Whether or not you choose to believe what Dave Dombrowski said about the roster being fairly set for spring training is a matter of if you think GMDD is lying through his teeth whenever he opens his mouth. But let's say this current roster is what we get for opening day. Is it a better roster? On paper, you could say 'No' faster than a bullet train. But let's dig into the numbers a bit and see if we can come up with a rough estimate of the 2014 Detroit Tiger's expected performance.
Since I am going to shoot for a rough estimate, I'll use the best rough estimate system I can think of- run differential. I'll then convert that hypothetical run differential into an expected win percentage. For offense, I will create a hypothetical total runs scored based upon wRC. As Brendan Gawlowski explains here, wRC correlates strongly with actual runs scored. So if I can come up with an estimate of how many runs the 25 man roster created, we can get an idea how many runs scored the 2014 squad is expected. Of course, sequencing will have its way with runs actually scored, I will try and factor that in to the runs.
On the other hand, I will take a look at the potential fewer runs allowed by an improved defense. To do this, I will use the not-so-scientific method of taking the sum of the additional runs saved from this year's squad over last year's squad and subtract it from the Tiger's 624 runs allowed from the 2013 season.
With these two numbers in hand, I will calculate the pythagorean expected win percentage of the theoretical run differential of the 2014 Tigers and we will see if in theory this year's squad is good, bad, or ugly.
First, my estimates
Miguel Cabrera: 140 wRC
Victor Martinez: 90 wRC
Ian Kinsler: 87 wRC
Austin Jackson: 87 wRC
Torii Hunter: 86 wRC
Nick Castellanos: 80 wRC
Jose Iglesias: 67 wRC
Andy Dirks: 58 wRC
Alex Avila: 61 wRC
Rajai Davis: 23 wRC
Bryan Holaday: 16 wRC
Steve Lombardozzi: 15 wRC
Don Kelly: 12 wRC
Total wRC: 822
Names that are not in Italics are Steamer projections for 2014. Italic names are my own personal estimations. I think it's reasonable to expect that Cabrera can put up 140 wRC again. He did it in 2011 when he had a struggling Austin Jackson and two dumpster fires hitting in front of him. He did it last year, but could have done more if not for injuries derailing his ability to hit in the final two months of the regular season. Victor Martinez at 100% I think, can put up 90 runs again. He created 87 runs last year, and this was when he was struggling mightily in the first couple months. He has delivered batting in the fifth spot for the Tigers. I believe he'll do it again. Hunter is a weird projection. It's hard to project something because the effects of Father Time seem to have been negligible on him. He's created two additional runs of offense each year in the last two seasons. I don't think he's going to drop off significantly, but I don't think he's going to create 88 runs either. A small drop off to 86 or 85 runs doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
Castellanos is also kind of hard to project as a rookie. I figured given his talent, that creating 80 runs isn't unreasonable in his first year, considering he has Cabrera, Vmart, Torii, and Joyner at his disposal. Jose Iglesias is another projection that I felt required personal judgment. Most projection systems have him hitting like crap, and even though I agree it's likely that he could drop off this season, I don't think he's the pitiful hitter most people think he will become. Since Iglesias resembles Omar Vizquel almost to a 'T,' in defense and offense, I decided to throw in 67 wRC, considering that is the average runs Vizquel created every year for his career. Don Kelly was necessary, because Steamer had him projected for 400+ ABs, and that ain't happening. Though he's managed to miraculously create 20 runs the last couple of seasons, if he's getting around 100 ABs I see him producing somewhere between 10-15 runs.
So in total, the Tigers in 2014 could theoretically be projected by wRC to score 822 runs, which 14 fewer runs than in 2013. I'm not entirely sure how to factor in run sequencing for this figure. In 2010 and 2011, the Tigers scored 19 fewer runs than their team wRC. in 2012, the scored 37 fewer runs than their team wRC, and in 2013, they scored 40 fewer runs than their team wRC. So if we take the average which is 29 runs fewer than team, considering that better team speed may improve run sequencing, wRC, the Tigers can be projected to score somewhere in the ball park of 793 runs.
This will probably be the less scientific estimation. For this portion, I am likely erroneously assuming that the change in the pitching staff's influence on run prevention is negligible. I don't think it's too unreasonable. If Verlander bounces back, and Porcello continues to improve (considering his Steamer projections and the fact that if you remove his three obvious outliers against Boston and Anaheim he's the third best pitcher in the rotation last year, I love those odds), the loss of Doug Fister could be left to be masked by Drew Smyly and the bullpen. And that could happen. I don't know. For the sake of this exercise, let's just say the pitching staff isn't directly involved in allowing more runs than it did last season.
1B: +10 DRS
2B: +15 DRS
SS: +5 DRS
3B: +10 DRS
LF: +5 DRS
CF: +2 DRS
RF: +18 DRS
Total DRS: 65
The last time Miguel Cabrera manned 1B regularly was in 2011, when he was worth -3 DRS according to the fielding bible. Considering he wasn't much worse at 3B in 2012, It's reasonable he will be a 10 run upgrade over Prince Fielder's -13 DRS. Kinsler posted a +11 DRS in 2013 over Infante's -5, so for a nice round number, we'll say Kinsler represents a 15 run improvement. At shortstop, I really don't know how to quantify Iglesias's improvement. His defense is second to none, yet according to DRS, he neither saved nor cost his team a run in defense. I don't think that will be the case next year when he is the full time shortstop, but for the sake of being conservative, we'll say he's worth 5 runs saved over Jhonny's 0.
In left field, Rajai Davis represents an additional 5 runs over Matt Tuiasosopo. Davis has posted +2 DRS in the last two years playing in left field over the Samoan's -3 DRS. Jackson posted his worst defensive season last year, but I'll be shocked if he ever does worse than +3 DRS. For conservative sake, we'll just pick the round number of +5. Torii Hunter represents probably a very optimistic and perhaps a little unrealistic improvement. I don't think it's crazy, though. Torii Hunter, even at his age, is not a minus defender. The last time he was in the negative in DRS, in 2010, he rebounded to save an additional 18 runs the next year in 2011. I think given Torii's history and the addition of a defensive coordinator who will help defensive alignments, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect him to rebound into the green next year.
So, with an additonal 65 runs saved on defense, dubiously assuming that the pitching staff won't regress, we can roughly estimate that the Tigers could allow 562 runs in 2014.
So, assuming that we can estimate that the Tigers will score 793 runs and allow 562 runs, we can project a Pythagorean expected winning percentage of 65.2%. In an 162 game schedule, this rounds out to a record of 106-56. To put that in perspective of last season, the Tiger's Pythagorean expected win percentage in 2013 was 61.1%, or 99-63. This marks an improvement of 7 wins over the previous club's expected win percentage.
So, are the 2014 Detroit Tigers better than the 2013 Detroit Tigers? Well, I'm not going to pretend that this was an accurate mathematical thought experiment, but I think this is a very reasonable rough estimate as far as estimates go. If this estimate falls within the ballpark, then yes, I think the 2014 Tigers have the potential, with a little better scoring sequency, to top the 2013 Tigers's record.
So the answer is, at best this rendition of the Tigers is better than the previous year's. At worst, it's the same. I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel a little more confident.