So we've reached the portion of the major league season where everything grounds to a halt. No games. No exhibitions. Nothing at all. The All-Star break is a great time to take stock. Not only do you have a few days of little going on, it's just past the midway point of the season. Things feel like they're tied up in a bow. I took a few days break from the blog, but I'm back, so here are a few thoughts on looking back to the first half. Tomorrow I'll look forward to the second half.
The Tigers get a C+. Everyone likes to give out grades. Well, I don't know if they like to give out grades or if the Internet is just so used to it that it's expected. Either way, we're in grading season. Just last week, Patrick (Tigerdog1) gave out his grades. Pitching was fine, lineup was average, defense should come with a warning label. Anyway, I gave them a C+. They're above average. Well, they're above .500 anyway. A lot of people might want to knock the team more because it was supposed to run away with the division. Well, that was one narrative. But several of your front-page authors here took some flack for pointing out this team was not going to win as many games as the 2011 edition. Right now, it's just one win off the 2011 pace.
Starting pitching is solid, though has room for improvement. The bullpen settled in once the rotation got healthy. The lineup started off awful but has improved lately. With two or three positions that could be easily upgraded, there's room for improvement there, too. And the defense, well, it's just been ugly. They'll need to do everything better in the second half, though, if they want to win the division.
Your first-half MVP is Austin Jackson. For large chunks of the 2011 season, Jackson was seen as a disappointment. Some (though not many around these parts, fortunately) wanted Jackson to sit. They couldn't see how the TIgers could keep playing him through his season-long mystery tour. This year, everything is clicking. His strikeout rate is down a few ticks. His walk rate is up. He's getting on base -- thanks in part to a return to his curiously-high BABIP. The big key for the 25-year-old center fielder is the power surge. There was talk all along that Jackson would develop power as he aged. So far this year, his isolated power is .215 -- a jump of about 90 points. It seems safe to say he won't keep up at the same pace for the second half, but he's still pretty good. Oh, and he continues to be one of the better defensive outfielders in the game.
Your first-half LVP is Ryan Raburn. I don't use WAR often. But Raburn does lead the Tigers in negative WAR at negative-1.4 wins. (Brennan Boesch is a nearby -1.3). Raburn has often struggled in the first half, but his first two months in Detroit were so bad that they made people long for the sub-.200 batting average of Brandon Inge. Careful what you wish for, haters.
Your first-half surprise is Miguel Cabrera. Some people may think I got the surprise and the MVP switched around, I'm sure. That Cabrera hits the ball is not a surprise. Maybe his fielding isn't a huge surprise either. Some acted as if he would be the worst-fielding third baseman of all time. That does not appear to be true. His -2 Defensive Runs Saved is in the bottom half of qualified MLB third basemen, but just barely. He's well ahead of some other big-bat corners, such as Hanley Ramirez. Teams that have tried to drop bunts down for hits against him have found out Cabrera can move well and make accurate throws more often than not. Overall I'd say his defense has been a pleasant surprise.
Bonus surprise: Quintin Berry. If you don't follow spring training closely, you might have said "Quintin Who?" when he was called up. He made the best of his opportunity in big-league camp in Lakeland and had some questioning whether he'd make the team out of camp. He didn't, but he answered the bell when the Tigers brought him up in May. He's managed to get on base quite often, hit for a little bit of extra-base power and really help set the table for the middle of the order. It shouldn't be a big surprise that Detroit managed to score more runs and win more games with Berry near the top of the lineup.
Your first-half disappointment is Brennan Boesch. Picked by experts and Detroit fans alike to be a breakout player, Boesch has been anything but. Hitting in front of Cabrera and Prince Fielder has not benefited him at all. Instead it just cost them RBI opportunities not recaptured until the emergence of Berry. As well, Boesch's defense has been even worse than expected. It's sometimes hard to believe he hasn't been sent to the minors to try to recapture his lost abilities. But when you look around the system, it's easy to see why Detroit hasn't made the move. But he can't continue to get regular playing time, either.
Bonus disappointment: Doug Fister. Everyone got their hopes up after his incredible performance after being acquired from the Mariners last summer. This year, he's been anything but incredible. He battled injuries -- well, one injury that occurred twice -- and ineffectiveness in the first half, leaving some doubting whether he's anything near the player he was last year. His strikeouts are actually continuing to their upward trend, but a key problem seems to be in missing the plate. Fister's always been a guy who doesn't hurt himself much. He's still got an enviable walk rate. But it's much higher than it was before. So is the rate of home runs allowed. Put it all together and you're looking at a 4.75 ERA but peripherals indicate he should improve in the second half. I'd allow that the added break this week could be beneficial as well.