Detroit Tigers Season Preview
It’s that time of the year again, folks. Baseball season! America’s pastime. Hot, summer days spent at the ballpark filled my childhood, and now my weekends because its impossible to go to games during the semester. This is my second annual season preview of the Detroit Tiger’s season. Last year, I predicted a Tiger’s playoff appearance and first round loss. I’m happy to say I was wrong because the Motor City Kitties made it to the ALCS before losing to the Rangers. This year, I plan on breaking down the depth chart, batting order, and the pitching staff. I will also give my final prediction for the Tiger’s regular season (and playoff run).
Alex Avilia, C. Alex Avila came into last year as an underdog to have a good season. In the first half, he did not disappoint. He was the start AL catcher in the All-Star game with a .286 average at the break. The 2nd half found Avila slumping to finish July, but he picked it up for the final stretch and finish at a .295 tip with 19 HR and 82 RBI. Avila was able to throw out runners at a 32% Caught Stealing rate, throwing out 40 runners, which was tied for the best in the league. He won the Silver Slugger for catchers as well. Avila solidified the catcher position for the Tigers that lost its identity when Pudge parted ways a few years ago. If Avila can play 140+ games like last year and produce equally if not better, he will be a force to reckon with all year-long.
Gerald Laird, C. Detroit Tiger’s fans remember Laird from two years ago when he and Avila were splitting time. Laird was considered the better defensive catcher. However, it was obvious that Laird couldn’t hit the broad site of a barn so he signed elsewhere after the year. Now, he’s back and his role has never been clearer. He will spell Avila, who in my opinion can catch close to 140-145 games, and will provide veteran leadership in the clubhouse. Oddly enough, I once heard Rod Allen say Laird was the best high school player in California baseball history.
Starting First Baseman
Prince Fielder, 1B. Move over, Tayshaun, there’s another Prince in town! Prince Fielder, coming off a 38 HR, 120 RBI season, is the newest Detroit Tiger and the biggest (no pun intended) free agent in Detroit Tigers history. Prince brings a big bat to that 4th spot in the lineup, and provides an average glove over at one-bagger. He isn’t as big as Miggy was at first, but he can scoop balls in the dirt and has great flexibility for a big guy. The thing that jumps out to me about Prince, though, is that fact that he has never missed more than 5 games in any full season in the big leagues. In fact, he has only missed one game in the last three years! Not to jinx him, but if he provides that stability and endurance at first base the whole year, the Tigers won’t have a problem coming in at the top of the league in HR, RBI, and BB ranks. Big signing for now.
Backup First Basemen
Starting Second Basemen
Ryan Raburn, 2B, OF. This is the position that I thought would be the biggest position battle to watch in the Spring. Coming into ST, I thought it was Brandon Inge’s job to lose. But, now I see that it was Ryan Raburns to win. Raburn has been an absolute beast in Spring Training. He has 6 HR (T-1st) and 18 RBI’s (T-3rd), with a .325 BA. Jimmy Leyland would be beyond crazy to not start him with that type of production. Brandon Inge hasn’t done anything to help his case, either. After the debacle that was last year Inge-to-the-minors saga, Brandon hasn’t been strong enough to even be considered a spot on the team. If he can accept a backup role, I think Inge will find his way into the utility infielder spot, along with Ramon Santiago. Quick note, Brandon Inge is hitting .184 this Spring with a HR and 2 RBI.
Backup Second Basemen
Ramon Santiago, Brandon Inge
I have Santiago in front of Inge due to the fact that he can switch hit and will see more opportunities against right-handers, possibly even taking chances away from Raburn if he starts to slump. Also, Santiago had a fantastic 2011 postseason so Leyland will have to give him looks.
Jhonny Peralta, SS. Another key returner from last year’s All-Star infield is Jhonny Peralta. Jhonny was a breath of fresh air for the Tigers after getting him in the last month of the 2010 season. In his first full season as a Tiger, Jhonny hit .299 and was an All-Star for the first time in his career. I believe that his production will be there. Above .260 and 15 HR will keep Jhonny’s bat in the lineup. The thing I like most about Peralta is his ability in the field. He only made 7 errors last year, resulting in a .989 fielding percentage, which was tied for 2nd in the American League, and 3rd best in the entire league. With solid defense and a dependable bat, Jhonny Peralta can be the best Shortstop in the American League, and possibly the best in all of baseball.
This guy can play anywhere in the infield.
Starting Third Baseman
Miguel Cabrera, 3B. This is what bugs me about this move to third. Everyone in the league saw the play where the ball hit Cabrera in the eye, and assumes he can’t play the position. For the people who actually watched the game, the ball was rocketed toward third and took a horrible hop, leaving Cabrera no time to react and resulting in a broken cheek bone, essentially. It could have happened to anyone. With that said, I think Miguel Cabrera can play third and play third at an above average level. He may not be as quick as Inge was, but his arm is very strong and he has a big body to knock balls down. He’s not afraid of the ball, either. He is going to make errors. His two full seasons at 3B for the Marlins, he made 40 combined errors. But with the bat he brings to the ballpark every day, I think the Tigers are willing to take the risk. This brings me to his hitting. 33 HR, 118 RBI, ,317 BA, .395 OBP career averages. MVP numbers.
