Jackson made an out, and then the next eight Tigers reached base and produced six runs. Everyone did something, but Castellanos delivered the big hit with a three run homer, and then basically nothing happened for a very long time. The Tigers coasted through at bats and let Noesi pitch six innings before they woke up against the pen leading to another run. Scherzer walked one and allowed five hits while striking out six and allowing a run over seven innings before the bullpen took over and guided this one to a smooth landing…well, for them. They’ll look to take the series behind Drew Smyly (17 GS, 100.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 1.1 fWAR) on Thursday.
The Moment: Nick Castellanos puts it out of reach with a 3-run blast in the 1st.
White Sox 11, Tigers 4
Anibal Sanchez (19 GS, 113.1 IP, 3.57 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 2.9 fWAR) had a very Sanchez-y night. He was very solid through the first five or six innings but as he approached the 7th inning and 100 pitches he started to tire and the Sox started to get to him. The bats had worked the Sox to a 2-2 draw to that point courtesy of a Hunter single, JDMart triple, and Holaday sac fly in the 2nd. The 7th inning was a disaster, as Ausmus let Sanchez allow three baserunners before going to Soria, whom he let pitch well after he put the game out of reach, likely burning him for tomorrow. The Sox tacked on two in the 8th and the Tigers mini-rally wasn’t nearly enough to make up for poor defense and Soria’s metldown. They will turn to Max Scherzer (21 GS, 139 IP, 3.37 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 3.2 fWAR) Wednesday to end the skid.
The Moment: Martinez slices a triple into the corner.
The numbers don’t look good. Your eyes might disagree, but hold onto that thought for a moment. Let’s consider the data first and our perceptions second. Nick Castellanos was never heralded as a good defender at any time coming up through the system and he spent a year and a half playing the outfield prior to 2014, so the expectations weren’t terribly high. No one expected Castellanos to be Evan Longoria at third this year. The goal was simply to be better than what Cabrera over the last couple of years.
To date, by the numbers, this is the worst case scenario. Twenty eight third basemen have at least 500 innings at the position this year and Castellanos ranks last in DRS (-19), last in UZR (-10), second to last in UZR/150 (-17.4), and last in RZR (.611). No one is going to tell you that defensive statistics are perfect over the course of a half season, but when so many different methodologies line up like this, it’s probably safe to say that you’re not doing very well. We don’t have to say that Castellanos is terrible, but he’s definitely performed poorly during this 100 game sample.
But maybe you think these defensive stats are garbage. They’re not, but I’ll indulge you. Forget ball tracking and comparisons to average and all of the things that go into advanced metrics. Let’s go back to school on the most basic measure of defense. How well does Nick turn ground balls into outs? Let’s look at BABIP on ground balls to third.
Now the available data only allows us to grab Tigers’ 3B, so there are a few Cabrera and Kelly games mixed in, but Castellanos has played in close to 90% of the team’s games so this is a fine estimate.
To do this, I went to Baseball Savant and looked at ground balls toward third base and carved up the field by a few different cutoff points to make sure we had it right. The left field line is at -45 degrees and the second base bag is a 0 degrees, just to give you an idea. Let’s look at -45 to -25 degrees. This assumes that the 3B has about 45% of the left side of the infield.
BABIP on ground balls from -45 to -25 for the Tigers is .398, which is by far the worst in the league. Let’s try .-45 to -30 and ask that our 3B only covers 33% of the left side. That leaves the Tigers at .343, which is 29th in baseball. It’s also nice to see Cleveland in last because that’s who the other defensive stats look poorly upon. Finally, let’s go -45 to -35, which calls on Nick to cover just 22% of the field. Again the Tigers are last at .339.
You might think advanced defensive stats are still in beta testing, but there’s nothing advanced about looking at how well a player turns ground balls into outs. This is as basic as it gets and Castellanos is baseball’s worst third baseman in this department.
There are a couple of reasons to pump the breaks, however. First, Nick just spent 18 months playing a different position. It’s possible that he just doesn’t have his bearings back. When you think about it, that’s totally fair. You shouldn’t expect him to pick the position right back up, meaning that even if his performance this year has been bad, it’s fair to say this is his floor and not his ceiling.
Second, this is all about range. That matters, but his hands and arm and such don’t grade out poorly. He’s not getting to a lot of balls, but he’s converting the ones he gets to. You can’t necessarily teach him to be more mobile, but I’d rather he have one big problem that four medium sized problems.
Third, he doesn’t look as bad as the numbers. I don’t think you can throw out the numbers just because you don’t like what they say, but Castellanos doesn’t look like he’s worse than Cabrera was. My guess is that when all is said and done, this is going to regress a little. He’s more of a -8 than a -18. It’s not hard for a few bad plays to haunt you on defense just like a bad week can sink your offensive stats.
