Category Archives: 2016 Bellwethers

Reviewing The Preseason Bellwethers

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

For this year’s season preview series, I decided to explore the nine “bellwethers” for the Tigers 2016 campaign. The idea wasn’t to write about the club’s most important players, but rather the players who were most likely to tip the balance in one direction of the other. Now that the season is over and we have some distance between us and Game 161 (?!), I thought it might be interesting to see how the bellwethers compared to what I wrote about them in March.

#9: Daniel Norris

That’s essentially the question we’ll be looking to answer in 2016. Can Daniel Norris strike out more hitters without sacrificing command? He’s a fly ball pitcher with a solid enough group of outfielders and has a pair of great defenders up the middle in the field. Norris was victimized surprisingly by lefties in 2015, who hit for a ton of power (.293 ISO in 64 PA), but that probably won’t continue once he gets a chance to pitch a full season.

In 2015, hitters were very patient against Norris, which is something he’ll need to combat with a higher number of first pitch strikes. He needs to get ahead early and let his arsenal of secondary pitches force hitters to chase for swinging strikes and weak contact. This is all very much within his grasp given the tools at his disposal. He’s physically gifted, intellectually capable, and works hard.

Norris has the potential to become a #2 starter someday, but it’s probably not a good bet to predict he reaches that zenith in his first full season in the majors. More likely, Norris will have his ups and downs, getting hit hard from time to time before making adjustments to get back in control. Realistically, a 90 ERA-/FIP- is probably the best case scenario, which would make him about a 3 WAR pitcher over 180 innings. That’s better than he was in 2015, but it’s not all the way to his ceiling.

But it’s also not out of the question to imagine Norris struggles with his command in April and the club decides he isn’t quite ready for prime time, especially because they need to watch his innings anyway. In this scenario, maybe he’s in the 110 ERA-/FIP- range, or worse, and the Tigers have to rely on Boyd, Fulmer, etc before they are fully ready. Given that the club doesn’t have a ton of depth, Norris is a crucial component of a successful season. There are always ways for teams to surprise you, but it seems relatively unlikely that the Tigers will win the division without a productive Daniel Norris.

So the big question was if Norris could increase his strikeout rate without losing any command. Verdict? Nearly a 6% increase in K% and a virtually unchanged walk rate. I pegged him around ten percent better than league average and his park-adjust FIP came in 8% better than league average (his ERA was even better). His WAR/180 IP was 2.9, just under the 3.0 mark I set as the best case scenario. On a per inning basis, Norris hit his mark. The big issue was that he battled injury and inconsistency over the first part of the season and only gave the Tigers about 70 innings. Had he been this good and healthy all year, the Tigers season probably goes differently, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that when he was in uniform he was as good as we could have expected.

#8: Justin Wilson

It’s no secret that the Tigers need better innings from their bullpen if they want to compete and Wilson is going to be an important piece of that puzzle. He’s probably not 30-40% better than league average when it comes to ERA or FIP, but if he’s good enough to be in the 20-30% better than average window, that’s a big step forward for the Tigers. If Wilson can put together a 25 K%, 8 BB%, 0.50 HR/9 kind of season, all of which are very much in line with his 2015 season plus a little negative regression, the Tigers will have a really good LHP1 that will allow them to move Blaine Hardy into a LHP2.

Wilson finished the year with a 74 FIP-, 25.9 K%, 6.8 BB%, and 0.92 HR/9. The home run increase was really the only thing that kept him from totally hitting the mark, but even with that issue he was still a nice upgrade over what the Tigers had previous. Wilson was incredible early in the season but regressed a bit later in the summer, so fans probably have a sour taste in their mouths. Wilson was a very solid reliever for the club this year and while he flashed elite level performance at one point, the sum of his work was right around what we expected.

#7: Mark Lowe

It’s likely that health is a key factor for Lowe, but even in the seasons in which he seemed to be healthy, he was never as good as he was in 2015. Last year was clearly his best year, and how the Tigers perform in 2016 will be partially dependent on how much of that was a real shift toward greatness and how much was a blip.

Is Mark Lowe really a great reliever, or is he simply a solid arm who had a good year? Even if he’s just a solid bullpen piece, but stays healthy, he’ll make the team better. But the team was awful in 2015, so a little better isn’t a terribly exciting move. If his slider-heavy approach and high velocity fastball are here to stay, the Tigers have themselves a late-inning reliever who can prevent leads from slipping away. If he can’t stay healthy or his 2015 success was mostly noise, it will be much harder for the team to keep up with Kansas City, Cleveland, and perhaps Chicago.

So listen, just everything about this went to hell. Lowe didn’t have the same stuff he showed in 2015 and got creamed when he was out there for the Tigers. He had moments where he looked serviceable, but overall it was not a good season.

#6: Jose Iglesias

So part of Iglesias’ 2016 will be about avoiding miscues on those easier and mid-range plays. He’s going to blow you away with some great defense, but saving a run by making a great play only goes so far if you boot a routine play the next day. Few are better than Iglesias from a talent perspective, but he need to take a step forward defensively so that the Tigers can get the most out of that ability. He’s probably played like a +5 shortstop recently, even though he has +10 to +15 talent. Getting those extra five or ten runs is going to be huge for the Tigers as they chase Cleveland and Kansas City.

I obviously don’t know who’s right, but the fans do have a pretty strong case given that Iglesias’ career BABIP is .328 when the projection systems are forecasting it to be around .310. He’s a ground ball/ line drive hitter who gets plenty of infield hits, so a BABIP above .300 is to be expected, it’s just a question of how much higher it will be.

But that’s the question. Iglesias is going to hit a couple dingers, knock 20 doubles, and have a low walk rate. That’s his game. But last year he cut down on his strikeouts by a lot (under 10% after being in the 15-20% range for his career) and has always put up a quality BABIP. If he can rack up plenty of singles, he can be an average MLB hitter.