Backup Third Basemen
Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly
All of them can play it. Inge is most likely the first back up and will have plenty of chances to prove himself in this infield. Bring your big boy bat to the field every day Brandon, and be ready.
Starting Right Field
Brennan Boesch, OF. Production. That’s the word I think of when I think of Brennan Boesch. 16 HR and 54 RBIs in 115 games last year before the hand injury. This year will feature career highs for Boesch in HR, RBI, BA, OBP, and BB for Boesch. He doesn’t strike out as much as a guy with his power usually would, and he provides a good, solid glove in RF. All-Star is going to be apart of his vocabulary in the near future. Maybe not this year, but he has the ability to be an above average player.
Starting Center Field
Austin Jackson, CF. Austin Jackson went through the dreaded Sophomore Slump last year. No way around it. He saw his average drop .44 and strike out 11 more times, making for a 1.18 strikeouts per game. The Tigers can’t afford another season like that from Jackson in the lead off spot. Sure, they could move him down in the lineup and bat Jhonny or Raburn in the lead off spot, but AJ has a .358 BA when he puts the ball in play. If he can cut his strikeouts in half, which is completely reasonable given his talent level, he would then have hit .295, closer to his average as a rookie in 2010. AJ’s glove is one of the best at the Center Field position in all of baseball and he has the ability to run down balls you never thought he could get to. Most guys have to dive for some of the balls he gets too standing up.
Starting Left Field
Delmon Young, LF. Talk about a guy coming in and making an impact when you needed him most. Delmon was the spark plug that propelled the Detroit Tigers in to the postseason last year, and he contributed well in the playoffs up to the last game of the ALCS. In just 40 games with the Tigs last year, Delmon hit 8 HR, had 32 RBI, and batted around .275. Delmon is keeping this production up this Spring with the club, hitting 5 HR (T-2nd) 19 RBI (2nd) .413 BA (5th). Those numbers could get him the Spring Training Player of the Year (if that’s a thing). He is a little slow out there in left but, like Miggy at third, the bat is way to valuable to keep out of the lineup.
Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn, Andy Dirks
Batting Lineup 2011 Stats
1. Austin Jackson, CF. 10 HR, 45 RBI, .249 BA
2. Brennan Boesch, RF 16 HR, 54 RBI, ,283 BA
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B 30 HR, 105 RBI, .344 BA (AL Batting Crown)
4. Prince Fielder, 1B 38 HR, 120 RBI, .299 BA (w/ Brewers)
5. Delmon Young, LF 12 HR, 64 RBI, .268 BA (w/Twins and Tigers)
6. Alex Avila, C 19 HR, 82 RBI, .295 BA
7. Jhonny Peralta, SS 21 HR, 86RBI, .299 BA
8. Ryan Raburn, 2B 14 HR, 49 RBI, .254 BA
9. Don Kelly, DH 7 HR, 28 RBI, .245 BA
Brandon Inge, 3B 3 HR, 23 RBI, .197 BA
Ramon Santiago, 2B,SS 5 HR, 30 RBI, .260 BA
Andy Dirks, OF 7 HR, 28 RBI, .251 BA
Gerald Laird, C 1 HR, 12 RBI, .232 BA (w/ Cardinals)
Victor Martinez, 1B, C 12 HR, 103 RBI, .330 BA (60-Day Disabled List)
Justin Verlander, 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 SO (Triple Crown, MVP, Cy Young)
What more can you say about this guy. The first AL pitcher to win the Cy Young and the MVP award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. Coming off one of the best seasons by a pitcher in baseball history, Verlander looks to continue his success into the 2012 season. Verlander brought dominate stuff last year, throwing his second career no-hitter and flirting with countless others. If he can continue to pitch at a dominate level, Verlander will be well on his way to another Cy Young and possibly back-to-back MVP awards. Wouldn’t that be something!
Doug Fister, 11-13, 2.83 ERA, 146 SO
I think Fister and Scherzer both have a chance to be the number 2 this year, and after the first series it really doesn’t matter. Doug Fister came in halfway through last season and pitched like an ace. After losing 12 games with the Mariners in the first half of the year, Fister only lost 1 game with the Tigers and had 8 wins, with a 1.79 ERA. It’s not like he was pitching bad with Seattle, either. Fister held a 3.33 ERA when he came to the Tigs, but he wasn’t getting nearly enough run support in Seattle like he did for Detroit.
Max Scherzer, 15-9, 4.43 ERA, 174 SO
Scherzer had a sub-par year last year, in my opinion. Yes, he won 15 games and threw a gem against the Yankees in the ALDS, but he allowed way to many runs, most of them earned. He also allowed a career high 26 HRs and had a career high WHIP. Scherzer also needs to get to that 200 IP makr and prove that he can be a reliable number two in this rotation.
