You've hopefully read Mike's piece by now that says however many games you expected the Tigers to win, you can safely add one to your projection after their 6-3 start. That is a nice calm-headed way to look at things. So, I thought the team was good for 82 wins. They should now be expected to win 83.
Of course , there's another angle to that story that is a bit harder to quantify: Are the Tigers actually better or worse than you believed? It's always dangerous to declare such a thing based off of a nine game stretch, no matter when it falls in the season. It's even more dangerous to look at the first nine games and believe it tells you something about the season. Still, the question arises: Could I have been wrong in seeing an 82 win team?
I'm going to live dangerously today.
Austin Jackson has been a nice surprise. He's batting .306 with a .375 on-base percentage and five extra-base hits in 36 at-bats. He's been seeing a lot of pitches and playing more mature than I expected of him. At 4.10 he trails only Johnny Damon in pitches per plate appearance for batting-title eligible Tigers.
- Two things I find interesting. He faced the same starting pitcher twice and fared well the second time around both times. He went 2-for-3 his second time facing Luke Hochevar, and 1-for-4 with a double the second time seeing Brian Bannister (1-for-3 the first time). The more he plays, the bigger the book on him will get. But a pair of pretty talented starting pitchers didn't overwhelm him the second time around, so I like that.
- But his strikeout percentage (30.6%) is a tad too high for my liking. But if he is able to keep getting on base 35% of the time or so as a rookie there's not a lot of reason to complain. I'd take the over on projections.
Dontrelle Willis is ... I'm not sure, to be honest with you. On the bright side, he's throwing the ball in the strike zone 57% of the time, which is actually pretty good for a starting pitcher. On the other hand, he's allowing too many baserunners and stranding 82.4 percent of them is probably not going to continue. It's a repeatable skill and 10 percent above his career average. He's still a mixed bag. More data needed, but he looks to me like he's taking on a bit of water. Either he'll bail it and be a competent fifth start, or a small leak will become a big hole. It won't take too long for us to know.
- Scott Sizemore looks like he belongs. Actually, he was probably the unknown factor I worried the least about heading into the season. He's not playing second base with a cement glove. He's turning double plays fine. He's finding ways to get on base and, if you didn't know better, you'd believe he's a veteran.
- Jeremy Bonderman is better than we thought. How much better? I'm not even going to try to make a guess as he's only started once. But his stuff looked better than expected, his fastball velocity has seen an uptick. Looking at a projection of a 5.14-plus ERA, I'd take the under.
- The bullpen looks unchanged from last year. The faces are new, the results seem like they're going to be similar. That is, I like the back end of the bullpen just fine. Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, Jose Valverde. I'm not worried about the late innings one bit. The front end of the bullpen, however, ouch. If Detroit is losing, I'm not sure I want to see Eddie Bonine or Brad Thomas with the baseball, frankly.
- Best bet on Thomas? He'll be released around the one-mark month.
Gerald Laird annoys me so far this year. He's not exactly shutting down the run nor is he giving teams a reason to think twice. His hands have been pretty questionable so far. That's certainly subject to change, and I suspect he'll play better in the future.
- The Tigers' defense concerns me overall, however.
- Love the start by Magglio Ordonez. He's going to slow down, but exhibiting power better than last year is definitely a good sign. He's going to earn his 2011 option.
- Not worried a bit about Johnny Damon's slow start, either. He's got a track record. Ditto Justin Verlander.
- Rick Porcello pretty much looks like the pitcher I'd expect to see this season. Not dominating, not a problem.
- The Tigers have an .810 OPS and lead the AL in runs scored.
OK, so are the Tigers better or worse than expected? That's a hard question to answer. The offense probably won't be found at the top of the AL when the season ends. The overall picture for the pitching should probably not get too much worse. Detroit managed to win games you'd expect them to lose, and lose a game you'd expect them to win this year.
The teams are going to get a lot better than the Royals and Indians, but the Tigers will probably balance out a bit as well.
I think 82-84 wins continues to be a good mark to center expectations on.
But I'll say this: I think this team is going to be more fun to watch than the teams from the past two years. So that's definitely a good sign.