The two big questions for Iglesias were making sure his defensive performance matched his talent and figuring out if he had a high BABIP skill that he could count on for lots of singles. On the glove side, the metrics gave him a nice bump over 2015 and what I saw from him squares with that assessment. Iglesias improved going to his right and kicked fewer easy plays, allowing his ability to make highlight catches carry him to a nice defensive season.

At the plate, however, his walk and strikeout rates were identical to 2015, his power was essentially the same, and his BABIP dropped more than 50 points. Now the .276 BABIP he ran in 2016 probably sits below his true talent level, but the fact that he was a 73 wRC+ hitter instead of 95-100 wRC+ was a big reason why the Tigers missed the postseason. In order for Iglesias to be a really valuable player, he needs to hit a lot of singles. He didn’t in 2016.

#5: Francisco Rodriguez

There’s isn’t one particular thing Rodriguez needs to keep doing, as we’ve noted with some other players during this series, it’s really just that he needs to hold off that inevitable decline a little bit longer.

Done!

#4: James McCann

This is the central question for McCann’s bat in 2016. Is he an unimpressive hitting catcher with a vulnerability to righties or did he just appear that way last season because the weight of his first season as a major league catcher simply took its toll late in the season? Time will tell.

So another huge question for McCann this year will be if he can improve his receiving. We know he’s got a strong throwing arm and can manage the running game, but getting strikes for the pitching staff is his most important job and failing to come through in this department will wash away his positive contributions elsewhere.

Fortunately, while Brad Ausmus often causes more problems than he solves, this one is right up his alley. In fact, Ausmus was probably one of the better pitch framers in baseball history. If the front office was able to communicate to Ausmus that McCann needed help and Ausmus is an able teacher, there’s reason to be hopeful. We’ve seen in other cases that framing is a teachable skill.

Okay, so this one pulls in both directions. McCann’s bat was terrible in 2016 and all of the problems you feared he might have manifested in a 66 wRC+. However, as I suggested this winter, McCann was more than capable of improving his framing and he did exactly that. McCann didn’t turn himself into a great framer but he went from one of the worst receivers in baseball in 2015 to a roughly average one in 2016. Mix that with his great catch and throw abilities and you have yourself a very solid defender. Unfortunately, great defense doesn’t get you all the way there if you are hitting 35% worse than league average.

#3: Nick Castellanos

Was that a smaller sample size aberration? We’ll soon find out. The power absolutely looked real to the naked eye, as Castellanos drove the ball with much more authority when he squared up a pitch, but the BABIP remains to be seen. His style of hitting lends itself to a higher than average BABIP, but there’s a big gulf between a .315 BABIP and a .340 BABIP that we’ll need to litigate over time.

Castellanos has a swing you can dream on and he definitely bulked up between 2014 and 2015. His approach leaves something to be desired but it really might be as simple as learning to lay off the breaking ball low and away. He can’t hit that pitch and once he stopped trying, his numbers perked up. There’s loads of offensive potential in his bat, he just needs to hone his approach now that he’s added enough strength to hit for power.

A 120 wRC+ Castellanos is a totally plausible thing. And if he hits like that with a below average, but not embarrassing glove, the team has themselves a quality big leaguer.

A downer would tell you that Castellanos shined early in the season and was starting to fade before he got hurt, but if you take a step back and evaluate his season as a whole, he checked exactly the boxes he need to. Increased power, above average BABIP. He finished with a 119 wRC+. While his glove remained below average, it’s nothing like what it was in 2014, and as I said, a 120 wRC+ hitter with a below average but serviceable glove is a player you can work with. The injury cost the Tigers, but Nick did his part living up to what they needed.

#2: Anibal Sanchez

It seems entirely possible that Sanchez muddles through 2016 as a below average starter and gives the Tigers 130 or 140 mediocre innings. But it’s also very possible that he’s healthy and gives them 180 great innings. Normally I roll my eyes when people talk about ceilings and floors because anyone can suck and most anyone can have one great season, but I think Sanchez’s probabilities for each are quite high. Maybe call it a 25% chance of disaster, 25% change of greatness, and 50% chance of average. For most players, I would personally predict a much narrower distribution.

I will leave it to you to decide if you consider his season a disaster, or just something kind of close to that. But clearly, Sanchez coming in at the bottom of his potential was one of the significant daggers in the Tigers 2016 title hopes.

#1: Justin Verlander

Yet if he’s healthy and stays that way, and if his health was what killed him during the dark years, maybe he has another year left in the College of Aces. If Verlander is Verlander and finds something close to the form he found in late 2015, the Tigers can win the AL Central. If Verlander is a 5, 6, or 7 win pitcher in 2016, the Tigers will almost certainly make the playoffs.

This is both comforting and heartbreaking. Verlander absolutely carried forward his late-2016 form and was exactly the kind of pitcher the Tigers needed at the front of the rotation. He did absolutely everything he could to get his team across the finish line, the rest of the club just happened to come up short.

But there’s a counterfactual here worth discussing, just for the sake of this series. Had Verlander gone the other direction, there’s no doubt the Tigers would have missed the playoffs. He really was the truest bellwether of the season, it’s just that 2, 4, 6, and 7 collectively broke far enough in the wrong direction to stifle the club’s hopes. That combined with injuries to JD Martinez and Jordan Zimmermann kept the Tigers from postseason baseball.