Rick Porcello, 14-9, 4.75 ERA, 104 SO
Same case goes here for Porcello as Scherzer. He got the wins and logged some solid innings, but he allowed way to many runs. Almost 3.5 runs per start and an elevated WHIP at 1.4. These guys can survive with these type of outings because the offense is so good, but once playoff time hits, it won’t be acceptable. Runs are too hard to come by to give up 3 or 4 every game for the starter. Still, Porcello showed improvement from his sophomore slump and is a good number four in this rotation. I would like to see him challenge Scherzer and Fister for that coveted second spot, but for now, Rick is right where he needs to be.
Duane Below, 0-2, 4.34 ERA, 14 SO
The bullpen man from last year looks to be getting the first shot at the fifth spot in the rotation. Eventually, I think that this spot will be filled by prospect Jacob Turner, but he has a dead arm now and won’t see big league actually for at least a month or so. Below, the Michigan native, showed promise last year during his two starts for the Tigers before getting sent to the bullpen for the rest of the season. Duane is the only lefty in the rotation, and will get a few spot starts when guys are tired or there is a heavily filled lefty lineup.
Al Alburquerque, RHP, 6-1, 1.87 ERA, 41 Appearances (60-Day Disabled List)
Alberquerque started off last season on fire. He looked like a young, healthy Joel Zumaya until a fluke concussion put him on the DL for the second half of the year. He was able to come back in September and for the playoffs, but he never regained his confidence after getting hurt. In December, Al had elbow surgery and is scheduled to miss the first half of the year. He will be eased back into the Tiger’s bullpen and will have plenty of time to rehab in Triple A.
Phil Coke, LHP, 3-9, 4.47 ERA, 48 Appearances
Cokey had a rough go of it last year. He got a few starts to see if he had starter stamina and ability, but was quickly thrown back in the bullpen for long relief and lefty vs. lefty match ups. I think the Tigers expected to much out of Coke last year and he wasn’t able to handle it. He is a great bullpen guy who can come in and get some outs or log some innings when a starter has a rough outing.
Collin Balester, RHP, 1-4, 4.54 ERA, 23 Appearances (w/ Nationals)
I don’t know much about Balester except that we swapped him with the Washington Nationals for Ryan Perry. Since Perry didn’t turn out to be the guy the Tigers hoped, maybe Balester will come in and provide some relief for the starters and be more clutch than Perry was.
Daniel Schlereth, LHP, 2-2, 3.49 ERA, 49 Appearances
Schlereth was able to be that guy that Detroit desperately needed last year. He came in for lefty match ups, he ate up innings, and he did it all very well. The one problem that Daniel Schlereth needs to work on, though, is keeping his walks down. 31 walks in 49 innings last year makes for a tough go of it in the MLB. Limiting his walks will keep Schlereth in the big league bullpen for a long time.
Dotel split time last year between Toronto and St. Louis last year and was able to find success in both places. Dotel will shore up the middle of the bullpen for Detroit, logging innings and providing that veteran presence on the mound. Walks will be low, strikeouts will be high, and if a guy like Benoit or Valverde gets hurt, Dotel can step right in and provide late-inning relief as well.
Joaquin Benoit, RHP, 4-3, 2.95 ERA, 66 Appearances
Less than two years ago, Benoit was the best non-closer in any major league bullpen. He had a sub-1.30 ERA and was the hottest free agent. Last year, Benoit struggled to start the year and really couldn’t find his groove until late-May. When he did, though, he was the same guy that the Tampa Bay Rays knew. Again, like Dotel, Benoit will limit his walks and strike outs guys. He will be the set-up man for Valverde like last year and will find himself in save situations as well.
Jose Valverde, RHP, Closer, 2-4, 2.24 ERA, 75 Appearances, 49 Saves (and counting..)
Papa Grande! The Big Potato! What a season it was for Valverde last year, finishing 5th in Cy Young voting and bringing a 49 straight saves streak into the 2012 season. Sometimes, well most of the time, Papa Grande has Tigers’ fans on the edge of their seat trying to get those last 3 outs, but every single time he came through. Its remarkable what he can do with primarily a fast ball as his out pitch, even though he as the splittler in his arsenal. Mark my words, Valverde will blow a few saves this year. He flirts with danger way to much not too, but he will also be the 2-time Tiger All-Star that we all have come to know and love.
Leyland had some questionable decisions last year and has a tendency to stick with guys that he likes (i.e. Inge). He has proven that his methods get the job done, though, so who am I to question him. Keep doing what you are doing Jim, just don’t leave Inge in the lineup when he is hitting sub-.200 and have a healthy Wilson Betemit on the bench because you didn’t like the trade for him.
Victor Martinez (60)
Al Alberquerque (60)
Players to Watch
Detroit Tigers: 96-66 (1st in AL Central)
Team MVP: Miguel Cabrera
Pitcher of the Year: Justin Verlander
Surprise of the Year: Brennan Boesch
I want to do a playoff prediction as well, but we all know it will end with a World Series so it might be a little biased. Either way, here goes.
Tigers over Phillies in 6
There ya have it. My 2012 season preview for the Detroit Tigers. Share it with your friends. Share it with your enemies. Either way, it should be another great year for baseball meaning another great year to be alive! GO TIGERS!