Category Archives: Guide to 2015

Screw It: Why The Tigers Will Win The 2015 World Series

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

I pride myself on my ability to be both a die-hard fan who roots for a team no matter what while also having the ability to take off my fan hat and be objective. Here, and at the various sites to which I contribute, I’ve pegged the Tigers as an 86-87 win team who will take a wild card and fall short of a championship. If you asked me to tell you what I really think is going to happen, that’s the honest truth. But we’re just talking about the most likely scenario. You have to predict the scenario you think is most likely, but lots of other scenarios are plausible. And there’s a plausible scenario in which the Tigers win the series. This is that scenario.

The most important cog in this entire machine is a healthy and successful season from Justin Verlander. He doesn’t have to be superstar Verlander, but the Tigers are an 86 win team (let’s say) with the Verlander I’m expecting. If he is a 4-5 win pitcher instead, that’s a 2-3 win bump right there. It’s probably enough to win the division.

Victor and JD Martinez are also likely to be worse than they were last year, but maybe they did both figure out how to hit like Miguel Cabrera last season. They’re both good hitters, but maybe they’re elite hitters. Another season like that and they Tigers should coast to a division win. Or it could be The Big Year from Cespedes in place of one of these. If Gose and Iglesias hit a little bit and really flash the leather we know they can flash, or Nick breaks out with the bat or learns how to use his glove, this all falls into place.

The Tigers’ main flaw is a lack of depth, so if the critical pieces stay healthy, it’s certainly a team that can win the division. In other words, there isn’t much that has to go right to move them from a borderline playoff team to a sure fire playoff team given the parity in the AL. This is a good team, it’s just a team that could crumble quickly if their base pieces falter. If they don’t, there’s another AL Central crown coming. They only need one significant pitcher and hitter to buck the projections, and as long as no one else takes a dive, October is a safe bet. This isn’t an “if everything breaks right” situation, it’s an “if two things break right” situation, and those are pretty common.

And when they get to October, there isn’t an AL team that can match Price-Sanchez-Good Verlander in terms of 1-2-3 punch unless the White Sox meet them there. The bullpen isn’t very good, but they have lots of guys who throw hard and those guys can have a good two week stretch at any given moment. The defense is better and they should be a little more fundamentally sound, avoiding some silly mistakes of years past. And the middle of the Tigers order can provide some thunder, making them a dangerous postseason team if the bullpen holds up.

So it’s kind of that simple. They need a couple of key over-performances during the regular season and then they need the pen to not melt down in October. They don’t have to be good, they just can’t be a disaster. If those things happen, the Tigers could easily be a World Series team.

Now I recognize the silliness of this exercise. At least 25 teams have a non-laughable path to a title and saying “if some guys play well, the Tigers will be good” is not very insightful. The Tigers’ strength is that they have some high end players and when October comes you can shorten the rotation and the bullpen and the bench. You need your depth at certain moments, sure, but you don’t need the same kinds of contributions. If the Tigers have a major pitching injury, they don’t have much to fill the gap. But if you only need four starters for three weeks, I really like where they stand.

They don’t have a good bullpen, but bullpens are really fickle and they have plenty of guys with enough talent to contribute. I wouldn’t bet on many of them being consistently valuable pieces, but that isn’t what October is about. And as much as people say otherwise, winning in baseball is largely about your ability to get on base and hit dingers. The Tigers can do that really well.

They don’t need everything to go right, they just need a couple of things to go right and they could easily be real title contender. If they get to the ALDS and if there pen isn’t a disaster, it’s a championship capable club.

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Thoughts On The Winter in Detroit

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

You’re very likely reading this in the days or hours leading up to the first regular season Tigers game of 2015. The club will take on the Twins with David Price on the hill around 1pm on Monday, and the part of our lives that’s been missing for these winter months will return. In every possible way, it’s a happy occasion. There isn’t a baseball season that’s bad, just seasons that are better than others. Offseasons don’t follow the same rules.

I wouldn’t say the Tigers had a bad offseason, but I do think they missed an opportunity to substantially improve their odds of winning in 2015. They made good moves and they made bad ones and they’re entering play this week in a pretty even race with the Cleveland Indians.

