Last season I visited a friend of mine in Ann Arbor. While I was there my buddy Josh and I saw all four games the Yankees played in Detroit in 2010. It was a miserable series for the Bombers. Apart from an explosion in the top of the 9th inning in the second game, and a homer from Mark Teixeira in the first game, the Yankees produced virtually no offense the whole series.
While the Yankees’ play didn’t stand out in my mind (for anything but its crappiness), many elements of the Tigers and Detroit did, including Jose Valverde‘s ridiculous antics on the pitching mound, the city of Detroit itself, Comerica Park, and, of course, the force of nature that is Miguel Cabrera. You may not want him driving your car on a Friday night, but you absolutely want him swinging the bat for your team. For these reasons I requested the 2011 Tigers’ preview. I needed to reminisce a little.
Although they manhandled the Yankees when the Bombers visited Detroit last year and featured one of the game’s best starters in Justin Verlander and one of the game’s best hitters in Miguel Cabrera, the 2010 Tigers were a mediocre team. The team went 81-81, scoring 751 runs while allowing 743, which translated to a Pythagorean of 82-80.
Here’s a closer look at the Tigers’ 2010 numbers:
The numbers show that the Tigers had a variety of weaknesses last season. The most glaring on the offensive side of the ledger was the team’s lack of power. Miguel Cabrera is a beast, of course, but of all the players who led the team in PA’s at each position in 2010, he was the only one to post an SLG above .500. Unsurprisingly he was also the only one of those players who hit more than 20 homers last season. As a whole the team was excellent at getting on base, with many above average OBP’s in the lineup, but the best offenses in the AL more often than not feature two or three 30+ homer threats. A team that doesn’t — no matter how well balanced its offensive attack — figures to leave runs on the board, runs that a homer plates but a double strands. Over the course of a full season that’s the difference between a contender’s offense and a good offense.
Although Detroit’s offense lacked power, the overall attack scored the 8th most runs in the majors in 2010. The team’s real achilles’ heel was starting pitching. Justin Verlander is a legitimate ace and Max Scherzer may be on his way to a strong big league career, but the 2010 rotation featured three sub-par starters after that. Even with the Tigers’ better-than-average bullpen in 2010, that’s a lot for any team to handle (something Yankee fans are about to find out). The end result was a team that scored an above average number or runs, but also allowed an above average number of runs, and underachieved just a tad. The silver lining is that the team has a core of young players to build around.
The Tigers’ 2011 projections are below. Once again RotoChamp was kind enough to do the heavy lifting for me in projecting the actual players who will make up the lineup. To return the favor I’m including their projection system as well as the CAIRO projection system to forecast Detroit’s 2011 performance.
The quick summary is that the Tigers project to have the same problems in 2011 that they had in 2010. Beginning first with the offense, it comes as no surprise that Miguel Cabrera projects once again to be a monster. If his head is screwed on right he’s perhaps the best hitter in the game. Even when his head is slightly askew he’s still one of the best hitters in the game.
The problem is the lack of power in the rest of the lineup. Former Yankee prospect Austin Jackson exemplifies this. Last season his SLG barely sniffed .400, no doubt with an assist from his .396 BABIP. He is projected to regress next season. Both projection systems forecast an SLG below .400, which is bad. Depending upon the projection system used above, the 2011 Tigers project to have three or four everyday players with an SLG bel0w .400, which is worse. This is why it was so important for the Tigers to add Victor Martinez. Unfortunately, his bat doesn’t appear to be enough, at least as far as the projections are concerned. While the CAIRO system’s projections tend to be pessimistic as far as player performance is concerned, the RotoChamp projections tend to be optimistic. It’s a red flag that neither of the systems presented here projects any hitter on the Tigers apart from Cabrera to have more than an even 20 home runs, a projection that is a stretch for Ryan Raburn. The facts remain that five players project to have SLGs of .420 or less in both systems. The Tigers project to strand a number of baserunners.
The Tigers also still project to have three below-average starters. Fans can set their watches to Justin Verlander, while Max Scherzer projects to follow up nicely to his 2010 campaign, but just as in 2010 the team figures to have spotty starters from there onwards. Rick Porcello‘s actual numbers are more likely to fall in line with the CAIRO projection than the more optimistic RotoChamp projection, while Brad Penny and Phil Coke (seriously, Phil Coke?) are stop-gaps at best. Once again the bullpen projects to be good but not great, and while the addition of Joaquin Benoit was a smart move, it will not be enough to shore up the lack of quality innings the Tigers project to get from the back of their rotation. The fact of the matter is that three out of every five games the Tiger starters project not to get the job done, potentially over taxing the bullpen.
The 2010 Tigers were an unbalanced team. The team was better than most at scoring runs, but those runs were plated through patience and contact, not the power that is most common among super-charged AL offenses. The pitching, meanwhile, was below-average. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer were a solid one-two punch at the front of the rotation, but the three question marks that followed them were too much for a good bullpen and offense to overcome. The team’s 81-81 record was in line with what statistical measures would project from its performance.
Unfortunately the Tigers do not project to be much better in 2011. The offense once again looks to be above average, with solid on-base skills, but while Miguel Cabrera is a perennial MVP candidate who will give the team 30+ homer seasons for some time, there is no other 30+ homer bat in the lineup, but many players who project to hit for very little power — a weakness in an American League where the elite teams currently feature lineups with at least two 30+ homer threats. The pitching, meanwhile, will continue to have question marks in the back three spots of the rotation. Rick Porcello, Brad Penny and Phil Coke are not good starters (and in the case of Coke, not starters). The projections reflect that. Even if the pitchers manage to accumulate the ERA projections above from either system, they will still be falling short in terms of the total innings a team needs to get from its starters. The Tiger bullpen is good, but not good enough to pick up that much slack from the starters. Although the Tigers remain an interesting team with two of the biggest stars in the game, the team is not yet a contender. The Twins figure to remain the beasts of the AL Central, while Detroit projects to be no more than 83 win team in 2011.
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