2016 Bellwethers, #1: Justin Verlander

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson | #7: Mark Lowe |#6: Jose Iglesias | #5: Francisco Rodriguez | #4: James McCann |#3: Nick Castellanos |#2: Anibal Sanchez

To the surprise of no one, Justin Verlander is the bellwether of the Tigers 2016 season. I never really intended for there to be suspense relating to the ordering of this list, but there was never any question about who belongs at the top. Four years ago, Justin Verlander was the best pitcher in the league. His 2013 season was pretty solid overall, but a number of bad starts that summer displayed cracks in the foundation and softened his numbers. The 2014 campaign was better than the ERA made it look, but it was a far cry from the Verlander of old. He started 2015 on the DL and his first few starts brought us into conflict with our respective deities.

And then he came back. In his final 99.1 innings, he posted a 56 ERA- and 64 FIP-. The strikeouts were back, the velocity was good, and he was finally putting in the work to study the opposing batters. It was either one of the most welcoming signs we’ve seen in some time or it will prove to be the biggest tease of the era. That’s the question we have entering 2016.

In the second half of 2015, only two pitchers posed a higher fWAR than Verlander: Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta. Using RA9 as a base instead of FIP dropped him all the way to 9th. And that’s with a pretty Verlander-normal .270 BABIP. His second half line from 2015 was something you wouldn’t have doubted for a second if it had come at the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013. It’s reflective of exactly who he once was.

But he also had strong runs to close 2013 and 2014. Was the end of 2015 just another one of those runs before he loses it again? Or was he finally healthy? Or did his efforts to actually prepare for his opponents pay off?

I think it’s safe to say he still possesses the potential for greatness. His physical skills haven’t diminished to the point at which that is excluded, but even if his 2013 and 2014 struggles were about his health, it’s not like injuries are the chicken pox and you only get them once. Father time will come calling for us all, and it’s not that common for a pitcher to have a great year at 33+.

As recently as the second half of last year, Verlander looked like the kind of guy who go spin off a 6-7 WAR season, but prior to that he was looking like someone who might never crack 3 WAR again. We’re walking a tightrope here when trying to predict what comes next. At 33, you’d expect decline. At 33, you’d expect more injuries. After a few bumpy years and injures, you’d expect more.

But there was a time when Verlander was invincible and he looked like that guy the last time we saw him. I think my position is unchanged from what I said last year, and for much of the two years prior. Verlander is still going to have a lot of great nights, there are just going to be more and more rough ones as time goes on.

Yet if he’s healthy and stays that way, and if his health was what killed him during the dark years, maybe he has another year left in the College of Aces. If Verlander is Verlander and finds something close to the form he found in late 2015, the Tigers can win the AL Central. If Verlander is a 5, 6, or 7 win pitcher in 2016, the Tigers will almost certainly make the playoffs.

Imagine for a moment that every other player performs exactly as expected by the major forecasting systems, but Verlander has a great season. If that happens, the Tigers would get their win total revised upward and they’d be pegged as a likely wild card favorite with a clear shot at taking the division. The difference between mediocre Verlander and great Verlander is almost enough to mitigate the concerns we have about every other player on the roster. If they get good Verlander, the club needs just small gains from guys like Sanchez, Castellanos, and McCann to make them real contenders.

The Tigers built themselves a competitive club this winter, but the most decisive piece of the entire puzzle is the one they’ve had the longest. As goes Verlander, so goes the 2016 Tigers.

2016 Bellwethers, #2: Anibal Sanchez

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson | #7: Mark Lowe |#6: Jose Iglesias | #5: Francisco Rodriguez | #4: James McCann |#3: Nick Castellanos

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that Anibal Sanchez’s 2013 season was a career year, but the thing about career years is they demonstrate a player’s potential. From late 2012 into early 2014, Anibal Sanchez pitched like one of the best pitchers in the entire league. And even in an injury shortened 2014, his 89 ERA- and 71 FIP- put him firmly in the league’s top tier.

He missed less time in 2015, pitching a total of 157 innings, but the results were dramatically worse. His 123 ERA- and 117 FIP- were his worst marks since becoming a full-time starter during 2009. And you can trace the problems easily; he gave up too many home runs. In fact, he gave up 29 HR in those 157 innings (1.66 HR/9) despite allowing just 33 total HR from 2012 to 2014 in 503.2 innings (0.59 HR/9).

Here’s the thing about home runs, they’re bad. Sanchez allowed essentially one full home run more per nine innings than he had during his previous three seasons, and while home runs surrender a minimum of one run per occurrence, they quite often happen with men on base. On average, a home run is worth about 1.7 runs more than an out. So if he gave up 17 more dingers than he would have if he met his 2012-14 levels, that’s an extra 30 runs or so. That accounts for essentially the entire increase in his runs allowed numbers in 2015.

There are two sides to this story. The first is that Sanchez was probably unusually lucky/successful when it comes to preventing home runs in 2012-2014 while being unusually unlucky/unsuccessful at preventing them in 2015. Sanchez was never truly as good as he looked during his peak and isn’t truly as bad as he appeared last season. Baseball is highly random and home runs are particularly random for pitchers.

This isn’t to say that pitchers don’t influence their home run totals, it’s merely that the difference between a ball that’s caught in the deep outfield and one that clears the fence are essentially the same, but they yield very different results. So some of this is just noise and you can probably infer Sanchez didn’t totally lose his skills because we had an inflated view of his previous skills and a deflated view of his current ones.

But leaving the basic regression aside, as I wrote a number of times last season, Sanchez seemed to have a tendency to throw exceptionally bad pitches at bad moments last year. Overall, I believed his stuff looked pretty normal, but he just threw some really bad pitches at times and hitters didn’t miss those at all. What I was unable to say at the time was whether or not that was stupid, dumb luck or if it was based on some sort of flaw in his delivery or approach.

After the season we learned he was dealing with shoulder issues that he hadn’t really disclosed. Without being his doctor, it’s impossible to know what exactly the impact of that injury was, but arm fatigue, no matter the cause, can lead you to take a pitch off and wind up serving a hanging slider.

