Sure it's not an original format but I'm going to use it anyway! --Kurt
1. Phil Coke should not have a job in Detroit
I am not going out on a limb here. I am probably like the last BYB writer to put the opinion on the page this month. Manager Brad Ausmus has tried everything he can to get Coke going, but there just appears to be nothing to be done. Coke cannot be trusted in a tight game. He struggles to keep runners off the bases in any other situation. He's taking a roster spot that could be better used by another player in the organization who might eventually be useful.
2. Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello make Dave Dombrowski look good
The back end of the Tigers' rotation has done its job. That's why Doug Fister was more expendable than people think. Rick Porcello finished April with an ERA under 4 for the first time in his life. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) has continued to improve, as it does each season. His rate of walks is in Cliff Lee territory. Meanwhile Drew Smyly's had a bit of a bumpy road -- scheduled days off and rainouts have limited him to bullpen work and lengthy pauses between starts. Yet here he is with an ERA of 3.38 as a starter. He did get shelled by the White Sox that first start, but he allowed two runs the game after that and threw seven innings of shutout ball this weekend against the Royals. In fact, for the year he's allowing only one baserunner per inning. The Tigers still have the best rotation top to bottom in the American League, and possibly the whole damn league.
3. The bullpen makes me uncomfortable but don't put too much blame on it yet
The Tigers are 17-0 when leading after seven innings. The back end of the bullpen has done its job. They're 17-2 when leading after six innings. Five of the nine losses have occurred when the team failed to score more than one run. They lost a game when they scored six, but that's was Smyly's doomed first start. Yes, the Tigers can't rest content yet. There's work to be done, and signing Joel Hanrahan was a good start. But the good news is, this rotation is going to go deep in games most days and the players who take the ball after that have shown they can get the job done.
4. Rajai Davis has been a godsend
More than a month into the season and Rajai Davis, as the fulltime left-fielder, has the highest batting average on the team. If I had listed "true/false" statements before the season and allowed you to vote, most, if not all, of you would have voted false. Yet hitting .337 and with a .391 OBP to go with it, Davis has put his doubters to shame. More than just getting on base, he's on pace for at least 60 steals. His play in left field has been fine, too. Not Gold Glove material, but a darn sight better than we're used to. The snakebitten Tigers really needed this.
5. The Tigers' defense is better
You can spend too much time worrying about Torii Hunter in right field or the recently released Alex Gonzalez at shortstop. Hunter is not remotely near the Gold Glove fielder he was in the past. It's worrisome. But let's just look at the rest of the team by two statistics, team defensive efficiency and Defensive Runs Saved. The Tigers' defensive efficiency, basically how often they turn balls in play into outs, ranks 12th overall at .708, per Baseball Prospectus. That's good for fourth-best in the AL and best in the division. Compare that to the .690s, around 27th of 30 teams, of the past two years. Per DRS (insert sample size caution here) Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine and Davis are all slightly above average. The Tigers' rotation was already good. The improvement of the defense behind them should only make this team all the more frightening to opponents.
6. A question for you
If the bullpen gets fixed a little bit more, is this team actually better than the 2013 edition?