Dan Szymborski over at FanGraphs has released his 2020 ZiPS predictions for the Detroit Tigers, and what he had to share was... as underwhelming as one might expect. His opening paragraph says it all.
The Detroit Tigers will continue to struggle to score runs. I don’t mean in the “occasionally getting shut out by the Orioles” sense, but more like when you’re watching Tigers games, you should channel flip when they’re at the plate rather than during the commercials. What makes this worse isn’t that they’re just awful offensively, but that there’s really almost no source of potential upside outside of Jeimer Candelario.
That is certainly not a ringing endorsement for the team heading into the season. However, there are some noticeable improvements over last year’s near-historically futile squad that lost a demoralizing 114 games.
The biggest upgrades over last year’s Tigers roster are the respective acquisitions of C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, who provide value both on offense and defense, and also lead Tigers position players in projected value with 1.6 fWAR apiece. No other Tigers fielder projects above one win. Miguel Cabrera is expected to continue to be a shell of his former greatness, providing negative value at the designated hitter position, especially now that he cannot hit fastballs anymore.
Szymborski also singles out JaCoby Jones — who either sinks or swims based on his glove — for his precipitous decrease in defensive value last season. Jones holds the highest predicted value in the outfield with 0.6 fWAR, and as the leader of that motley crew it is incumbent upon him to bounce back and provide a cornerstone in Comerica Park’s vast grasslands.
On the pitching side, things look a bit more encouraging. Matthew Boyd is expected to anchor the rotation with a 3.1 fWAR, presumably continuing his upward progress. He is followed by Daniel Norris and Spencer Turnbull who are both projected to earn 2.0 fWAR each. Newcomer Ivan Nova could be good for 1.3 fWAR, which would give the Tigers a serviceable top four in their rotation. Jordan Zimmermann looks to finish off his free agent contract with a whimper, with only 0.3 fWAR projected for him, while Michael Fulmer is expected to return from Tommy John surgery and provide some value later on in the season to the tune of 0.7 fWAR.
Then there is the bullpen, which is projected to provide an aggregate value of 1.0 fWAR. Looking at the list of pitchers under consideration for relief roles, this number definitely passes the eye test. One surprising note, however, is that Joe Jimenez, despite his recent falters is expected to be above league average — the only member of the Tigers bullpen to earn that distinction.
Finally, there are the prospect predictions. Szymborski explains the pitching prospect breakdown and the numbers for the Tigers’ triumvirate.
When counting pitchers with 10 projected WAR remaining in their careers, ZiPS sees the Tigers as having nine of them. The 2020 projections aren’t complete yet, but this would have ranked them fourth among the 2019 teams. Matt Manning and Casey Mize project to have bright futures, both with significant ace-type upside, and while ZiPS isn’t quite as optimistic about his ceiling, the computer also thinks Tarik Skubal has a 60% chance to have multiple two-WAR seasons in the majors.
However, Szymborski notes that just “sit(ting) on their pitching prospects to build a winner” is not a reasonable strategy for the franchise. Isaac Paredes is the only positional prospect projected to produce significant value in the majors, with a 41.4 percent chance of reaching the 20 fWAR plateau, according to ZiPS. He is the only Tigers position player above the the two percent mark; Kody Clemens and Daz Cameron trail him with values of 1.2 and 0.9 percent, respectively.
The good news overall is that there should be some improvement in the team from last year. The bad news? That improvement is only expected to be marginal, and their prospect pool may not be as productive as the the rebuild requires. Hopefully the boys in the Olde English D can not only live up to their projections, but also provide the fans with an entertaining brand of baseball in 2020 and beyond.