This winter, the Tigers extended Victor Martinez. They probably paid him a little too much money, but he’s a good player who would have been hard to replace for the 2015 season, so call it an inefficient win. And then cringe when you hear “meniscus tear” and pray for a full recovery.

They traded away New English D’s beloved Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes. On balance, it was a pretty fair deal in which the teams swapped players who are about as costly and valuable as each other in 2015. The positional swap made sense and if the Tigers didn’t want to extend Porcello, then it made some sense. Call it a push which followed a failure.

The Tigers swapped Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba for Shane Greene, c/o Did Gregorius. For me, this was an unmitigated slam dunk and one of Dombrowski’s classic starting pitcher finds. And then he went and traded for Alfredo Simon, losing Eugenio Suarez and Jonathan Crawford, forcing us to wonder if he was having a Jekyll and Hyde moment.

Then came Anthony Gose, who cost Devon Travis. I’m a little less bullish on Travis that some people, so I didn’t see this as a terrible move, but unless Gose has really reinvented his ability to hit this winter, he’s just not a terribly valuable addition. A fine trade, but not one that moved the needed.

They’re getting Iglesias and Rondon back. There’s no Torii Hunter defense and it’s a full year of Soria and Price. But there’s no Scherzer and the Verlander-Cabrera dynasty is another year older.

It was an underwhelming winter, punctuated by the return of Joba, who no one wanted, and the addition of Tom Gorzelanny, who is fine. Outside of the Simon deal, all of the moves they made were pretty defensible. The problem wasn’t the moves they made, but the ones they didn’t.

The Tigers poor bullpen and criminal lack of depth were on display all season last year and then ended their season in October. The Tigers did nothing to address either. They let guys like Gregerson, Neshek, Frasor, Cotts, and Duke go elsewhere for the sum total of about $17 million a year. You could have signed five relievers for what it costs to pay VMart, and that’s if you didn’t want Robertson or Miller. The Tigers also did nothing to improve their bench, and actually made it worse. Their four reserves will be McCann (good but a catcher!), whichever of Davis or Gose isn’t playing (and that means the wrong side of a platoon), and then Hernan Perez and Andrew Romine. Basically, if you need a catcher you’re good. The Tigers are also totally set on players who can pinch run. But there’s no offense there at all.

You never know exactly how every negotiation went, so it’s not any one move. It’s the sum total of a team willing to spend $170 million on a baseball team but not willing to drop a couple extra million to actually have some relievers and bench players. It’s frustrating, especially when the manager hasn’t shown any ability to properly leverage the assets he does have.

The Tigers aren’t doomed by any means. If I had to put money on it, I’d take the Indians by a game in the Central and put the Tigers in the coin flip game, but it’s plenty close and they could definitely win. This isn’t a great team anymore, it’s just a good one. We knew this day would come, I think we just all expected to have a little longer before it did.

There’s plenty to look forward to. The Tigers still have a couple of great starting pitchers and whatever’s left in Verlander’s tank. Cabrera-Martinez-Martinez-Cespedes are going to sock plenty of dingers. Kinsler, Iglesias, and Gose should play some fun defense. Rondon might throw 103.

It’s going to be an uphill battle, but we’re going to have fun trying to get to the top.

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Over Unders

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

People enjoy sports. People enjoy arguing. People enjoy wagering. Those are pretty easy statements to get behind. Maybe you don’t personally enjoy all three, but a big portion of the population certainly does. With that in mind, let’s consider the 2015Tigers and a whole host of random predictions we can make about the team. These are the 2015 Over/Unders. Some are serious, some are silly.

The idea here is that I’ll be setting the value at what expect to be the mean value. So I’m setting the over/under at 86.5 wins, meaning I think it’s equally likely that they win more games as it is that they win fewer games. Feel free to suggest others in the comments section and weigh in on where you stand on some of the more interesting ones.