If we take this at face value, we can say that Sanchez’s problems were in part caused by health issues and he didn’t just become a much worse pitcher. But that doesn’t necessarily bode well. Maybe he’s all better and can get back into a 3 WAR season, or maybe he’s entering the phase of his career when he’s going to routinely deal with these injuries and never have a chance to pitch at full strength. We just don’t know.

For this reason, Sanchez is the second biggest bellwether on the Tigers roster this year. There’s a world of difference between a 1 WAR starter in the middle of the rotation and a 3-4 WAR starter in that same spot. Now that we know Daniel Norris isn’t going to be at full strength to start the year, the Tigers margin for error is even smaller. As I’ve said all along, the AL Central is going to be very close and Sanchez offers one of the widest ranges of possible outcomes of anyone on the team.

It seems entirely possible that Sanchez muddles through 2016 as a below average starter and gives the Tigers 130 or 140 mediocre innings. But it’s also very possible that he’s healthy and gives them 180 great innings. Normally I roll my eyes when people talk about ceilings and floors because anyone can suck and most anyone can have one great season, but I think Sanchez’s probabilities for each are quite high. Maybe call it a 25% chance of disaster, 25% change of greatness, and 50% chance of average. For most players, I would personally predict a much narrower distribution.

Wins are going to be very precious for the Tigers and Sanchez offers one of the clearest paths to greatness of anyone on the roster. If Sanchez returns to form, the Tigers have a great chance to get back to the postseason.

2016 Bellwethers, #3: Nick Castellanos

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson | #7: Mark Lowe |#6: Jose Iglesias | #5: Francisco Rodriguez | #4: James McCann

It feels like he’s been around forever, but Nick Castellanos is just 24 years old. He was the 44th overall pick in the 2010 draft and essentially from the time he was drafted until he lost his rookie eligibility, he personified the Tigers future. Fans wanted to rush him to the majors to fill a void at second base. They demanded his presence in the OF when the team needed an OF. He was an actual prospect in a system rarely known for having actual prospects!

But after two years as a full-time player, the shine is completely off the apple. He’s been a below average hitter in the majors and has been arguably one of the worst defenders in the game since his arrival. He’s still young, but baseball fans are unforgiving and youth is only an excuse to them when you lack experience. After two years of experience, Castellanos now faces his make or break season.

The ship has sailed on Castellanos as a good defender, not that such a thing was ever likely, but he did go from disastrous to bad from 2014 to 2015, so if he can take a small step forward by eliminating mistakes on easier plays, he should be able to hold on to third base for another year or two. He’s seemed to be a -10 or -15 true talent third basemen based on the numbers and my own observations. If he could arrive somewhere between -5 and -10, we will all consider it a victory.

The question for Castellanos this year will be his bat. His glove just has to be not-embarrassing and we’ll make do. But he was supposed to hit and needs to hit or his place on the roster as someone who will get 600 PA will come into dispute quickly.

If you compare his 2014 and 2015 seasons, they are nearly identical offensively except that the more recent Castellanos hit for more power. Walks, strikeouts, and BABIP were all about the same, but his ISO rose from .135 to .164. Keep in mind that offense went up across the leauge however, so his slight spike in wOBA translated into no movement in his wRC+.

But that is not the point. The point is the turning point. In late June, Ausmus sat Castellanos down for a couple of days and unless Ausmus learns to manage at some point in the future, it will go down as his crowning achievement. From June 23 forward, Castellanos hit .283/.329/.487 (121 wRC+) in 340 PA. For his career prior, those numbers were .247/.293/.372 (83 wRC+) in 852 PA. The difference is an 80 point jump in ISO and a 60 point jump in BABIP.

Was that a smaller sample size aberration? We’ll soon find out. The power absolutely looked real to the naked eye, as Castellanos drove the ball with much more authority when he squared up a pitch, but the BABIP remains to be seen. His style of hitting lends itself to a higher than average BABIP, but there’s a big gulf between a .315 BABIP and a .340 BABIP that we’ll need to litigate over time.

Castellanos has a swing you can dream on and he definitely bulked up between 2014 and 2015. His approach leaves something to be desired but it really might be as simple as learning to lay off the breaking ball low and away. He can’t hit that pitch and once he stopped trying, his numbers perked up. There’s loads of offensive potential in his bat, he just needs to hone his approach now that he’s added enough strength to hit for power.

A 120 wRC+ Castellanos is a totally plausible thing. And if he hits like that with a below average, but not embarrassing glove, the team has themselves a quality big leaguer.

When we were naive and hopeful back in 2013, Castellanos seemed like a good bet to be an average player with an occasional All-Star year. After two rough years, the odds of that player arriving are lower, but they aren’t gone. Castellanos got full-time major league work very early, and he might simply have been a player who didn’t face enough good stuff in the minors to learn how to handle it.

If the June 23+ Castellanos comes back in 2016, the Tigers are going to be in a much better position to win the Central than if the pre-June 23 Castellanos returns. It’s hard to be a real contender when getting replacement level performance from an everyday player, but if Castellanos is ready to make the leap, the Tigers might just get to play beyond Game 162.

2016 Bellwethers, #4: James McCann

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson | #7: Mark Lowe |#6: Jose Iglesias | #5: Francisco Rodriguez

James McCann is one of the more pivotal members of the 2016 Tigers because we’ve seen flashes of an above average major leaguer within him but the sum total of his contributions so far have been below average. You shouldn’t write off a promising young player because of mediocre performance in his first 500 PA, but those first 500 PA offer a window into the questions we’ve had about McCann all along. Is he built to be a full-time major league catcher or does his future hold years as a backup or the weak side of a platoon?

