While the Detroit Tigers were somewhat feisty out of the gate in 2018, they ultimately were who we thought they were: a mediocre team destined for another low finish — and, subsequently, a high draft pick in 2019.
The actual story of the 2018 Tigers is a little more interesting with that, but we’ll delve into what made this team tick (or, more often, did not) later on. Instead, let’s talk about what we got wrong. We knew this team would be bad, but there were some surprises along the way, both good and bad.
This week’s question: What did you get wrong about the 2018 Tigers?
Ashley: I thought the Tigers would have at least 72 wins this season because I believed them to be a fundamentally sound young team with decent pitching quality. I was wrong. While there were some glimmers of quality, ultimately the most impressive thing about this season is that there were two teams in the AL Central worse than the Tigers. I think we saw signs of some good things to come — I was pleasantly surprised by Niko Goodrum — but I think I’ve learned to temper my expectations for this rebuild.
Jeff: I was wrong about James McCann becoming a breakout player. No, I did not think he would become one of the best catchers in the league, nor did I think he would become a Gold Glover who suddenly learned how to frame pitches. But I did think he would build upon what he did last year and improve offensively. In 2017, McCann had a career best 13 home runs and a 95 wRC+, and was entering 2018 at the age where most hitters typically have their best offensive year. In the second half of 2017, McCann hit .291/.345/.414 and I did not think it was unreasonable for that to carry over in 2018 and have him put up an above average wRC+. We all know about McCann’s struggles against right-handed pitchers, but during the second half of last year, McCann hit .277/.327/.405 against them. It looked like we were seeing some adjustments being made. However in 2018, McCann hit his typical .176/.229/.284 versus same-handed pitchers but without his usual mashing versus left-handed pitchers (.234/.279/.323). So what we got was McCann’s worst year so far in the majors.
Kenon: I was wrong that Shane Greene and Jose Iglesias would be valuable trade pieces at the deadline. Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano were always crapshoots, but I thought for sure Greene would command some attention. Even by late June and early July, I thought Iglesias had played well enough to warrant some looks. I was wrong.
Chris: I was wrong about the Tigers managing 72 wins because of their weaker division. While the division was weaker, the Tigers still didn’t play necessarily well against the teams they should have been able to handle, like the Twins and, particularly, the Royals. The Tigers were able to at least handle the White Sox at an over .500 clip, but there was no reason to drop 11 of 19 to a Kansas City team that was as torn down as they were.
Patrick: I completely underestimated the crop of lower level free agents that the Tigers signed before the season. Mike Fiers turned out to be the Tigers’ best starting pitcher until he was traded, and well worth his $6 million salary. Leonys Martin was another bargain at $1.4 million, and one of the only two-way position players on the team. Niko Goodrum played for minimum wage and filled in as a starter and a valuable utility piece, even though his defense leaves much to be desired.
Rob: I was also wrong about Fiers and Martin, though I imagine a lot of people were. However, I was also wrong about many of the Tigers’ minor league signings. I praised their approach at the time, signing players who put up excellent numbers (strikeout rates, in particular) in the minor leagues in 2017. While I wasn’t expecting to dig up an ace, I hoped that someone would settle in and become a key contributor moving forward. The Ryan Carpenters and Mark Montgomerys of the world looked great in statistical projections, but that did not translate to on-field production. Now, it’s worth wondering whether Carpenter will return in 2019.
Brandon: There were two things where I was way off the mark. First was my expectation that Michael Fulmer would take a step forward with his breaking ball and move closer to the potential we saw in 2016. Sadly, he actually went the other way a bit. The second is that I thought Nicholas Castellanos would be at least acceptable in righ field. That did not work out. While I saw some signs of improvement in the second half, it does look likely that he will never be any better than well below average. The physical tools to play a decent right field seem to be there — he’s not slow and makes the routine plays — but his ability to read and react to the ball of the bat, and to adjust on the run, seem to leave him destined to be a DH.
frisbeepilot: I greatly overestimated the offense. Naturally, Miguel Cabrera going down for the season had a lot to do with it, but there were players I truly expected to produce more (perhaps foolishly): Jeimer Candelario, Victor Martinez, James McCann and JaCoby Jones, to name a few. Granted, I wasn’t looking for any of them to have a monster season or anything, but I was hoping for them to be at least, y’know, “not an embarassment.” On the other hand, Niko Goodrum was better at the plate than I expected, so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.
Ron: I was wrong about Ron Gardenhire. I thoroughly enjoyed his clubhouse and dugout antics but I wrongly assumed that would come at a cost of having a very old school manager who made prototypical decisions that have frustrated fans since the birth of advance statistics and analytics. He proved me wrong, as he used his analytics team far more than I think Brad Ausmus ever did. When Jeimer Candelario had a high on-base percentage, Gardenhire put him at the leadoff spot, and Candelario hit a couple of leadoff home runs as a result. When Niko Goodrum was tearing the cover off the ball, he was put in the heart of the lineup. Gardenhire also seemed quite shrewd with the pitching staff, not leaving starters in too long, and putting guys like Jimenez and Greene in when the game was close. All in all, Gardenhire settled in far better than expected and showed us that he can adapt to the current times and set the Tigers up as competitively as possible.
Jay: I thought the story of Mike Fiers’ season would be the living nightmare we lived with Francisco Liriano. Fiers may have been on a winning club in 2017, but he was far from a major contributor. Liriano wasn’t dazzling either, but he netted a solid prospect in return for his postseason services. As it turned out, though, Liriano was no more than dead weight that the Tigers were unwilling to cut loose when it became clear he was unwanted by other teams. Fiers, on the other hand, provided a surprising number of quality innings and commanded a potential back-end starter and middle reliever in return when he was dealt to the A’s in August. That’s no king’s ransom, but it certainly enough to make me wrong!