The Tigers are 15-18 and have lost 8 of 9 games. In typical Tigers fan fashion, the panic has arrived in earnest. The Tigers haven’t played well and blame is flying. Ausmus sucks (he does)! Justin Upton is a bust (well, hold on a second)! The pitching is terrible (I mean…)! Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s run through the problems with the team’s performance so far in an effort to litigate the actual problems.
The Starting Pitching is Bad!
Yes, yes it is. Using park-adjusted ERA, they are the 6th worst group of starters in the game. They’re 9th worst by FIP and 5th worst by xFIP. The results are bad whether you look at run outcomes or fielding independent components. They’re striking out 18.2% of batters and walking 9.7%, which is the fourth worst differential in the game.
Zimmermann has been the star, but his runs allowed will catch up with his fielding independent numbers. Verlander’s been okay and might be putting it together. Sanchez has looked okay, but he’s still giving up home runs like he was last year. Pelfrey has been very bad.
I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of Pelfrey, but he’s shown nothing to suggest he’s going to provide any sort of positive value. Sanchez still has the talent, but the longer he goes without correcting his dinger problem, the more it starts to look like a feature of his game rather than a bug. The Fulmer/Greene/Norris group is probably going to be able to hold down a spot, with the underrated Matt Boyd available to help.
But even if Verlander’s pretty good, that’s a weak rotation. They needed something from Pelfrey and something pretty good from Sanchez. It’s still early, but we haven’t seen signs that’s coming.
If you want to panic about the starting pitching, that’s probably fair. It’s going to get better, but I’m not sure it will get good.
The Bullpen Has Been Bad This Week!
The bullpen has struggled a bit as of late, but now isn’t the time to be worried. They have a 93 ERA- and 95 FIP- as a group. Even with the meltdowns, they’ve been a pretty respectable unit. The Wilsons are good. Lowe is good even though he’s had a rough week. K-Rod will make you nervous but he’s still talented. And all of the other guys are perfectly fine in middle relief.
This isn’t going to be a great pen, but it’s not going to be a disaster and it’s not going to turn an otherwise good team into a loser.
Justin Upton Can’t Hit!
Upton is a streaky player, but the cold streaks come with hot streaks. Just wait for the hot streak.
Cabrera and Martinez Aren’t Hitting Like Cabrera and Martinez!
Cabrera is just going through one of those little power funks. According to the new Statcast expected run values, Cabrera is hitting the ball much better than his results indicate. The same is true for JD Martinez. Give him time and the numbers will level out.
Gose, McCann, and Iglesias Aren’t Hitting At All!
This is probably the hitter Gose is. Lots of strikeouts, decent walk rate, slightly below average power. That’s not a good hitter and we’ll have to see if he can make up for it with the glove. The comforting thing here is that he’s supposed to be a part time player, he’s just getting exposed with the injury to Maybin. Presumably Maybin will come back.
Iglesias is worrisome. He got off to a good start and has gone ice cold. He doesn’t have to hit like VMart to be valuable given that he’s a solid shortstop rather than a DH, but he’s locked into one of the worst stretches of his career at the plate. He’ll come out of the dive, but I’m not sure how quickly.
McCann is really struggling, but we’re talking about a small sample after being rushed back to big league action after the ankle injury. It’s not good, but it’s not a reason to panic. He might not be a good hitter, but we knew that based on his 2015. His 2016 is not yet changing any minds.
So, Can We Panic?
Give it some time. This is an offense that will score a lot of runs and the bullpen is much better than we’re used to. I know you want to think “oh god it’s happening again” every time they struggle, but most bullpens have bad stretches. They will recover.
The concern is the starting pitching and lack of depth. As we’ve seen with Gose, the Tigers aren’t protected anywhere but the corners. Moya is coming up to help, but they are relying on the offense to take them to the promise land and the pitching probably can’t survive if there is a big drop in run scoring.
I’m not ready to panic, but the team didn’t have much margin for error to begin with, so it’s probably reasonable to think they’re on tilt. This is not a good enough roster to bank on a 20-8 run somewhere down the line.