McCann had an 85 wRC+ in 2015, which puts him 17th among catchers who had a total of 300 or more PA last year. Catchers on average hit around 85-86 wRC+ last year, so his bat is firmly in the average tier. He’s not a front line offensive catcher, but no one expected him to give Buster Posey a run for his money.

McCann walked less than 4% of the time and struck out around 21% of the time, below average and around average respectively. His .122 ISO and .325 BABIP are numbers you’d be happy to see again, but ideally with a little more in terms of on-base ability. A larger red flag was his 149 wRC+ to 64 wRC+ platoon split, especially when he faced righties about three times as often as lefties last year.

No one should argue that a 400 PA sample is enough to demonstrate one’s true platoon split, but it’s not a good sign that he was so vulnerable to right-handed pitching. The split will likely regress in the future, but it’s not terribly common to see someone display a platoon split of this nature over the course of a season without having a bit of a deficiency against same side pitchers, even if the deficiency is less severe than it appeared.

Another big concern is that McCann hit much worse as the season wore on (104 wRC+ to 67 wRC+ from the first half to the second half) and his monthly wRC+ marks were 88-98-80-152-36-76. Again, it’s a small sample, but after the break he was much less effective than he was before the break.

All of these offensive issues circle back to a single question. Is McCann’s 2015 a reflection of his ability going forward or was his offense hampered by the herculean task of learning to be a full-time, everyday catcher in the majors? It’s a tricky thing to parse because if you told me two years ago that McCann was going to settle in as an 85-90 wRC+ guy, that wouldn’t have been a shock. But we saw flashes of something more early last year. Was that slightly better performance a sign of things to come and he simply wore down as the year went on…or did he regress toward his mean as the year went on and the league learned his weaknesses?

This is the central question for McCann’s bat in 2016. Is he an unimpressive hitting catcher with a vulnerability to righties or did he just appear that way last season because the weight of his first season as a major league catcher simply took its toll late in the season? Time will tell.

But there’s another really important aspect to the McCann bellwether, and that’s his framing. If you recall, McCann rated as one of the worse framing catchers in 2015, costing the team somewhere between one and two wins of value with his inability to get borderline strike calls.

As I wrote last year, I’m not terribly concerned about one season of bad framing metrics for a rookie catcher, but it is something you have to monitor. McCann didn’t have a reputation as a poor framer in the minors, although he wasn’t known for being great either. The data supports that idea, but minor league data is also more limiting. If you look at it from a “did-he-get-calls” perspective without knowing exactly where the pitchers were located, McCann appeared to be an adequate receiver in the minors, but when he graduated to the show and we put him under the PITCHf/x microscope, he started to look quite bad.

Mark Simon tweeted this handy graphic just the other day:

Cd3b08qWEAISOBV

McCann seems capable of keeping high strikes in the zone and balls that come to his right, but pitches to his left (i.e., inside to righties and outside to lefties) seem to give him trouble along with low pitches in general. As I noted in the piece last summer, there are plenty of reasons a young catcher might struggle with framing without being a bad framer, but it would be hard to argue he didn’t struggle.

So another huge question for McCann this year will be if he can improve his receiving. We know he’s got a strong throwing arm and can manage the running game, but getting strikes for the pitching staff is his most important job and failing to come through in this department will wash away his positive contributions elsewhere.

Fortunately, while Brad Ausmus often causes more problems than he solves, this one is right up his alley. In fact, Ausmus was probably one of the better pitch framers in baseball history. If the front office was able to communicate to Ausmus that McCann needed help and Ausmus is an able teacher, there’s reason to be hopeful. We’ve seen in other cases that framing is a teachable skill.

McCann has Saltalamacchia to watch his back this year, but while Salty can bail him out against tough right-handed pitchers, he can’t do anything to help defensively. The Tigers can cover McCann if his offensive questions turn out to be more systemic than they are growing pains, but the defense is a very big deal. I’m nowhere near ready to give up on the 25-year-old backstop, but the Tigers are going to be in a very close race in the Central and every run they give away is going to matter.

McCann gave away 15 to 20 runs with his framing last year, according to the models. If he can get that number into the -5 to -10 range, it will go a long way toward helping the team compete. They can live with the 2015 version of his bat, but they can’t live with the 2015 version of his bat if they also get the 2015 version of his glove.

2016 Bellwethers, #5: Francisco Rodriguez

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson | #7: Mark Lowe |#6 Jose Iglesias

Rather than paraphrasing what I wrote to introduce the Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe posts, I’ll pull the quote from both about why the new Tigers relievers matter:

Everyone knows the Tigers bullpen was a weak point during the Dombrowski era and Al Avila went into the offseason with only two real locks for the 2016 pen: Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy. While Wilson and Hardy were good in 2015, they aren’t exactly guys you want to point to as your best two arms. Sure the Tigers had some interesting potential like Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen, etc, but they needed relief help this winter, and relief help is something they got.

We’ve already covered the importance of Justin Wilson and Mark Lowe in reshaping the bullpen, but Francisco Rodriguez is slated to be the team’s relief ace and will dictate how the best laid plans of Al Avila will unfold. The 34 year old Rodriguez is no longer the superstar reliever he was during his youth, but he doesn’t have to be the 2004-2007 version of himself to help the Tigers win another AL Central crown.

While Rodriguez has had his share of mediocre seasons, he’s been reasonably effective and durable into his thirties. He’s developed more command as he’s aged and while he’s not the strikeout force he was during his peak, he’s still more than capable of recording punch outs. The major question mark as of late has been a propensity to allow the long ball, 35 over his last 243.2 innings (roughly 1.3 HR/9 over his last four seasons). He’s moving back to the American League, but away from a very hitter friendly park into a pretty balanced home yard.

Perhaps Rodriguez’s most interesting transformation is his growing reliance on the changeup:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (4)

This is the kind of thing you like to see from aging pitchers: a willingness to adapt as their physical skills wane.