The scouting reports are positive enough on his defense to the point where most see him staying at 3B for at least the next few seasons. I’m not so sure, but that’s because the Tigers might not need him to be there. Pretty much the only area of depth on the farm for the Tigers is middle infield and if Suarez is going to swim at the big league level, he’s going to need a new position next year. That might be 3B and he’s not the only one knocking on the door behind Iglesias and Kinsler.
It doesn’t sound like the plans are in place or anything but Castellanos could move to RF as early as 2015. Not necessarily because he’s so horrible that he has to move off the position, but because he’s not good enough there for it to matter. I can see a world where Castellanos is a serviceable gloveman at third, but that might not be the best way to line up the defense. He’s never going to be a plus defender, so it’s just a matter of finding a place for his glove so that his bat can shine.
I think he’s going to be a big time contributor at the plate, but while his defense doesn’t look as bad from a tools perspective as it has from a performance perspective this year, there’s not a lot of reason to think he can be a positive contributor at third base. It’s been bad this year. I think it can and will get better, but the simple fact of the matter is that it might not have to.
Angels 2, Tigers 1
No jury would convict Rick Porcello (20 GS, 133 IP, 3.25 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 2.0 fWAR) after this one. Allow me to paint a picture. Porcello dominated the Angels through 7 innings of work. His offense scored him one run during the game. He allowed five baserunners and struck out six batters. The only run he allowed came on a botched pickoff play, for which he deserves some penalty for the poor throw, but the runner scored because Austin Jackson simply didn’t return the ball to the infield and the runner just kept going. Then at 99 pitches, he got pulled for Joba because it was the 8th inning and that’s who Brad Ausmus uses in the 8th inning. Joba’s been good this year, but he allowed a go ahead blast to left center field and the Tigers lost. This is mostly a story about an offense that didn’t score, but it’s also about lazy defense, a bad bullpen moment, and a manager who probably should have let his starter continue given how sharp he was on this day. Anibal Sanchez (18 GS, 107 IP, 3.45 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 2.7 fWAR) on Tuesday.
The Moment: Porcello shines.
Angels 4, Tigers 0
If you like losing, this one kind of had everything. Justin Verlander (22 GS, 142.2 IP, 4.79 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 1.9 fWAR) was actually pretty good across seven innings, but couldn’t slam the door in the 6th and allowed some add on runs to give the Angels a cushion. Then of course there was the pickoff of Suarez, which the umpires allowed the Angels to challenge later than they should have, which led to Ausmus getting ejected without issuing a protest (Which he should have). Also, the umpires called Suarez out on a bunt play when the ball hit him in the batter’s box. Also, Hunter made a really bad error which led to a run in the 8th while Soria got BABIP’d to death in his debut. No offense, bad umpiring, Hunter defense. It wasn’t the sharpest of nights, but the Tigers have Rick Porcello (19 GS, 126.1 IP, 3.42 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.8 fWAR) going Sunday for a split.
The Moment: Ausmus gets worked up when the umpires allow the Angels to challenge late.
Angels 2, Tigers 1
Considering that it’s very late and because it is also very late, let’s do this in choppy unconnected sentences! Drew Smyly (17 GS, 100.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 1.1 fWAR) was awesome. He retired the first 13 batters he faced with nine strikeouts and ended the day with 11 punchouts to go along with one intentional walk and two runs allowed, both of which came in the 6th as the Angels started to lock in. The Tigers got their only run on a Cabrera solo shot and neither bullpen factored into the scoring. Justin Verlander (21 GS, 135.2 IP, 4.84 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 1.8 fWAR) goes Saturday in game three.
The Moment: Smyly retires the first 13 he faces.
Angelic? /logs off
Tigers 6, Angels 4
Max Scherzer (21 GS, 139 IP, 3.37 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 3.3 fWAR) managed to squeeze one shaky inning into an otherwise phenomenal start on Thursday. He went seven innings, allowed six hits and a walk to go with three runs, but he punched out eleven Angels (including Trout twice!) and was dominant outside the 5th inning. The Tigers manufactured a quick run in the 3rd inning, but really unleashed the attack in the 6th when they got four straight hits and three runs to start the inning. They tacked on insurance runs in the 7th and 8th and you’re happy they did. Joba allowed a run in the 8th and Nathan somehow did totally fine in the 9th to lock it down. It’s late, so go to sleep and get ready for Drew Smyly (16 GS, 94.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 0.8 fWAR) on Friday.
The Moment: Castellanos gives the Tigers the lead with a big double in the 6th.