There is no doubt that the Tigers' season ended in disappointment. The team was designed with a World Series in mind, so anything less meant the season was a dud. Failing to win even a single game in the playoffs magnified the failure. In the spirit of celebrating the calamity, can we identify the most significant disappointment of the season?
In 2013 Justin Verlander was not himself until the postseason. After surgery, we hoped he would return to his dominant self. Instead he fell further and was below average. Rather than throwing harder in the late innings and creating drama in pressure situations, he seemed to tire. Yet, he finished with 15 wins and gave the team a chance to win in his one playoff start.
Anibal Sanchez led the league in ERA, ERA+, and FIP in 2013. He made memorable starts. This year his performance took a step back, but most importantly he was injured and could only make 21 starts.
Doug Fister was shown the door in return for Robbie Ray and Ian Krol. Ray was to be a promising pitching prospect, and Krol was to stabilize the bullpen. Instead Ray looked overmatched in his six starts, and Krol added fuel to late inning bonfires before an injury mercifully ended his time in Detroit.
Joba Chamberlain raised hopes that the bullpen was improved early in the season, then regressed. By the playoffs, he was not a good relief option. That did not prevent Brad Ausmus from sticking with his plan.
Joe Nathan arrived as the sure-fire proven closer following a season with an ERA of 1.39 and WHIP under 0.90. He managed to have his worst season of the millennium. More importantly, he made the ninth inning difficult to watch. Rather than enjoying the finale of another Tigers' victory, it became another chance to be proven right that Nathan was not the answer.
Miguel Cabrera was hurt in 2013 and needed surgery, so you may have optimistically expected that he would return to the status of "best hitter on the planet". Instead, he was a top-ten batter. If that is your biggest disappointment, we can arrange counseling.
Nick Castellanos was a rookie and thus subject to unreasonable expectations. His bat provided value, and glove took it all away. But ask the Red Sox how Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. panned out. Castellanos did not hit .280 with 20 home runs, but held the position down all season.
Jose Iglesias was supposed to massively improve the infield defense, thereby turning Rick Porcello into a star. Instead he was forced to rest his stress-fractured legs all season. Iglesias had given us a taste of his acrobatics late last year, and added an element of possible enjoyment every time a ball was hit.
Brad Ausmus arrived as the young, intelligent, handsome, and articulate antithesis of Jim Leyland. He started the season with promising lineup construction and in-game strategy. He managed the team to the postseason through adversity, and for that alone can be considered a success. But his lack of creativity in the use of the bullpen and pinch-hitting became maddening.
Dave Clark is the sleeper candidate for biggest disappointment. He had two important goals. First, as third base coach, make better decisions about sending runners home. But like Gene Lamont and Tom Brookens before, too many outs were still made at the plate. This was magnified when Miguel Cabrera was sent home for an easy out in the playoffs. Second, as outfield coach, Clark was to improve the defense. Austin Jackson had his worst season defensively prior to being traded. Torii Hunter had one of the worst seasons on defense an outfielder can have, about five WINS worse than his best season.
In the spirit of baseball being primarily entertainment, I am voting for Jose Iglesias. I longed for a highlight reel play every week, something to distract from the frustration of losing streaks, and someone to take the pressure off Castellanos. What say you?