There are a lot of questions surrounding the Detroit Tigers these days, though the fire and brimstone the Tigers fanbase was spewing last week has died down now that the club has won three of their past four games. An eight-game losing streak will make anyone stir-crazy, but with everyone on edge following all of the comparisons to the Philadelphia Phillies over the past couple years -- and this offseason, in particular -- the sluggish start to the 2015 season has been as unwelcome as any in recent memory.
The Tigers have fallen victim to an odd scheduling quirk this week, with off days on either side of a short two-game series with the Chicago Cubs. One off day is torture enough for fans as fervent as us, so a second helping has us kicking and scratching for anything baseball-related. That said, it's time for another Tigers mailbag!
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@HookSlideBYB @blessyouboys once verlander returns, what should @tigers do? think Greene to Toledo and Ryan gets regular start.— Dave S (@daves_32) June 11, 2015
I agree with this assessment, and I have a feeling that the Tigers do too. The Tigers dodged questions about Greene after his last start, which isn't noteworthy given how close president and general manager Dave Dombrowski plays his cards to his vest. However, the decision to call up lefthanded reliever Ian Krol is noteworthy. The Tigers have rarely carried three lefty relievers in the past, let alone four. While the Cleveland Indians do struggle considerably against left-handed pitching, my guess is that this was a move to set the stage for Ryan to move to the rotation, replacing Greene.
There have been whispers that the Tigers should call up Buck Farmer to replace Greene, but I'm firmly in Ryan's camp at the moment. He has pitched well in his brief time in the major leagues and has a deceptive delivery that is tough to pick up the first time he faces a new team. Plus, Farmer is still only in his second full season of professional ball. He was pitching at Single-A West Michigan at this time last year, and still has kinks he needs to sort out. I think that Farmer is the odds-on favorite to replace Alfredo Simon in the rotation next year, but I would rather see a combination of Kyle Ryan and Kyle Lobstein (once he returns from the disabled list) replace Greene for the time being.
@BYBRob Great mailbag question: why are the pitching staff's strikeouts down so much, especially with guys who normally get lots of them?— Joel-luc Picard (@Spockmaster) June 1, 2015
In order to answer this question, I'm going to focus strictly on the starting rotation. While this makes the answer a bit simpler -- "Look who they lost!" -- relievers are too volatile and haven't pitched enough innings for any rate statistics to stabilize yet.
Last season, the Tigers' starting rotation ranked ninth in baseball with a 20.4 strikeout rate. They had 11 pitchers make starts for them, with four regular starters (Max Scherzer, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Drew Smyly) at or above the league average mark of 19.4 percent. This season, the Tigers are 21st, at 17.6 percent. The league average has dropped slightly, to 19.2 percent, but the Tigers are considerably lower than in 2014. A big reason for this is the loss of Scherzer (and addition of Alfredo Simon), but there is a little more to it than that.
David Price struck out 26.9 percent of the batters he faced in 2014, including 25.6 percent of the hitters he faced in a Tigers uniform. This season, Price's strikeout rate has dipped to 21.5 percent. This is his lowest rate since 2009, and a sharp step back from the steady improvements he was making from year to year. However, part of this is the competition he has faced. Price has three or fewer strikeouts in four starts this season. One of those starts was the snowglobe extravaganza against the New York Yankees, and two others came against the Kansas City Royals, by far the least strikeout-prone team in baseball. He has 41 whiffs in his last 37 innings, including three starts with nine or more strikeouts.
@blessyouboys look 30 days into the future. What will the #Tigers headlines be then?— Pete June (@pjune61) June 4, 2015
Overall, I don't think that the Tigers' fortunes will have changed much by the All-Star break. Justin Verlander's return should provide a spark, but they need him to produce in order to close the gap on Kansas City and Minnesota. He's still a question mark for now, and one of the few that will be answered in 30 days time. The Shane Greene conundrum will have long been decided as well -- my gut still says he goes down to Toledo this weekend -- and we may be proclaiming his triumphant return by this time in July. Minnesota may have fallen back to the pack by then, but we've been predicting that for the last month already.
The key for the Tigers is Victor Martinez. There is still no timetable for his return, though he has returned to the clubhouse and is working through baseball drills. If the Tigers can get him back into the fold sometime in the next month, he could provide a huge lift to the offense. We won't see the 2014 edition of Victor ever again, but even a diluted version of the Victor Martinez the Tigers had in 2011 would be a massive improvement over the production they have gotten from the designated hitter spot already this season.
@blessyouboys Will the tigers make another deadline move this year? Where would they improve, 3B, CF, SP, elsewhere?— TTI (@TigerTradeIdeas) June 4, 2015
There are still several questions to answer (most of them above) before the Tigers decide on who or what to pursue on the trade market at the deadline. There are more buyers than ever before, as only four teams in all of baseball sit more than 5 1/2 games out of the second wild card slot. Because of this, we could be in for one of the duller trade deadlines in recent years, barring major changes in the standings over the next 30 days.
I think that both starting pitching and a bat would be reasonable acquisitions for the Tigers to pursue at the deadline, particularly given the expiring contracts currently sitting in the outfield and starting rotation. Yoenis Cespedes, Rajai Davis, David Price, and Alfredo Simon will all be free agents after the season, and Dave Dombrowski has not been shy about finding replacements during the season in the past.
If the Tigers do make a bigger move, my guess is it will be to bolster a bullpen that is not as good as its May ERA suggested.