The Detroit Tigers won 90 games in 2014. They won their fourth consecutive AL Central title, besting the upstart Kansas City Royals by a single game. It was the second year in a row that the Tigers won the Central by a game, though the 2013 race wasn't as close as the final tally suggested. It was the Tigers' third 90 win season in the past four years, and their seventh winning record in nine seasons.
The Tigers may not have been as good as their 90-72 record indicated, though. Their embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS suggested as much, but so did their 86-76 pythagorean expected win-loss record. The pythagorean win expectation is based on runs scored and allowed, and the Tigers' +52 run differential was fifth in the American League. Baseball Prospectus' third-order win percentage -- which takes a number of factors into account, including strength of schedule -- pegged the Tigers at 87-75.
As things stand heading into 2015, it's not a stretch to say that this Tigers roster is worse than the one that they took into the 2014 ALDS. Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Torii Hunter are gone, and the additions -- Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Iglesias -- are difficult to project. Things could change, especially if the Tigers re-sign Scherzer, but that matter will not be decided for another few weeks.
Yesterday, Fangraphs released a series of polls that allowed readers to decide how accurate they felt the Steamer projections are for each American League team's win totals. Steamer projects the Tigers to finish 2015 with an 86-76 record, identical to their 2014 pythagorean win expectation. Surprisingly, 77 percent of voters believe that this projection was either "good!" or "high, by up to three games." Fourteen percent said the projection was "low, by up to three games," while just eight percent thought the 86 win projection was way off in either direction.
Seventy seven percent! I don't think it's blasphemous to admit that the Tigers will struggle to win 90 games as currently constructed -- it's not an easy task, remind you -- but 83-86 wins seems a bit low for a roster that includes Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, David Price, and Anibal Sanchez. This was part of Jeff Sullivan's rationale for why the projection may be low, but he also offered reasons as to why 86 wins might be a stretch.
Cabrera’s getting older, and Martinez is getting older. Verlander’s getting older, and Joe Nathan is getting older. We’re all getting older, but the Tigers seem to be getting older faster, and Alfredo Simon doesn’t seem like a good bet to be effective in a regular role. You’d like to see more in center field, and you don’t really know what they’re going to get out of Jose Iglesias or Nick Castellanos. When you keep borrowing from the future to improve the present, you don’t end up with a whole lot of youth.
The question is simple: how many games will the Tigers win if they take this roster into 2015?