The Tigers are perceived as a veteran club with a big payroll, designed to make it to the postseason annually. For such a team they played a surprising number of rookies this season. One must be deemed the Tigers' rookie of the year.
The rookie of the year can embody various qualities. He can simply be the rookie who contributed the most to team. We can sort all the rookies by WAR, and pick the one on top. That leaves little room for context, emotion, or entertainment.
The rookie of year also embodies hope for the future. Going into the season, we have high expectations that some rookie will be the next Al Kaline or Alan Trammell. A rookie may underperform expectations, but show promise that he will develop into a star. Thus a 21-year-old rookie who plays 60 games with a 1.0 WAR can be the rookie of the year over a 28-year-old rookie who plays 100 games with a 2.0 WAR.
Tyler Collins set the season's tone of rookie opportunity by breaking camp with the Tigers. He posted only a .240 batting in Double A, but a replacement for Andy Dirks was needed. In 25 plate appearances he managed six hits and a walk. His one home run was in the ninth inning of a blowout. He bookended his season in Detroit, but his May through August showed promise in Toledo. We will save his ROY candidacy for next year.
Three position players received significant playing time.
The lead contender for rookie of the year is Nick Castellanos, easily the leader in games played.
Imagine that Castellanos had missed the entire season. Would his replacement have produced comparably? Regardless of his name the defense would have been better. But the offense would have suffered. The Tigers won the division by one game. Would they have finished in first without Castellanos?
Eugenio Suarez began the season in Double A Erie and was not expected to see much time in Detroit.
After the Alex Gonzalez debacle, and Andrew Romine's failure to secure the position, Suarez solved the shortstop position for a few months. He provided a .345 on-base percentage and .429 slugging percentage in 32 games in the first half, before cooling off.
Bryan Holaday played in 62 games as Avila's backup.
His output at the plate was a little less than Andrew Romine's. At age 26, and given his minor league track record, his production was not unexpected. Would the Tigers have won the division with James McCann as the backup?
Other position players had a cup of coffee. James McCann, Steven Moya, and Hernan Perez may be rookie of the year candidates in 2015 or beyond.
Robbie Ray was expected to arrive in Detroit when a starting pitcher was needed, and arrive he did. If half of life is showing up, then his season was half successful.
It is hard to vote for a pitcher with an 8.16 ERA, regardless of how much value you place on that venerable statistic.
Blaine Hardy started the year in Toledo, but became the most dependable bullpen option appearing in 38 games with a 2.54 ERA.
His 12 percent walk rate contributed to a 1.39 WHIP, suggesting he was a bit lucky.
Kyle Lobstein pitched in Toledo for most of the year with a mediocre 4.07 ERA, but when finally promoted he made the most of his opportunity.
He made six starts in the final month, and in four starts he allowed two runs or less. Lobstein may have the best claim on the title "Most Valuable Rookie."
The bullpen troubles allowed for the debuts of rookies Pat McCoy, Justin Miller, Chad Smith, Corey Knebel, and Melvin Mercedes. Jose Ortega and Kevin Whelan had appeared in the major leagues previously but were rookies as well in 2014. McCoy had decent results in 14 innings, but walking nearly one batter per inning is not a recipe for future success.
Kyle Ryan, Drew VerHagen, and Buck Farmer were needed for spot starts. Ryan's line, including five relief appearances, was the best.
Twenty rookies played in Detroit by my count, a number of whom could be said to have contributed to the critical win that made the difference in the division.