We are nearly three weeks into the Detroit Tigers' season and the team has ranged from world-beating to anemic, while the weather has ranged from scorching to snowing. The Tigers are coming off their first series loss of the season, but had chances to win three of their four games against the New York Yankees. There have been injuries, breakouts, surprises, disappointments, and just about anything else you can think of in a 16-game span.
Despite the wide range of occurrences, the Tigers have been better than many people expected. They are 11-5, a half game behind the similarly surprising Kansas City Royals in the AL Central. Only the New York Mets -- seriously, the Mets -- have a better record in Major League Baseball. There are still some questions, though, which makes this a perfect chance for the BYB mailbag to return.
@blessyouboys On a scale of 1-10, what is your concern level for Justin Verlander?— Curtis (@Curtos07) April 19, 2015
When Justin Verlander left his last spring training start with a "cramping" sensation in his right triceps, no one expected him to miss his first regular season start, let alone the first month of the season. However, as I have said with varying degrees of impatience over the past couple weeks, everything Verlander is describing is consistent with the Tigers' initial diagnosis of a triceps strain. The fatigue and soreness he has been experiencing while throwing lately are completely normal, and the timetable for his recovery is by no means exorbitant. Verlander finally had the MRI the fanbase has been clamoring for, but there was no structural damage to be found.
It is discouraging that he has been out so long with such little progress, though. I'm not worried about his ability to return to action, but I will put my overall level of concern at 3 out of 10. By now, Verlander has lost just about all of the arm strength and stamina he built up during spring training, and will probably need a rehab start or two before he rejoins the Tigers' rotation. I would be shocked if he debuts before May 1, and would probably peg his return closer to mid-May or later.
@blessyouboys Q: what can we expect from Shane Greene for the rest of the season? Budget Porcello or do the stats say he'll regress— Chris Niermann (@cniermann) April 19, 2015
I'm not exactly going out on a limb when I tell you that Shane Greene isn't going to maintain his 0.39 ERA throughout a full season, and 23 innings is far too small of a sample to reliably glean anything from his peripheral numbers. Greene still has yet to allow a home run, so his 2.76 FIP is low. It's not the best practice to use FIP as a predictive measure, but there were 16 MLB starters with a sub-2.76 ERA in 150-plus innings last season. Greene has been good, but he's no ace. His .188 BABIP will also regress, but it's tough to say how far that goes in the other direction. His 51.6 percent ground ball rate is a shade higher than last season, but predicting anything lower than .270 is a risky endeavor.
Greene has displayed some encouraging tendencies, though. His 9.0 swinging strike rate is just a touch lower than last season's 9.9 percent whiff rate, and he is pounding the strike zone early in counts. He has been exceedingly efficient in his first three starts because of this, so it will be interesting to see how he fares when he faces teams multiple times. His strikeout rate is down, but so is his walk rate, and the consistent swinging strike rate suggests that the strikeouts will eventually come.
Where will he regress to? That part is tough to say, but Greene has been impressive enough in the early season that I'm starting to buy in on the hype. His 4.33 SIERA in 2015 is quite high, but last season's 3.41 SIERA in 78 1/3 innings seems like a decent starting point. The Tigers should be ecstatic if Greene ends the year with an ERA in that range, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see it happen at this point.
@blessyouboys Who's going to drop off harder - Simon or Iglesias?— Scott Chu (@Chuseph_Esquire) April 19, 2015
Unlike Shane Greene, Alfredo Simon's impressive start has not changed my opinion on what he will provide the Tigers in 2015. I was a bit more optimistic than some given Simon's history of limiting home runs and pitching well with runners in scoring position, but I still think that Simon's numbers will be those of a decent fourth or fifth starter by the end of the year. He has a 3.62 SIERA right now, but has only walked two batters in 20 2/3 innings. His walk rate will climb, though he has been around league average in the past few years. There will also be starts where he allows strings of hits, similar to his first outing of the season.
Jose Iglesias is also going to regress from his current lofty status -- he is second in the American League with a .396 batting average -- but there are signs that Iglesias is better than we thought. Iglesias has struck out just five times in 54 plate appearances, a 7.4 percent rate. His whiff rate is just 2.5 percent, the fifth-lowest in baseball. This is much lower than the six percent whiff rate he had in 2013, but contact rates are among the fastest statistics to stabilize in baseball. Most studies indicate that 50-100 plate appearances are enough to determine what to expect from a player going forward. Iglesias is at the low end of that now, but it appears that he has made some significant improvements in this regard. Fewer strikeouts from a player with his speed is a great sign. He still won't hit for much power, but another .300 batting average isn't as farfetched as it seemed three months ago.
I don't expect the Tigers to make a move for a bullpen arm for at least a month or two. The Tigers signed a hefty number of relievers during the offseason, and will probably spend the next few weeks cycling through them to see if any of them are capable of filling the void left by Joe Nathan. Alex Wilson was just recalled from the minor leagues, and we haven't heard from names like Josh Zeid, Melvin Mercedes, Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, Omar Duran, and others yet this season. Buck Farmer is also off to a hot start in the Toledo rotation, and could potentially be moved to the bullpen as a last resort.
The only name of note on the free agent market right now is Rafael Soriano, but there are a number of red flags there. His overall 2014 numbers look good, but he had a 5.59 ERA over the last few months of the season and his fastball velocity has dropped over the past couple years. He's 35 years old, which isn't ancient for a reliever, but has received very little interest from anyone. We don't know the full story behind why Soriano hasn't signed, but it's worth noting that Scott Boras is his agent.