At the end of the 2015 season, the Detroit Tigers' final tally looked like this: 689 runs scored, 803 runs allowed. By the fancy math, that should have resulted in a 69-92 win/loss record, but the Tigers ultimately played slightly better than their projections. Still, if you want to distill the ultimate riddle that Al Avila has to solve in the next few months, you can reduce it to this: a -114 run differential. That's an ugly number that will never smell like anything other than dank cellar rot. That's the number that has to be fixed.
A run differential that far into the negative says a few things. Mainly it says, "there's no quick fix for this," because ultimately you need to do more than get back to a zero-sum, break-even solution if you want to contend for a World Series ring. Look back at the past four years and what it took to clinch a postseason berth: a +52 differential in 2014, +172 in 2013, +56 in 2012, and +76 in 2011.
Even if you set your benchmark at +50 and pray to the baseball gods it's enough to beat a Kansas City Royals team that looks like they're going to be a genuine pain in the butt for a few more years, you're still looking at a minimum of 164 runs that need to be injected into next year's roster. This is a problem that needs to be attacked from multiple angles, and can be solved by either increasing the offense's production, or finding pitchers (both starters and relievers) who can reduce the number of runs allowed. Ideally, "both" is the correct answer, but for the purposes of this exercise, let's focus on the offense.
Prior to the trade deadline this past July, with Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup, the Tigers were on pace to score 727 runs. That's probably not enough to win the division, but it's a lot closer to the target than what they produced after Cespedes left, an anemic number that would have projected to about 634 runs over the course of 162 games. That's not just "we'll finish in last place" pathetic, that's "we've been asked to leave the league because everyone else is embarrassed" pathetic. (Also known as "being the Seattle Mariners.")
The difference between the pre-deadline era and the post-deadline era, if you're keeping track, is about 90 runs. That's the Cespedes Factor. Based on his Runs Created statistic while with Detroit, that's just about right -- give or take a few. At first glance, it might look like the Tigers do indeed need to find a full-time left fielder, because the projected 634 runs based on the post-Cespedes performance is a projection that assumes the presence of Tyler Collins, Rajai Davis, and whatever other patchwork solutions were explored during that time. Tyler Collins can't be the regular starter in left field if the team intends to compete, because there's a 90-run deficit to deal with.
Or is there?
Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez both put up run production numbers that were a spit's distance from career-worst, mostly because both of them missed time on the disabled list, and both of them were playing in Recovering From Surgery Mode. Assuming that both of them can at least return to career-average production levels (and in Cabrera's case, it's not super-fan levels of rose-lenses crazy to think he'll exceed that), we're looking at roughly 30 extra runs from Cabrera in 2016, and approximately 50 extra runs* from Martinez.
|Player||Career Avg Runs Produced||2015 Runs Produced||Difference|
Put it all together, and suddenly the Cespedes deficit of 90 runs is cut down to 10 runs.
We can work with that. Sort of.
Remember, the projected total over 162 games with Cespedes in the lineup was 727 runs. Knock off 10 runs in the event that both Miggy and VMart are only up to the challenge of playing at career average levels, and we're down to 717 runs. You can maybe make that work and still chase a division title, if you have multiple Cy Youngs in your starting rotation -- and I mean literal Cy Youngs, as in, we somehow find a way to clone the actual Cy Young several times and sign them all to team-friendly contracts.
The Tigers did manage to win a division title with as few as 726 runs scored in 2012, but let's face it: the AL Central is better than it was back then. The Tigers barely topped the Royals last year, and that was with 757 runs scored, plus a rotation that featured, at various times, Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, a version of Rick Porcello that knew how to throw multiple shutouts, and a version of Anibal Sanchez that knew how to keep the baseball out of the outfield seats.
In reality, the team needs to come up with closer to 750 runs in 2016. We're looking for something in the neighborhood of about 30 extra runs. Maybe even just 25, if you're up for a season that involves a lot of nerve-wracking games and shooting liquid antacids directly into your veins.
Tyler Collins is worth about 53 runs. If we want to add 25-30 more runs, we're looking at trying to find a regular, everyday left fielder who can bring a total of about 80-85 runs to the table.
As far as available free agent options go, that leaves basically two choices: Dexter Fowler (roughly 83 runs) or Jason Heyward (roughly 80 runs). That may or may not be the route the Tigers decide to go, but if they don't, they will likely need to plan for a starting rotation that mirrors the 2014 rotation at a minimum, plus some incredibly reliable bullpen arms.
*These numbers are based on the Runs Created stat, which is often close to 10 percent higher than the actual number of runs produced. The figures here reflect Runs Created, minus 10 percent.