The Detroit Tigers were on quite a roll there for a sec, sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates and taking the opening game from the Chicago White Sox, only to drop the last two and the series against the Pale Hose. Nonetheless, the Motor City Kitties remain two games over .500 with a 9-7 record coming into Thursday’s off-day, only 1.5 games behind the American League Central-leading Minnesota Twins.
A great deal of Detroit’s success so far can be attributed to some key contributors on offense and a revamped bullpen that has been surprisingly effective this season. The biggest boost of all has come from a mercurial outfielder who finally appears to be putting things together.
Go JaCoby, Go!
It is no secret that JaCoby Jones has been en fuego so far this season, and not only has he helped carry the Tigers to a winning record but has also climbed the MLB leaderboards in several categories. As of Thursday afternoon, Jones is second in the majors in ISO at .413, sandwiched between first-place Aaron Judge and Mike Trout, and third in the league in SLG at .717, behind the two aforementioned sluggers, respectively. His 0.9 fWAR is good for 13th in the league and his wRC+ of 191 ranks ninth among major league players.
One of the hottest hitters in baseball this season has been @jacobyjones23.— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) August 13, 2020
Among qualified American Leaguers, he ranks third in slugging percentage (.717) and tied for 10th in batting average (.304). pic.twitter.com/fS2V3Bn1pT
Amidst this hot streak, Jones has earned the moniker “John Wayne” from his manager Ron Gardenhire. Yes, the first question I asked myself when I first heard this was also, “Does JaCoby even know who John Wayne is?” If he did not before, he certainly does now. After hitting an inside-the-park home run on Monday, the celeritous left fielder stared down Gardy and pointed finger guns at him in what looks to be fun meme for this season.
The veteran skipper had the following to say about Jones’ demeanor.
“He’s throwing it back at me. And I love that kind of stuff. But, you know, it’s just nice to see him out there playing. We want him playing, we just don’t want him to kill himself.”
JaCoby was held out of the starting lineup on Wednesday as he continues to nurse a sore abdominal issue and went hitless in a pinch hit appearance. With the off-day on Thursday, he should be charged up and ready to provide a spark in the upcoming weekend series with the Cleveland Indians.
Don’t go chasing metrics, Matthew Boyd
As we have seen so far this season, Tigers erstwhile ace Matthew Boyd has been struggling mightily — a slump that dates back to the second half of last season. However, Detroit’s veteran left-handed starter believes that he lost his groove during the offseason; in his words, “I stepped away from what brought me success.”
So what gives? He went “chasing metrics” — though it is not clear what exactly that entails. Boyd offered the following explanation.
“It took me out of my game. It’s not vertical break or anything like that. That’s not the issue. It’s me that I lost. I stepped away from what brought me success — staying within myself and attacking a pitch at a time.”
Matthew Boyd said he got into some bad habits before Summer Camp "chasing metrics" on his fastball.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) August 12, 2020
"The focus really shouldn't be on the metric," he said. "The focus should be on what I do that brings me success, and I got away from that."
While Boyd has still flashed moments of brilliance this summer, far too often has he made mistakes that have been severely punished, as evident in his bloated 10.24 ERA and 1.97 WHIP, though his FIP is a bit less abysmal at 6.12. He has surrendered five dingers and 22 earned runs in 19 1⁄3 innings, striking out 18 and walking eight in the process. Boyd has been worth -0.1 fWAR and has allowed at least four runs in all four of his starts in 2020.
The Tigers need to get Boyd-y goin’ if there is any hope of a playoff run in this coronavirus-shortened season. Sitting first in MLB in batting average on balls in play with a woeful .397 mark, maybe some bad luck is involved, so a regression towards a better performance is absolutely possible. Hopefully, the only chasing we will see the rest of the season will be opposing hitters swinging and missing at the lefty’s offerings.
How Fulmer got his groove back
The good news is that Michael Fulmer appears to be getting closer to his previous form in recover from Tommy John surgery. The former Rookie of the Year and All-Star brought the heat back on Monday against the White Sox, topping out at 96.1 mph with his fastball and finishing with a 94.3 mph average. His three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out two, helped the Tigers earn the 5-1 win.
Gregory Soto anchors Tigers bullpen
Cody Stavenhagen over at The Athletic writes about the emergence of Gregory Soto as a legitimate bulpen piece, the one guy in the Tigers bullpen you do not want to face. Stavenhagen discusses Soto’s path to the majors, which began at the Tigers’ Dominican Academy in San Pedro de Macoris and was witnessed by Lakeland Flying Tigers pitching coach Jorge Cordova from the start.
In regards to Soto’s most recent improvements, Stavenhagen offered the following.
The Tigers have attributed much of Soto’s newfound success to refined mechanics. Beginning this spring, he worked with pitching coach Rick Anderson to eliminate his high leg kick, one that was causing the rest of his body to fall out of sync. Soto has thrown exclusively out of the stretch dating back to the minor leagues, but he now pitches mainly with a slide step, quick to the plate with both his arm and his legs. The ball explodes out of his hand. More than once this season, he has hit 100 mph on the radar gun, with the ball dotted on the outside edge of the strike zone.
When Ron Gardenhire was asked if the lefty fireballer was for real, he responded, “Oh, I know he’s for real. When you throw 98, you’re for real. There’s no doubt about that.”
Tigers farm system ranked No. 6 by Baseball America
Baseball America released its midseason rankings on Wednesday, and the Tigers found themselves in good company near the top of the list. Thanks to a pair of No. 1 picks in Casey Mize and Spencer Torkelson sandwiched around No. 5 pick Riley Greene, along with first-rounder Alex Faedo and surprise ninth-round prospect Tarik Skubal, the Tigers are ranked sixth in the majors for their development pipeline. The publication gave its opinion on Detroit’s prospect system.
“The Tigers added a foundational hitter when they selected Spencer Torkelson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Three consecutive top-five draft picks has given the Tigers a group of potential future stars at the top of their system, although the system’s depth is still somewhat lacking.”
Daniel Norris: athletic man
‘Dat bullpen tho
Tigers bullpen stats:— Detroit Tigers Minor League Tracker (@Tiger_Lifer) August 12, 2020
Around the horn
StatCast stats are now available at FanGraphs! MLB is polling team execs on cancelling 2020 Winter Meetings, according to sources. Is Mike Trout really worth $61.5 million more — $5.125 million per year more — than Mookie Betts? MLB has decided to move the World Baseball Classic from next season to 2023. Dodgers’ Joe Kelly sounds off on Astros players’ handling of sign-stealing investigation. MLB returns to Buffalo for first time in 105 years: Exploring the city’s rich baseball history.