There’s isn’t one particular thing Rodriguez needs to keep doing, as we’ve noted with some other players during this series, it’s really just that he needs to hold off that inevitable decline a little bit longer. The Tigers overhauled the back of their bullpen this winter, but even if you do everything right, relievers are still relievers. If Wilson-Lowe-Rodriguez generally resemble the 2015 versions of themselves in 2016, the Tigers will have a quality LHP1, RHP1, and Relief Ace capable of holding leads and allowing the offense to get them back to the promise land.

I ranked Rodriguez higher on this list because he’s the anchor. If he fails, more will be asked of every lesser arm in the Tigers bullpen. Each cog in the new bullpen has to play it’s role for the revamp to work, but if you had to pick a most important one, it’s the one who will be asked to get the most outs.

From 2012-2014, the starting rotation and offense were good enough to survive the bullpen, but as the other parts of the roster show their age a bit, the bullpen has to step up and carry it’s weight. A successful year from K-Rod will go a long way toward that aim.

2016 Bellwethers, #6: Jose Iglesias

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson | #7: Mark Lowe

The 26-year-old Tigers shortstop, Jose Iglesias, is one of the most mesmerizing players in the game. He certainly lacks the preternatural gifts of guys like Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, but Iglesias provides some of the game’s most jaw-dropping, unable-to-find-words moments of any player in the game. No one disputes this. Remember the running catch in 2013 ALDS? That was preposterous. Remember that weird, sprawling thing he did against the White Sox that year? He’s flashy, and as Nick Castellanos said, he’s probably a good dancer.

From a raw ability standpoint, there aren’t many infielders better than Iglesias. Andrelton Simmons comes to mind, but Iglesias would be right there in the non-Simmons tier when it comes to talent. However, his defensive metrics have been a little uninspired. If you like UZR, he’s been solidly above average for his career, but not in any sort of extraordinary way. And last year, he was only a couple runs better than average for the position. DRS has been even less kind, suggesting that he’s only been slightly better than average for his career and was worse than average in 2015.

While I would absolutely caution you not to put too much weight on 1,800 innings of the metrics, I wrote last year that there is some evidence that Iglesias hasn’t been the vacuum cleaner we seem to think he is. That said, Iglesias’ flaws are fixable. He has tremendous ability (range, hands, and arm) and the runs he gives away are on plays that require a little more focus and execution. If you can make great plays, you can learn to fix the problems you have on easier ones.

So part of Iglesias’ 2016 will be about avoiding miscues on those easier and mid-range plays. He’s going to blow you away with some great defense, but saving a run by making a great play only goes so far if you boot a routine play the next day. Few are better than Iglesias from a talent perspective, but he need to take a step forward defensively so that the Tigers can get the most out of that ability. He’s probably played like a +5 shortstop recently, even though he has +10 to +15 talent. Getting those extra five or ten runs is going to be huge for the Tigers as they chase Cleveland and Kansas City.

Another thing that popped up last year was bad base running numbers. Part of it was stolen base related (he got caught way too much) and part happened while the ball was in play. I think most of that is structural and the Tigers need to address it as a whole, so I won’t focus too much on it here. The only thing I’ll say is that letting Iglesias get caught 8 times in 19 attempts last year indicates a team with a bad base running approach. Based on what I saw from the entire club, I don’t think it reflects the player in question today and will expect to get better now that the team hopefully understands how many runs they gave away being “aggressive.”

I think the real question for Iglesias, and through him the Tigers, is whether he’s really going to be a league average hitter. In 2013 he had a 103 wRC+ and in 2015 it was 97. The statistical models aren’t buying a repeat because Iglesias wasn’t a great hitter in the minors and has succeeded in the show with high BABIPs. Steamer, ZiPS, etc are expecting something in the 85-90 wRC+ range for 2016.

The average shortstop had an 87 wRC+ in 2015, so the difference here is the projection systems seeing him as an average hitter for the position with a slightly above average glove. Roughly speaking, that’s a 2 WAR player. Two win players are great, and Iglesias is cost-controlled, but if the Tigers are going to be Contenders with a capital C, they need more from Iggy.

FanGraphs also host a projection system called “Fans” which is based on fan estimates of player performance. As I’m writing this, 21 people have voted and they expect something like a 99 wRC+ and solidly above average defense, good for 3.5 WAR over a full season. The defensive difference is easy to understand as the models only know Iglesias’ performance, they can’t watch him do things to base runners that should probably be against the Geneva Convention. The offensive side of the difference is mostly BABIP. The computers and the fans see similar profiles, but the fans add about 20 points of BABIP and an extra 1% to his walk rate.

I obviously don’t know who’s right, but the fans do have a pretty strong case given that Iglesias’ career BABIP is .328 when the projection systems are forecasting it to be around .310. He’s a ground ball/ line drive hitter who gets plenty of infield hits, so a BABIP above .300 is to be expected, it’s just a question of how much higher it will be.

But that’s the question. Iglesias is going to hit a couple dingers, knock 20 doubles, and have a low walk rate. That’s his game. But last year he cut down on his strikeouts by a lot (under 10% after being in the 15-20% range for his career) and has always put up a quality BABIP. If he can rack up plenty of singles, he can be an average MLB hitter.

Just for reference, let’s say he gets 500 PA in 2016. Cut out 30 for walks and HBP, another 50 for strikeouts, and you’re left with about 420 balls in play expected. The difference between a .300 BABIP and .325 BABIP is about 11 hits. Let’s assume the difference is all singles, even if that’s not a sure thing. Trading 11 outs for 11 singles is worth about 80% of a win. Of course you already knew that given the difference in the projections we discussed earlier.

The key here is that it doesn’t take much, roughly two hits a month, to make the difference between an average hitting shortstop and a well-above average hitting shortstop. If Iglesias can continue to hit like the latter and play up to his potential on defense, he could net the Tigers an additional two wins or so for 2016.

