Recency bias is such a powerful force that I'm amazed scientists haven't yet tried to figure out how to convert into energy or fuel. The Detroit Tigers had one fantastically awful season last year, and suddenly the rest of the baseball world seems to have forgotten that the Great Tanking of 2015 was preceded by four straight AL Central Division titles. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess, but you think people would pay a bit closer attention to reality.
This bit of information just came across my desk -- I call Twitter "my desk" for some weird reason. Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nevada is now accepting wagers on the number of win totals each MLB team will have by the end of 2016. It's an "over/under" proposition, meaning that the casino sets a win total and then invites you to lose as much money as possible by betting over or under the total they set.
Here's the punchline: the Tigers' win total is set at 85, and Atlantis will pay you 87 cents on the dollar for taking the under, but they'll pay you 95 cents on the dollar for taking the over. That's a "money talks" way of saying "we're certain enough about that win total that we'll dangle a higher payout in front of you if you want to be stupid enough to bet the over."
For a team with a roster that features Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmerman, Francisco Rodriguez, and a slew of young and blossoming talent, that 85-win total is evidence that the public has lost its damned collective mind -- or maybe they're just drunk on 100 proof recency bias.
(If I lived in Reno, I would run, not walk, into that casino and put as much free cash as I had on Tigers going over 85 wins, by the way. That's just free money.)
It's not just the sports betting outlets that are underestimating the Tigers. FanGraphs' projections have the Tigers at 82 wins, finishing in second place behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. Over at our SB Nation sister site, Royals Review, Max Rieper just recently wrote:
The big question, as always, is the bullpen. Francisco Rodriguez may be on his last legs, but the Tigers did make some stealthy moves in acquiring relievers Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson. There is not much depth beyond that, however, and that could prove to be the Tigers' weakness once again.
Max is a friend of the site, and has hosted me as a guest on his podcast in the past, so I mean zero disrespect when I say that only a moron could have written this, and further, it's so blatantly idiotic that oh god he's standing right behind me isn't he? Haha! Just kidding, Max, ol' buddy! All in good fun (Please don't hit me)!
Joking aside, this quote does indicate something that I think will become more and more evident as the preseason goes on: general manager Al Avila flew so far under the radar this offseason that nobody noticed the end result, a team that might just be every bit as threatening as the 2013 version.
There is, in fact, a lot more depth in the bullpen after K-Rod, Lowe, and Justin Wilson, but it's a quiet depth. Nobody looks at Alex Wilson, for example, and says "now there's a strong, reliable option out of the pen!" Nobody thinks of Blaine Hardy as a dependable weapon for dispatching left-handed hitters. Nobody even seems to remember that Shane Greene is still on the team, and may well be a "fireman" himself, much like Drew Smyly was in 2013.
And of course, very few people have spotted the hidden value in Mike Pelfrey [Ed.: There may be a reason for that]. I've written about it at length already, so there's no need to cover that ground again, but let me make a bold prediction: Pelfrey will not only post an ERA closer to 4.00 than 5.00 in 2016, he'll probably throw a shutout somewhere along the way.
The Tigers could have been a contending team in 2015, but the injury demons rounded up the "star core" of the team and chucked them off the edge of a cliff. Not only are they going into 2016 with a clean bill of health, they're going in with an actual bullpen featuring major league pitchers who won't whiz the game down their legs as soon as they take the mound.
The lineup has a quadruple-power threat, the starting rotation is definitely a few grades above "average" (even the mighty Royals can't say that), the defense is solid, and the bullpen looks a million times better than it ever has. Remember that this is a team which, even with a broken leg and one arm tied behind its back, still went 9-10 against the Royals last year -- the year before, it was 13-6.
The rest of the baseball world might be blinded by recency bias right now, and Vegas casinos might be setting the bar at 85 wins, but if you've been paying attention to all the clues along the way, then you know something most people don't: the Tigers are the true favorites to win the division, and it should surprise no one if they're the last team standing in October.