The Detroit Tigers have not been fun to watch over the past couple weeks. They have managed two series wins over playoff contenders, but sweeps at the hands of the Seattle Mariners (another AL playoff contender) and the Kansas City Royals have dropped them to a 63-57 record, six games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. The Tigers are also still looking up at the Boston Red Sox, but the Baltimore Orioles currently hold the second AL Wild Card spot, 3 1⁄2 games ahead of Detroit.
Analyzing what has gone wrong for this team is equal parts depressing and futile. To answer one question succinctly, injuries have crippled the Tigers roster, and are a large reason why they have cooled off over the past 10 days. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are still around, but losing your starting shortstop, third baseman, center fielder, and two starting pitchers to the disabled list — not to mention whatever Justin Upton is going through — is a tough way to live as a baseball club.
Instead, I want to step back and look at a couple decisions on the Tigers’ horizon. After the protest of
many a few readers, the mailbag is back! You can send your questions in on Twitter, on Facebook, or in this handy Fanpost thread.
Will Brad at any point bring Greene back into the rotation, even if it is not this year?
If the Tigers were going to bring Shane Greene back into the rotation, it would have happened by now. The All-Star break would have been an ideal time, both for obvious reasons and because Anibal Sanchez was pitching so poorly heading into the break. Instead, the Tigers decided to roll with Sanchez (and Boyd, and eventually Norris) while keeping Greene in the bullpen.
Wednesday’s game aside, the move has worked in the Tigers’ favor. He has a 3.60 ERA and 2.78 FIP in 30 innings as a reliever this year, and has generally helped lock down the late innings in a way we haven’t seen the Tigers do over the last decade. The Tigers are 20-13 in one-run games and out-performing their pythagorean expected win-loss record by two games, and part of that credit goes to the work that Greene, Justin Wilson, and Francisco Rodriguez have done over the larger part of the season.
Unfortunately, I think the Tigers will see this success and decide to keep Greene in the bullpen as a result. Greene has told the press that he doesn’t mind coming out of the ‘pen, but the Tigers could still benefit from having someone with his arsenal in the rotation. His command isn’t great, but if he figures out a way to cut his walk totals — citing his career numbers as a starter is a bit useless but he only has a 2.28 strikeout-to-walk ratio — he could be much more valuable in 180 innings than in 60. As much as we have marveled at his work in high leverage situations, he has only been worth 1.0 fWAR this year, a total he could easily surpass as a starter.
I think we are going to see a very quiet offseason* from the Tigers this winter. Most of the roster is locked up through the 2017 season, and as we have seen, this team is capable of competing in a wide-open American League. Their chances at making the playoffs in 2016 are far from kaput, but they have taken quite the nosedive in the past week. I would put most of the blame on injuries, though, and think that running the same roster out next season is preferable to blowing it up and starting all over.
There will be a few things that need to be addressed. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be a free agent, and it’s hard to see the Tigers opening up the checkbook for him when they seem so enamored with James McCann as their starter. There isn’t a surefire backup catcher in the system right now — Grayson Greiner and John Hicks are having solid seasons down in the minors, for what it’s worth — but Salty has likely priced himself out of the Tigers’ range.
The Tigers would also do well to address their starting pitching. Namely, I wouldn’t mind seeing them look to move one of Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey. Michael Fulmer has emerged as a front-line starter and will not be on an innings count next year. Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris are having solid years as well, though they could stand to fight over a fifth starter spot in spring training. Shane Greene could be in the mix as well, but I’m skeptical that the Tigers will move him back to the rotation.
If the last few seasons have taught us anything, it’s that starting pitching depth is crucial to staying in the playoff hunt. The Tigers have used eight different starters this year, and as many as 12 in previous seasons. There aren’t many young starters in the upper reaches of the Tigers farm system poised to move into the sixth/seventh/eighth starter role, so trading Sanchez or Pelfrey comes with some inherent risk. However, if the Tigers were to get another pitcher back in return, it would given them some salary relief without sacrificing much depth. The free agent starting pitcher market is barren, so the Tigers could find themselves in a seller’s market if Sanchez or Pelfrey finish the year strong.
*Famous last words, right?
What on-screen graphics should replace the standard metrics TV networks show for position players (AVG, HR, RBI) and pitchers (W/L, ERA)?
I don’t mind some of the traditional stats when used on a TV broadcast. For one, the stats are shown on screen for maybe five seconds, so there is not a lot of time to digest what is being displayed. Adding too many advanced stats would be overkill, and statistics like batting average and home runs are still useful tools in an in-game situation. Pitcher win-loss records can go away, but ERA-FIP comparisons are nice, and WHIP is another basic stat that gets the point across in a few seconds.
There is always room for improvement, though. For hitters, I would not mind seeing something like OPS+ or wRC+ on screen. We have already seen broadcasts use on-base percentage and OPS with greater frequency, and those advanced stats (OPS+ and wRC+) are easily explained with a 10-word definition. Weighted on-base average or other more advanced numbers would take more time to present, which could ultimately take away from the broadcast. As funny as it would be to hear Rod Allen explain a stat like RE24, I think it is best saved for rare occasions.
Another natural progression would be to start citing Statcast numbers with greater frequency. We hear about the exit velocity of home runs all the time, but relating those numbers to player or league averages may be more helpful for fans trying to determine what those numbers mean. I imagine Nick Castellanos’ breakout could be explained with some of these stats, and it takes little more than “This is how hard he hits the ball” to define what these stats are telling us.
Who's more to blame for the Alex Gordon home run? Justin Wilson or @BYBRob?— Ben Kouchnerkavich (@bkouchnerkavich) August 18, 2016
Ugh. My bad.