Given how close the race figure to be, an Iglesias that plays to his potential would go a long way toward getting the team back to meaningful October baseball.

2016 Bellwethers, #7 Mark Lowe

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris | #8: Justin Wilson

Rather than paraphrasing what I wrote last week to introduce the Justin Wilson post, I’ll pull a quote about why the new Tigers relievers matter:

Everyone knows the Tigers bullpen was a weak point during the Dombrowski era and Al Avila went into the offseason with only two real locks for the 2016 pen: Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy. While Wilson and Hardy were good in 2015, they aren’t exactly guys you want to point to as your best two arms. Sure the Tigers had some interesting potential like Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen, etc, but they needed relief help this winter, and relief help is something they got.

In order to compete in a tight AL Central, the Tigers need to pitch better at the end of games. We’ve already talked about Justin Wilson, and we’ll get to K-Rod, but the Tigers new RHP1 is going to be a critical piece of the 2016 re-tool. If Mark Lowe really has remade himself and the 2015 version is the version he truly is, the Tigers are going to be in a much better position in the 7th and 8th innings than in recent seasons.

There are two key things we should monitor when it comes to Lowe. First, he found his early career velocity again in 2015. Keep in mind that in 2013 and 2014 (and 2010) he didn’t throw many innings.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (8)

Career relievers don’t often magically learn to throw harder at 32, but if all we’re looking at it a guy who finally got healthy, this could be a very real difference that allowed him to pitch much better. He also lowered his arm slot a touch as well.

The big difference for Lowe was that he started using his slider a lot more to lefties and righties in 2015. Same 2010/2013/2014 sample size applies, watch 2008-2009-2011-2012-2015 for the best idea.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (7)

The 2014 spike is 7 innings, so you can see how it became a much larger part of his arsenal in 2015 compared to years past. More strikeouts, fewer walks, fewer dingers, fewer runs. He was the whole package.

It’s likely that health is a key factor for Lowe, but even in the seasons in which he seemed to be healthy, he was never as good as he was in 2015. Last year was clearly his best year, and how the Tigers perform in 2016 will be partially dependent on how much of that was a real shift toward greatness and how much was a blip.

Is Mark Lowe really a great reliever, or is he simply a solid arm who had a good year? Even if he’s just a solid bullpen piece, but stays healthy, he’ll make the team better. But the team was awful in 2015, so a little better isn’t a terribly exciting move. If his slider-heavy approach and high velocity fastball are here to stay, the Tigers have themselves a late-inning reliever who can prevent leads from slipping away. If he can’t stay healthy or his 2015 success was mostly noise, it will be much harder for the team to keep up with Kansas City, Cleveland, and perhaps Chicago.

2016 Bellwethers, #8: Justin Wilson

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. #9: Daniel Norris.

Given the success the Tigers have had with pitchers named Justin and Wilson separately, it made all the sense in the world that they would go for the gold by acquiring a pitcher named Justin Wilson. Presumably they put a little more thought into the deal that sent Chad Green and Luis Cessa to the Yankees in exchange for the left-handed reliever, but I like to think it was as simple as a lazy deployment of the transitive property.

Everyone knows the Tigers bullpen was a weak point during the Dombrowski era and Al Avila went into the offseason with only two real locks for the 2016 pen: Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy. While Wilson and Hardy were good in 2015, they aren’t exactly guys you want to point to as your best two arms. Sure the Tigers had some interesting potential like Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen, etc, but they needed relief help this winter, and relief help is something they got. You won’t have to wait long to see the other two new relievers, but today we’ll turn our attention to Justin Wilson.

Wilson pitched his third full season in 2015, delivering 61 innings across 74 appearances to go with a 76 ERA- and 64 FIP-. Last season was clearly his best using fielding independent numbers, although his ERA was better in 2013 thanks to a crazy low BABIP. Given that we’re talking about fewer than 200 career innings, I’m going to keep my focus on the components rather than the results, but at least you have some idea where he stood.

Wilson has always been a low homer guy, giving up between 0.4 and 0.6 HR/9 in each of his three seasons, but the big difference in 2015 was his increase in strikeouts. He punched out 27% of the batters he faced in 2015 compared to about 20% in 2013 and 24% in 2014. On top of that, he walked 8.2% of batters in 2015 after walking 9.5% and 11.7% during his previous seasons.

From that perspective, it’s not surprising that Wilson had such a good season. If you don’t allow dingers, get guys to strike out, and keep the free passes around league average, you’re going to have a solid season. Also, while Wilson might strike you as a LOOGY because of his 61 IP to 74 G ratio, he’s actually faced plenty of righties and has a slight reverse platoon split for his career.

Granted, I would never suggest 200 innings across three seasons is enough data to suggest he is actually a reverse platoon guy, but the fact that he hasn’t displayed a normal split over 200 innings does indicate to me that he’s probably not someone who is going to have a major platoon split.

Wilson is primarily going to throw a fastball around 95-96 and a cutter around 91-92, while also mixing in a few sinkers. You might even see 98-99 when he really needs it. That kind of power from the left side is pretty rare and he’s used it well. One thing you’ll notice is that in 2015, compared to 2014, Wilson kept the ball down and away when facing lefties.

output_PZBKV3

Now that did cost him in the walk department, going from a 8.1% to 12.1% walk rate against lefties, but it also helped in the power department, dropping their ISO from .114 to .056. Small samples all around (86 and 83 PA), but you only have so much information when you’re talking about relievers.

While Wilson kept the strikeouts steady, increased the walks, and cut the power versus lefties, he increased strikeouts, cut walks, and kept the power about even versus righties.

