If you were told that the Detroit Tigers would be at .500 after 32 games into the abbreviated 2020 baseball season, within two games of the final playoff spot, you’d have taken it, right? And yet, the bigger question for Tigers’ fans is what progress has the organization made in their long and arduous rebuilding project?
The 2020 baseball season figured to be one of tryouts and trials for the Tigers, and that much has gone about as expected. While it has taken longer than most fans had the patience for, the club has finally brought up some of the players who figure to be cornerstones of the next contender in Detroit, if indeed this rebuild is to produce such a winner, with the arrivals of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Isaac Paredes in Detroit.
In a normal season, we would wait until 40 games into the campaign to make evaluations, but this is not a normal season, so we are measuring progress 32 games into the season. As far as the won- loss record is concerned, the results have to be encouraging, and surprising. Despite suffering nine consecutive losses, the team has gone on a five game winning streak, taking series victories over three playoff bound clubs including division rivals in Cleveland and sweeping the division champion Minnesota Twins.
It takes a special kind of optimism to be content with a .500 record, and an outside shot at a playoff spot which exists only because over half of the teams in the league will participate in the post season, but after three consecutive seasons where the team averaged over 100 losses, we’ll take it, while tempered with the reality that this club is still a long way from being a contender.
Here is how the Tigers rank among Major League teams in various categories. Because of the wide disparity among teams in the number of games played, we will only display percentage metrics here.
Runs per game: The Tigers’ 4.81 RPG ranks 12th among the 30 major league teams, second only to the Chicago White Sox in their division. This is up from 3.61 rpg which was dead last in 2019.
wOBA/ wRC+: The Tigers are exactly average among MLB teams with a weighted on base average of .321 and weighted runs created of 100. In 2019, the team had a wOBA of .290 and just 77 wRC+.
Avg./ OBP: Detroit ranks 11th in batting average at .252, a number which is down across mlb this season, but they rank 24th with an on base percentage of .314, thanks to a BB percentage of just 7.5 percent which is 29th, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Slg./ ISO: In the power categories, the Tigers are among the top third, ranking 10th with a slugging percentage of .434, which is up from .388 in 2019. The team ranks 12th with an Isolated power percentage of .182. This is despite the loss of one of their biggest power threats in CJ Cron.
Strikeouts: The Tigers have the highest K percentage in the major leagues at 26.8 percent. By itself, this is not the end of the world, as there are several playoff teams among the leaders in K ratio. But when combined with a lack of walks, and a 29th ranked contact percentage on swings, there is clearly an issue with plate discipline that has to be addressed going forward.
Roll out the barrels: Barrels are a new metric becoming very popular, and the Tigers are on board with the program, registering a barrel percentage of 8.1 pct, which is 10th in the major leagues. Their hard hit percentage of 42.9 percent is highest in the majors. Small samples are all we have here, but the trend is encouraging when the Tigers do put the ball in play.
Base Running: The Tigers scored 35 percent of their base runners, which ranks second in the major leagues. It helps that they have a higher percentage of extra base hits than most teams, and this metric has as much to do with hitting as it does base running, but it’s the results that matter.
In other metrics, the Tigers were successful on 10 of 12 stolen base attempts, which is above league average, but they only took an extra base on a base hit 39 percent of the time, which is below the league average of 42 percent. Victor Reyes and Niko Goodrum have accounted for all of the team’s stolen bases, with five steals apiece.
The starting rotation was supposed to be the strength of the Tigers’ roster heading into this season, and the bullpen was expected to be the biggest weakness, but that has certainly not been the case.
Runs allowed: The Tigers have allowed 5.82 runs per game, which ranks 26th in MLB. Seldom does a team rank among the top ten in this dubious category and wind up playing in October. Detroit ranks 27th in fielding independent pitching (FIP) with a 5.14 ratio, The pitching staff ranks 21st with a WHIP ratio of 1.39 and 29th with a HR/9 ratio of 1.7 home runs per nine innings.
Starting pitching: Detroit’s starting pitchers have the highest ERA in the major leagues, allowing a whopping 6.80 ERA through 32 games. They rank 29th with an FIP of 5.91 and also 29th with a HR/9 ratio of 2.08. Tigers’ starters are walking 4.01 batters per nine innings and striking out 7.81 batters per nine frames. These numbers are no better in the month of August.
The good news is that help is on the way, as several of the organization’s top prospects will fill out the rotation, starting with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal who are just getting started. Spencer Turnbull has been the ace of the staff, while Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer have faltered.
Relief pitching: The Tigers’ bullpen has been a pleasant surprise, especially considering that 2019 closer Shane Green was not replaced, and Joe Jimenez has faltered in that role with an ERA of 12.10. No effort was made to bring in relievers, as the team has sorted through the pitchers that they have in the organization.
The Tigers’ relief corps ranks 14th in MLB with an ERA of 4.39, and fifth with a WHIP of 1.20. The group has the lowest BB/9 ratio in the majors, walking just 2.44 batters per nine innings. However, they rank 28th in strikeouts at 7.81 K/9 and 18th with a HR/9 ratio of 1.30. They have saved six of nine opportunities.
With only small samples to review over just 32 games, we are left with even smaller samples in evaluating Tigers’ defensive performance due to multiple position changes and several players being tried out at various positions on the field. Overall, the team ranks 15th in both defensive runs saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone rating (UZR). Metrics such as DRS and UZR are virtually useless under the circumstances for individuals.
The rebuild is a work in progress, but there has been some progress and there is a long way to go. The lineup, rotation, and bullpen are all several players short of contending, but the Tigers have found a few good men, with a few more on the way. A playoff spot would be nice, but the real promise is still a couple years away.