    1. Wins (86.5)
    2. Miguel Cabrera home runs (32.5)
    3. Anibal Sanchez 13+K starts (2.5)
    4. Ridiculous catches by Anthony Gose (5.5)
    5. Hilariously unfair throws by Yoenis Cespedes (4.5)
    6. Times I comment about a play Torii Hunter would not have made (30.5)
    7. Times FSD plays the footage of Rod Allen charging the mound in Japan (0.5)
    8. Number of games it takes for me to figure out Hook Slide’s radio delay thing to get the radio broadcast instead of the TV audio (3.5)
    9. Times Verlander will be “tinkering” (4.5)
    10. Tigers All-Stars (2.5)
    11. Latest time a game ends (Eastern Time)  (2:17am)
    12. Insane double plays by Iglesias and Kinsler (4.5)
    13. Victor Martinez’s wRC+ (135.5)
    14. J.D. Martinez’s wRC+ (125.5)
    15. Most strikeouts in one game by a starter (15.5)
    16. Date of first fair-weather panic (May 2)
    17. Times I pine for Porcello (∞)
    18. Borderline suggestive tweets from @PAWSDetroit (2.5)
    19. Games I attend (6.5)
    20. No hit bids – 6+ innings (4.5)
    21. Ian Kinsler DRS/UZR average (+9.5)
    22. Alex Avila’s framing metric average (+2.5 runs)
    23. Walk off wins (3.5)
    24. Joe Nathan meltdowns (5.5)
    25. Joakim Soria milk-carton moments (7.5)
    26. David Price’s fWAR (5.0)
    27. Nick Castellanos contact rate (75.0%)
    28. Nick Castellanos’ DRS/UZR average (-12)
    29. Games that will be fun (157.5)
    30. Net games won or lost by Ausmus (-3)

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Considering The Indians

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

 

I wish it wasn’t such a trendy pick, but I think the Indians are going to be a very good team this year. Their pitching looks pretty good and their lineup lacks any significant holes outside of too many ABs for Nick Swisher. It’s a balanced roster that doesn’t have the name recognition the Tigers do, but they’re going to give the Tigers a very hard time in 2015.

Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley might be the Indians position players most capable of huge seasons, but if you look around the roster, it’s hard to find a spot that’s obviously below average. Certainly, injuries will happen, but there looks to be league average productions or better everywhere else. If anyone like Santana, Kipnis, Bourn, Moss, etc has a stand out year, everything leans forward.

The big concern might be the defense, as there are only a couple of players on the club who projected to be above average at their positions. Unfortunately for the Tigers, we know you can win with a bad defense. The Tribe also has some interesting depth options like David Murphy, Ryan Raburn, and Zach Walters, all of whom are capable of making serious contributions off the bench. And Lindor is lurking some time around midseason.

You wonder a little about the bullpen, which is anchored by Allen and Shaw. There isn’t a ton of depth, but they do have a number of starters who could shift to the pen if they need reserves.

Then there’s the rotation. Corey Kluber is an ace. Carlos Carrasco broke out in 2014. Trevor Bauer, Zach McAllister, and T.J. House fill in pretty well at the back end. But there’s also Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar. If one of the Indians pitchers other than Kluber goes down, there’s a decent plug to fill the hole.

The Tigers are a stars and scrubs team and the Indians are more about balance. I think they’re going to be incredibly close the entire way, but as I’ll explain further later in the week, I’m going to give the edge to the Indians for the 2015 regular season. It’s neck and neck, but if any one of the good Indians players has a great season, they line up well against the Tigers for me.

  • Hitter to Watch: Carlos Santana
  • Pitcher to Watch: Corey Kluber
  • NED Projected Record: 89-73, 1st in the AL Central
  • Big Moment: Lindor shines immediately after his July callup
  • Piece of Data: Indians pitchers tied for AL lead with 19.7 fWAR in 2014

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Considering The Royals

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

 

The Royals had a magical postseason run last fall thanks to some excellent relief pitching and great defense. Both of those features will still be around for the 2015 version, but I just can’t see the starting pitching being good enough to get them into the playoffs in the first place.

If you look at the position player side of the roster, they swapped out Aoki for Rios and Butler for Morales among the starters. I’m not sure if that winds up being an upgrade or a downgrade, but in general, I think we should be in for a pretty similar overall performance. They have a great defensive team and a collection of hitters who are flawed, but I also don’t expect to see their flaws further exposed this year relative to last year. There won’t be a ton of power, but you can win without that power if you do other things right.

The relief pitching will be one of those things, even if their best guys don’t have the amazing seasons they did a year ago. If you took Holland and Davis out of this pen, I think it’s probably better than what the Tigers have, and of course, they have both of those guys.

The problem with this team is that they were short on starting pitching last year and don’t have Shields anymore. They have plenty of guys you like as #4 or #5 starters, but Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy are the only ones with any kind of ceiling, and they’re probably not going to be able to carry a playoff caliber rotation. I loved the Kris Medlen signing, but coming off Tommy John surgery, I doubt he’ll be able to offer top end performance.

The Royals can succeed, of course, but it’s contingent on big seasons from Ventura, Duffy, and a couple of unlikely offensive jumps. I’m not betting on all of those lining up. The Royals won’t embarrass, but getting above 85 wins seems like a stretch despite their dramatic exploits a season ago.

  • Hitter to Watch: Alex Gordon
  • Pitcher to Watch: Wade Davis
  • NED Projected Record: 82-80, 3rd in the AL Central
  • Big Moment: Gordon, Dyson, and Cain break StatCast
  • Piece of Data: 46 DRS, 59.8 UZR in 2014 by Royals OF, best in baseball

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Considering The White Sox

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

This might seem contradictory, but I think the White Sox had a great offseason but they still won’t be that good. I loved pretty much every move they made, but they had such a vacant lineup that it still probably wasn’t enough to make them a playoff team. Obviously, they’re good enough that contention is within reach if fate smiles upon them, but on balance the team is short of a meaningful run.

The White Sox have Jose Abreu lined up to mash, and he’s cheap. They got Melky Cabrera at a good price. They extended Adam Eaton, whom I like in theory but hate when he’s playing the Tigers. Adam LaRoche should be a nice fit and Alexei Ramirez isn’t special, but he’s a totally viable major league shortstop.

That’s a nice contingent of players, but they’re surrounded by a rough group. At catcher, second base, third base, and right field, they project to be a pretty awful team. Maybe Flowers breaks out or Avi Garcia finds some discipline, but that’s potentially four trouble spots in the starting lineup alone before you think about injuries or depth needs.

So, yes, they made some sharp moves, but there was just too much work for a single offseason.

On the pitching side, they have Chris Sale, who is a very real candidate for “best pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw,” but he’s also been slowed by a foot injury that might cost him a little time. Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana are a great 2-3 punch but the rotation depth behind them is an issue. Danks, Johnson, Noesi, and Brad Penny are going to vie for time and there’s nothing there to get you excited. Of course, Carlos Rodon is coming at some point and that could really minimize the rotation issues if he hits his stride early. Teaming him with Sale and Quintana long term is going to be fun, but he might not be polished enough to save the day this year.

In the pen, they added David Roberston and Zach Duke which will serve as a nice back end punch, but there’s no one else out there who is a really good bet to deliver. Of course, relievers can pop up, but you don’t have a lot of positive history to lean on.

In general, it’s a team moving in the right direction and they will probably be a serious contend in the 2016-2018 window. It’s just a little too early for them to get you for an entire season. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be pesky given the starting pitching they can offer 3/5th of the time or the bats they can call on at the top of the order.

  • Hitter to Watch: Jose Abreu
  • Pitcher to Watch: Chris Sale
  • NED Projected Record: 79-83, 4th in the AL Central
  • Big Moment: Carlos Rodon strikes out 14 in his third MLB start.
  • Piece of Data: -57 DRS, -39.1 UZR in 2014, only a hair better than the Tigers

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Keys To The Bullpen

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last season, to preview the upcoming summer we ran through the “key” to each player’s season. Rather than the keys to game you might see on a network like Fox, these keys weren’t “play better than the other team,” but rather, what aspect of their individual game you should be tracking early on.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go through the roster by position covering the thing I’m most interested in watching about each player as the season gets under way and then we’ll tie things together by breaking down the division rivals and club as a whole. Today, we’ll talk bullpen. (Read about the outfieldinfield, catchers/DH, and starters). Because it’s the bullpen, we’ll keep these very brief. Don’t take it too seriously.

Joe Nathan

Throw strikes. My god, throw strikes. Nathan clearly doesn’t have the stuff he once did, but he missed the zone way too often last year, even for a guy on his last legs.

Joakim Soria

Health. Soria has all the makings of a relief ace as long as he can consistently let it go.

Al Alburquerque

Keep up the walk rate gains. Al-Al dramatically cut the walks last year. If that wasn’t just a one year blip, he might finally be a full-time high leverage option.

Joba Chamberlain

Find the good breaking ball and use it. Joba doesn’t have the elite velocity anymore, but if he can locate the curveball he can have a successful season.

Tom Gorzelanny

Continuing being left-handed.

Angel Nesbitt

Command. Nesbitt has the stuff to make this work, but we’ve seen countless farm hands flunk out when they finally faced a hitter who could catch up with the heat.

Bruce Rondon

Don’t watch the radar gun. 101 mph looks impressive, but 98 will be plenty effective if it’s located well. If you’re trying to blow everything by the hitter, they will adjusted and ruin you.

Blaine Hardy

Continue to limit damage, even if you don’t limit base runners.

Ian Krol

Strike zone good, but center of the strike zone bad.

Kyle Lobstein

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Keys To The Rotation

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last season, to preview the upcoming summer we ran through the “key” to each player’s season. Rather than the keys to game you might see on a network like Fox, these keys weren’t “play better than the other team,” but rather, what aspect of their individual game you should be tracking early on.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go through the roster by position covering the thing I’m most interested in watching about each player as the season gets under way and then we’ll tie things together by breaking down the division rivals and club as a whole. Today, we’ll talk starting pitching. (Read about the outfieldinfield, and catchers/DH).

David Price

Price will get the ball on Opening Day, upending the Verlander streak that seemed destined to go on forever. The Tigers and Price are talking about a long term future, and the key to whether they should extend him is also the key to his 2015 campaign: strikeouts.

Price has been a very good pitcher since coming to the majors but 2014 was the first year when he was comfortably in ace territory. Sure he won a Cy Young in 2012, but this isn’t really a website that puts a whole lot of stock in wins and ERA. In 2014, he elevated his strikeout rate and paired it with his recently developed ability to totally avoid walks. How real was the strikeout spike? That’s the question we need to answer.

I happen to think it’s here to stay and if we see Price living above a 25% strikeout rate early, it’s going to be a sign of very good things to come. Also, Price threw a ton of innings last year, so let’s keep an eye on that early velocity as well.

Justin Verlander

This is going to be a make or break year for Verlander, and that’s also a phrase I never really expected to say. After an up and down 2013 and a very difficult 2014, Verlander had a fully healthy offseason and will have a chance to prove his struggles were injury related and not signs of a serious decline.

There are so many keys for him, but the thing I’ve been watching over the last couple of years, and will continue to watch early this year is his strikeout rate once he gets to two strikes. Since the start of 2013, he’s failed to convert these “strikeout opportunities” a lot more than he used to. In other words, he couldn’t put guys away when he had them on the ropes. I don’t think Verlander needs to be a high strikeout pitcher to succeed in his 30s, but I do think he needs to be able to finish off his strikeouts when he gets in control. If he continues to throw pitches that hitters can handle in some way with two strikes, bad things will happen. If he’s sending them to the bench, he might be back.

Anibal Sanchez

I haven’t made a secret about my affection for Sanchez. He’s an excellent pitcher, but he can run into issues with endurance and durability. I think over the last couple years, and probably into this once, I would prefer Sanchez’s best to anyone else’s best on the team. The problem is that he hasn’t always had his best for as long as guys like Scherzer and Price.

So I’m looking to see how Sanchez looks when he gets into that 90+ pitch range. If he’s maintaining the velocity, command, and stuff, it’s going to bode well for his season. When he was at his best in 2013, he had that endurance. Last year, he would look great for stretches but he’d wear down. It’s the same thing we’d see with Porcello earlier in his career.

Shane Greene

Greene is a pretty pivotal piece for the Tigers this year because if he’s the guy we saw in New York last year they could have a really strong rotation and if he’s the guy we saw for most of his minor league days, well, not so much. Greene has some velocity and his command has improved as he’s matured, so I think the key is really going to be the changeup.

I’ve heard good things about its development, and if it’s a legitimate pitch that can neutralize lefties the Tigers may really have something. If the changeup is effective and consistent, Greene might make Dombrowski look very good.

Alfredo Simon

I was pretty outspoken about the strangeness of this acquisition, and I won’t offer a different take here. I don’t really see Simon as serious contributor, but if he’s going to be, it’s because he really does have an ability to limit BABIP.

So right out of the gate, I’ll be watching the quality of contact and swings against him. You can’t track early season BABIP and have it mean anything, but if you can try to figure out if he’s allowing weaker contact than average. It’s a tricky business, but it’s his only hope given the other parts of his game.

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Keys To The Infield

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last season, to preview the upcoming summer we ran through the “key” to each player’s season. Rather than the keys to game you might see on a network like Fox, these keys weren’t “play better than the other team,” but rather, what aspect of their individual game you should be tracking early on.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go through the roster by position covering the thing I’m most interested in watching about each player as the season gets under way and then we’ll tie things together by breaking down the division rivals and club as a whole. Today, we’ll talk catchers and DH. (Read about the outfield and infield).

Alex Avila

Avila is a polarizing player because while he does a lot of things really well, he does two “negative” things that a lot of people care about: He has a low batting average and a high strikeout rate. Those two flaws don’t mean anything on their own, as you can be a great hitter while doing both, even if Avila is more in the “solid” hitter arena. Certainly, for Avila to be a successful player, he needs to maintain his high walk rate, average power, and good defensive play. He should probably be a little less terrible about running the bases, but catchers gonna catcher.

His key is the health of his brain. The concussions are scary on a human level, but also very damaging to his current and future play. Baseball’s a sport about hand-eye coordination and millisecond decisions. If your brain is bruised, you’re going to suffer in more ways than one.

Avila doesn’t have to hit like he did in 2011 to be a super valuable player, he just needs to play 120 or 130 games at reasonably full strength. There will be bumps and bruises along the way due to the baseball magnet located where more people have an appendix, but in order to have a good season, he needs to be healthy. It’s as simple as that, even if you’re one of those people who stupidly looks only at a player’s batting average.

Bryan Holaday

Holaday might spend a lot of time in AAA this year, but it’s hard to say given Ausmus’ strange coolness toward James McCann. Holaday isn’t a good major league player. His defense is passable, but it isn’t a plus. His bat is somewhere between below average and poor.

Holaday, in all honesty, just needs to avoid making big mistakes. It’s a silly thing to ask a professional to simply execute the most fundamental players, but Holaday isn’t going to be anything more than a weak backup. Maybe he could teach some other players to bunt?

James McCann

McCann isn’t a sexy prospect, but he might also be exactly what the Tigers need. He’s a right-handed bat to compliment Avila and he’s not wholly dependent on one tool. He could fit in as a backup, platoon partner, or starter if need be. Is he going to be an above average major league regular in 2015? Very likely not, but it’s not out of the question if Avila had to be out for a long period of time.

McCann’s key for the year is crush lefties. We (well, everyone who isn’t the manager) knows McCann is a capable defender. He might not be superlative, but he’s not going to cause a lot of problems back there. His meal ticket will be his ability to produce offense on days when Avila sits and to prevent the other teams from going to their LOOGY when Avila comes to the plate.

He doesn’t need to hit lefties like Cabrera, but if going to a lefty is the same as Avila against a righty, there’s a huge improvement for the Tigers over last year’s club. And it’s not crazy to think he can get there. McCann needs to get good swings against lefties and the positive effects will cascade across the roster.

Victor Martinez

The throwaway answer is health, but that’s a given and we’ve already used that on Avila and Cabrera so let’s try something else. Martinez needs to avoid the trap of trying to match his 2014 production. It’s not going to happen. Martinez hit for an insane amount of power a year ago and if he tries to do the same thing on a recovering knee in 2015, his real talent might take a hit. That talent is the ability to make contact and line the ball around to all fields.

So early on, look to see if Victor is keeping his swing in line and not trying to overcompensate in the power department. The results might not come right away, but you want to see line drives to all fields and lots of contact. If the power is still here, great, but if he’s missing the center of the ball too often because he’s trying to hit it 400 feet, the Tigers will be in trouble.

The Guide To The 2015 Tigers: Keys To The Infield

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Last season, to preview the upcoming summer we ran through the “key” to each player’s season. Rather than the keys to game you might see on a network like Fox, these keys weren’t “play better than the other team,” but rather, what aspect of their individual game you should be tracking early on.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go through the roster by position covering the thing I’m most interested in watching about each player as the season gets under way and then we’ll tie things together by breaking down the division rivals and club as a whole. Today, we’ll talk infield. (Read about the outfield).

Miguel Cabrera

This couldn’t be an easier key to identify. Be healthy. Cabrera is an elite hitter, both with respect to his ability to reach base and his ability to hit for extra bases. There are only a handful of players who could possibly be considered for a ranking ahead of him in those departments. He doesn’t provide much, if anything, on the field or on the bases, but when you’re 50 to 60% better than the league average hitter, that doesn’t matter too much.

Cabrera ended 2010 with an injury. He ended 2013 with an injury. He ended 2014 with an injury. He’s starting 2015 with one, and while it looks like his season won’t be delayed too significantly, he’s about to turn 32 and wasn’t super athletic to begin with. Cabrera’s days as a top five or ten player are numbered, but if he can stay fully healthy, there’s no reason to think that day is coming right away.

Ian Kinsler 

Kinsler had a phenomenal debut season with the Tigers in 2014 due in large part to some great base running and defense. Kinsler’s now had three straight years of average offense, but average offense with a great defensive profile and the ability to take extra bases works just fine at second.

But the above average power that Kinsler displayed early in his career is fading and he had a career low walk rate by a large margin in 2014 as well. If he’s going to provide lots of value to the Tigers going forward, he needs to make sure he doesn’t run another .307 OBP. He’s probably not going to be quite the defense and base running star he was a year ago, and that’s to be expected, but he also needs to reach base a little more often. Moving from Texas to Detroit was going to slow his production, but if he’s going to be the table setter for the meat of this lineup, he needs to be on base more than 31% of the time.

Jose Iglesias

Wrap legs in bubble wrap between innings and games.

I’m mostly serious. Who knows what Iglesias can do after a year away from the game with a pretty serious set of leg injuries? He was never destined to be a star with the bat, but his amazing glove work made that moot. Supposedly, he should be able to recover fully from the injury, but all of his value is tied up in his ability to turn batted balls into outs. If he can’t get to as many balls or throw with the same velocity and accuracy, he’s going to be much less valuable. I’ll be looking for how well Iglesias gets to tough grounders. We know his hands will be there, but can he maximize the range-hands-arm trifecta that makes him such a delight?

Nick Castellanos

There’s a lot of work to be done after Castellanos’ 2014 season. It wasn’t pretty if you’re going by the results, but there were plenty of signs of what he could become.

There are two keys to Nick’s 2015 that are quick different. First, we need to see how much of his poor defensive play was rust and how much was his true ability. His position switching can be blamed for some of his faults, but after a year back at the position and a clear indication he was struggling, we need to see if he can handle it or not. Particularly, defense peaks early and while Castellanos is still young, it’s not like he’s going to naturally grow into a good defender with time. Right out of the gate, we need to see if he looks like a different fielder or not.

But the defense just makes it a question of where he winds up. The bat is what’s going to determine his trajectory and the story is going to be contact. When he connects with the ball, it jumps off his bat and he sprays the ball around the field with authority. It’s easy to imagine a .320 BABIP and 20-25 HR coming as he matures, but the walk rate and the swinging strikes are going to play a huge role. He doesn’t need to be the league’s most patient hitter to succeed, but he can’t have a 73% contact rate and a 6.2 BB%. League average is more like 80% and 8% respectively, and that’s for all players, not players who don’t have defensive support. If he’s going to be a really good player, or even a star, he’s got to find a way to be more selective. The balls in play look good, but there need to be more of them. If you see that from him early, it might be a big season.

Andrew Romine, Hernan Perez, Jordan Lennerton, etc

The Tigers are going to sink or swim based on the four guys above. Romine and Perez can both spell the regulars for short periods of time, but if they’re grabbing significant reps, the Tigers will be in trouble. The same is especially true for Lennerton. If the Tigers are counting on him to give them more than a few dozen PA in 2015, it’s bad news.

For each, the key is trickier. They need to be sharp as substitutes, not fill-ins. One of the Tigers’ great weakness is their lack of depth. They don’t have any meaningful offense off the bench and don’t have a strong 10th man who can plug a hole for a long stretch. That’s just the way it is. But given that, having some good pinch runners or defensive replacements never hurts. And having players who can at least take 5-10 pitches to make an out every once and a while would be a nice treat.

The key is simply to look like major leaguers and hope the stars don’t wind up on the DL. It’s not a sunny report, but the sun rises elsewhere on the roster.

 

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