It’s no secret that the Tigers need better innings from their bullpen if they want to compete and Wilson is going to be an important piece of that puzzle. He’s probably not 30-40% better than league average when it comes to ERA or FIP, but if he’s good enough to be in the 20-30% better than average window, that’s a big step forward for the Tigers. If Wilson can put together a 25 K%, 8 BB%, 0.50 HR/9 kind of season, all of which are very much in line with his 2015 season plus a little negative regression, the Tigers will have a really good LHP1 that will allow them to move Blaine Hardy into a LHP2.

The Tigers need the new relief corps to pitch well, but they’ve shown an ability to do so in recent years. The question, as it always is with relievers, is if they can continue to get batters out before they flame out. There are many dominant relievers in baseball, but dominant relief pitching year in and year out is a difficult thing to maintain. If Wilson can keep it going for another year, the Tigers bullpen will be on its way to one of its best seasons in years.

2016 Bellwethers, #9: Daniel Norris

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, this year New English D will be running a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We’ll be calling the series “2016 Bellwethers,” and will break down the players currently on the roster whose 2016 direction will indicate where the Tigers are heading this year. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy.

2015 was a big year for Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris. His professional life changed dramatically when he found himself serving as the July 30th centerpiece of a trade that delivered superstar David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays. For most people, switching employers, cities, and countries would probably register as the biggest event of the year, but the introspective hurler found himself face to face with cancer last April, pitched the entire season, and then had surgery to remove a malignant tumor in October. Norris behaves like someone you might find musing near Walden Pond, but pitches like someone who earned $2 million signing bonus out of high school. He starts our list of 2016 Bellwethers.

Norris will turn 23 years old during the first month of the 2016 campaign and despite losing his rookie/prospect status in 2015, he is essentially the Tigers brightest “prospect” if you’ll allow me to use the term non-technically. Michael Fulmer is the club’s consensus number one (official) prospect but the promising right-handed is actually older than Norris despite his lack of major league experience. Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, and James McCann are also older than Norris and possess lower ceilings.

Twenty-three is young in pitcher-years. While the sport is skewing younger, pitching requires seasoning and experience. Justin Verlander wasn’t Justin Verlander until he was 26. Max Scherzer was 27 before he turned himself into a star. It’s extremely rare for pitchers to arrive on the scene fully formed and how long it takes Norris to develop will be a key determinant of the club’s success going forward.

During the 2015 season, Norris logged 150.2 professional innings, 60 at the MLB level. The year before he had tossed roughly 130 innings and given that his offseason was likely disrupted by his recovery, it’s unlikely that we’ll see more than 180 innings from Norris in 2016. There isn’t a formula for assessing pitcher risk, but teams typically avoid big year-to-year innings jumps for young pitchers and Norris will likely be no exception. With that in mind, there is an artificial ceiling on what Norris can do for the Tigers, but there’s also a big difference between 180 above average innings and the kind of season that gets him sent to Toledo for some extra development time.

We can all see Norris’ potential. He’s a lefty who sits 92 with his fastballs and touches 95-96 with some regularity. He is also comfortable throwing his curve, slider, and change with significant frequency. The pitches aren’t all fully formed and reliable, but the fact that they are as advanced as they are is a promising sign. The question for Norris in the long run will be his ability to command as many of them as possible.

During his 60 brief innings last year Norris posted a 94 ERA- and 114 FIP-. Neither number is particularly meaningful in such a small sample of innings spread across a full season in conjunction with an oblique strain. He struck out batters at a below average clip and walked about an average number for a guy who threw just 60 innings. Given that command is the area of his game which needs work, the latter is a promising note. But in order for Norris to be successful he will need to find himself more strikeouts. Those were there in 2014, but were lacking in 2015. There’s no way to know if his health issues were to blame, if it was a matter of better competition, or if something else was the cause.

That’s essentially the question we’ll be looking to answer in 2016. Can Daniel Norris strike out more hitters without sacrificing command? He’s a fly ball pitcher with a solid enough group of outfielders and has a pair of great defenders up the middle in the field. Norris was victimized surprisingly by lefties in 2015, who hit for a ton of power (.293 ISO in 64 PA), but that probably won’t continue once he gets a chance to pitch a full season.

In 2015, hitters were very patient against Norris, which is something he’ll need to combat with a higher number of first pitch strikes. He needs to get ahead early and let his arsenal of secondary pitches force hitters to chase for swinging strikes and weak contact. This is all very much within his grasp given the tools at his disposal. He’s physically gifted, intellectually capable, and works hard.

Norris has the potential to become a #2 starter someday, but it’s probably not a good bet to predict he reaches that zenith in his first full season in the majors. More likely, Norris will have his ups and downs, getting hit hard from time to time before making adjustments to get back in control. Realistically, a 90 ERA-/FIP- is probably the best case scenario, which would make him about a 3 WAR pitcher over 180 innings. That’s better than he was in 2015, but it’s not all the way to his ceiling.

But it’s also not out of the question to imagine Norris struggles with his command in April and the club decides he isn’t quite ready for prime time, especially because they need to watch his innings anyway. In this scenario, maybe he’s in the 110 ERA-/FIP- range, or worse, and the Tigers have to rely on Boyd, Fulmer, etc before they are fully ready. Given that the club doesn’t have a ton of depth, Norris is a crucial component of a successful season. There are always ways for teams to surprise you, but it seems relatively unlikely that the Tigers will win the division without a productive Daniel Norris.

Norris seems like a good bet to be a productive member of the organization over the next six years, but the question the club will face in 2016 is if he’s ready to be a mid rotation starter right now. That’s going to depend on his ability to get ahead of hitters with strikes and finish them off when he does.

If Norris has good strikeout numbers and doesn’t increase his walk rate too much in 2016, he’ll have done his part and the Tigers will be on track for meaningful September baseball.

%d bloggers like this: