It has been a month since the earliest ever Opening Day on March 29, and the Detroit Tigers have played close to a month’s worth of games. Now that the team is 15 percent through the season, a few trends are beginning to shine through on both sides of the ball. Here are five key trends from the first month of Tigers baseball.
The Miguel Cabrera Renaissance
Key Trend: Miguel Cabrera has his lowest strikeout percentage (15.7%) and highest walk percentage (13.7%) since his stellar, injury-shortened 2015 season.
Cabrera’s decline in power in 2017 was well-documented. As of now, he is on pace to hit 18 home runs in 600 plate appearances this season, which would be fewer home runs per plate appearances than he had last year. Despite this, Cabrera is on pace to finish with a fWAR much closer to his 2015 (4.6) and 2016 (4.7) marks than his poor 2017 showing (-0.2).
Thanks to a more patient approach at the plate, Cabrera’s on-base percentage is back in the .400s, and his 155 wRC+ is tied with Carlos Correa for 22nd best in all of baseball. Cabrera is close to five years removed from his peak seasons, but thanks to a sharp increase in walks, a dip in strikeouts, and a little luck (his .377 BABIP is a tad above his career .345 mark), he is experiencing a David Ortiz-like renaissance (as was foretold).
Matthew Boyd’s misleading ERA
Key Trend: Matthew Boyd has an opponent BABIP of .194 and a sky-high left-on-base percentage (85.9%), and therefore has a FIP two runs higher than his ERA (4.70 FIP, 2.74 ERA).
There was some early buzz over Boyd’s ERA at the start of this season, but his peripherals do not reflect this stellar performance. Prior to his April 25 start in which he surrendered four earned runs, three walks, and seven hits in 3 2⁄3 innings, Boyd had a sparkling 1.40 ERA through three starts. While his 2.74 ERA through four starts is still impressive, his left-on-base percentage (LOB%) and opponent batting average on balls in play (BABIP) are due to regress. Boyd is walking fewer batters (2.74 per nine innings) than he did in 2017 (3.53), and his strikeouts-per-nine are down, primarily due to his first start in which he only struck out one batter.
That said, Boyd is due for regression despite a strong early showing. While he has flashed No. 2 or No. 3 starter potential in recent months (a near no-hitter, anyone?), Boyd needs to boost his strikeout totals and limit home runs if he wants to be known as an upper-end starter.
The new Leonys Martin
Key Trend: Leonys Martin is posting the highest on-base percentage (.337) and slugging percentage (.484) of his career, all while posting a BABIP identical to his career average (.306).
For the first time in his career, Martin is an above-average hitter. He currently is posting a 121 wRC+, meaning that he is creating 25 percent more runs than league average hitters with his current production. This is not factoring in his defense, either. Using FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF) statistic, Martin has been a top-five defensive center fielder, trailing only Bradley Zimmer, A.J. Pollock, Lewis Brinson, and Mike Trout with an impressive early season 1.3 runs above average. Though he will likely be dealt at the deadline if this keeps up, it will be very exciting to watch Martin finally play up to his potential throughout the summer in a Tigers uniform.
The abysmal Alex Wilson
Key Trend: Alex Wilson has an opponent BABIP of .200 and is allowing 2.63 home runs per nine, more than double the team rate of 1.16. His -0.5 fWAR is tied for third worst in all of baseball and is the worst on the Tigers.
Wilson, Daniel Norris, and Joe Jimenez have pitched more innings out of the Tigers bullpen in April than any other pitchers. Unfortunately, while Jimenez has a 2.80 FIP and Norris looked good until his last start, Wilson has a FIP of 6.69, which is worst on the team. He is also allowing a high volume of runs, all while giving up a low opponent average (.220). He is allowing an abysmal 2.63 home runs per nine innings, three of which have been game-winning home runs (including one on Thursday). Wilson has pitched in the majors for five years, in large part thanks to above-average home run prevention — he has given up 0.79 home runs per nine in his entire career.
Wilson has already cost the Tigers — who are three games back of the Cleveland Indians — — three games in April. If he keeps the ball in the park moving forward, however, he can still be an asset.
Jeimer Candelario is a stud
Key Trend: A young star in the making, 24-year-old Jeimer Candelario has continued to walk while adding power. His .348 on-base percentage is very close to the .359 mark he flashed in 2017, but his slugging percentage has jumped from .425 in 2017 to .510.
The new Jeimer Candelario is an ideal player for Comerica Park. In 112 plate appearances, Candelario has 13 extra-base hits, and he continues to keep a walk percentage around nine percent. Only Miguel Cabrera (13.7 percent) and Niko Goodrum (10.4 percent in 48 plate appearances) are walking at a higher rate, and nobody on the team has more extra-base hits. Better yet, the Tigers have him under team control until 2024. Candelario is a key player in the team’s future, and is already performing better than advertised in 2018.
The season is young and many things can change between now and the end of the season. There are signs of trouble with the team’s pitching, after all. That said, the bats are outplaying their projections (for the most part). Should Cabrera, Candelario, and Martin stay healthy, the top third of the Tigers lineup is a formidable trio (Nicholas Castellanos and James McCann aren’t too bad, either).
The Tigers have been a pleasant surprise thus far this year, and this level of performance may be sustainable after all. Not bad for the “most unwatchable team in baseball.”