Detroit Tigers Off-Season: How and Why the Bench Must be Improved

Bench

While the bullpen is, and will continue to be the biggest blemish on the Tigers’ roster, the bench isn’t spectacular either. More depth and quality will be needed in late-inning situations. Yes, the Tigers lineup is fantastic, but sometimes the bottom half of the lineup pales in comparison to the top half. And, as such is much easier to retire. This was brought into focus in the ninth inning of the second and third games of the ALDS against Baltimore as the bottom half wasn’t able to carry out or continue rallies with the game on the line. The Tigers need better hitters off the bench. Whether they arrive via waiver wire, the trade market, free agency, or what have you, help is needed. Dave Dombrowski has to be particularly active in fixing this during the offseason to improve the team’s chances for next year.

Dombrowski has become adept at plucking hitters out of relative obscurity and then watching them become contributing members on the team. He found Quintin Berry, who ended up being a godsend thanks to his added burst of speed into a slow lineup. Swiss army knife/utility specialist Don Kelly was another find. Matt Tuiasosopo was yet another find who provided Jim Leyland with a power hitting alternative off the bench in the legendary skipper’s final season. However, the greatest find may be that of JD Martinez. The former Astro was picked up by Detroit and, after fixing some mechanics with his swing, turned into a legitimate, middle of the order bat.

The Tigers need more production off the bench. Dombrowski isn’t going to find a JD Martinez in every transaction, but he should be actively looking for bench bats.

Yes, the Tigers’ starting lineup is fantastic, but their bench is comparatively futile. With the exception of Kelly, who has a knack for showing up in playoff games, there isn’t much to scare opposing managers or pitchers. Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera is light-hitting at best and is known more for his speed than anything. Andrew Romine and Eugenio Suarez manned shortstop for Brad Ausmus in 2014. With defensive wizard Jose Iglesias returning from injury next season, and neither shortstop’s play screaming “KEEP ME!” Detroit could look for a better hitting infielder. Another middle infielder, Hernan Perez shows the potential to be a solid two-way player, but if he wasn’t ready to play full time in the big leagues, or if he was unable to unseat Romine or Suarez, he certainly won’t surpass Iglesias next season.

Dombrowski needs to give Ausmus more pop off the bench. Catcher is an area where this could be achieved. Bryan Holaday hit .231 this season and the team might seek an upgrade to backup Alex Avila.

Avila is in a different situation. The Tigers’ starting catcher, who suffered yet another concussion during the season ending loss to Baltimore, should be moved into a backup role, or at least a platoon. This would not only minimize the inexplicably severe beating the he takes and preserve his health, but also allow Detroit to find an offensive upgrade. Avila grades out as a good defensive backstop, but hasn’t been able to replicate his offensive output of 2011 when he drove in 82 runs, garnered MVP votes and earned Silver Slugger and All Star honors.

Acquiring a new catcher to partner with Avila would be prudent. The job may go to James McCann. The Tigers’ top catching prospect is a defensive-minded backstop who also hit .295 in AAA. He’s no Victor Martinez offensively, but the .295 line is an encouraging sign from a player thought to reach the Majors because of his defense.

If catching reinforcements are looked for externally, Russell Martin or Evan Gattis would be ideal fits. Martin, one of the best at his position in the game, grades out favorably defensively and provides pop (47 home runs over the last three years) and the ability to hit for average (he hit .290 this past season). Detroit may lose yet another first round draft pick if they sign Martin, but if the former Dodger is the missing piece in terms of winning the World Series, then there should be no hesitation.

Gattis’ calling card, meanwhile, is his bat. The Braves’ slugger hit 22 home runs in only 108 games for Atlanta. Pairing him with the comparatively defensively superior Avila would be perfect. While Gattis’ bat can provide extreme power, his defense isn’t anything special. Platooning him with Avila would make his defensive deficiencies less of a sore thumb. Plus, Gattis has shown that he can be productive without playing every day. This partnership would also save Avila some physical punishment behind the plate. Gattis won’t come cheap in terms of what the Tigers will have to give up to acquire him, but the second year player isn’t arbitration eligible until 2016 at the earliest and won’t hit free agency until 2019. He made a little over $520,000 last year. This is exactly the kind of player a team looking to save money like Detroit needs—an extremely productive hitter who can play a large role without costing much. He also has played in left field for Atlanta. He’s not Gold Glove worthy playing there, but he does have the experience. Something that would come in handy if Brad Ausmus needed to wedge in an extra bat in a must-win playoff game.

Lastly, the Tigers could, at the very least, use some depth in the outfield. Rajai Davis can get by defensively in center field, so an alignment of JD Martinez, Davis and Torii Hunter (if he returns) in the outfield wouldn’t be bad. In fact, it may win them the division again, but it probably won’t deliver a World Series. Signing an impact center fielder may be out of the question. Colby Rasmus is the most enticing option on the market, but the former Blue Jay may be more appealing, and better suited, to more of a rebuilding team like the Cubs or Astros than Detroit. Speaking of the Astros, Houston’s centerfielder, Dexter Fowler, would present a quality target. It may take a lot to pry him away from the Lone Star state, but the former Colorado player would mesh perfectly in Motown with his mix of speed and pop. Other potentially available center fielders such as Desmond Jennings, Denard Span or Peter Bourjos would all be attainable as well as being logical fits in the Tigers’ lineup.

Bringing in a new, starting caliber center fielder would be advantageous in numerous ways for Detroit. First, it would fix any issues defensively at the position. As much as Rajai Davis fits the profile of an old-school center fielder in terms of speed, he’s predominantly a corner outfielder. Having a center fielder who is more accustomed to playing the position defensively would provide an upgrade. Pushing Davis to the bench or into a role where he would potentially spell the aging Torii Hunter would greatly improve the pinch-hitting options. Throw in a healthy Andy Dirks, a couple of scrap-heap/waiver wire pickups and more polished versions of Stephen Moya and Tyler Collins and the Tigers all of a sudden have a plethora of outfielders who could contribute. Injuries and slumps are about as common as the changing of the seasons, so having too many options is a good problem to have.

The Tigers’ offense has long been deemed one of the best in baseball—maybe the best. But over that span the team hasn’t had the most fearsome bench. The bullpen will need some help too, but changing the bench could help make the difference in finally winning a World Series.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: JD Martinez and Detroit’s Experience With Out-of-Nowhere Hitters

Dating back to the “Great Chris Shelton Hot Streak” of 2005, the Detroit Tigers have grown accustomed to hitters coming out of the woodwork (relatively speaking) and making an impact.

Take Shelton for example, he hit a robust .345 in the first half of the season in 2005. Over that span is OPS was .970. Then came the second half were he regressed to a still-respectable .279 batting average and .826 OPS.

Shelton got off to another solid start in 2006 when he hit .282 in the first half, coupled with an .857 OPS. For a time, it seemed that he would continue a moderately high level of play. But once again, the second half struck. Shelton’s batting average regressed to .236. His slugging percentage dropped from .508 in the first half to .292 in the second. His OPS also dipped, going from .857 to .595. That and a .231 batting average at home contributed to him being off the team. He found his next taste of big league action in Texas during the 2008 season were he hit .216. A number that portrayed him more accurately as a hitter than the .345 clip did.

It would seem that the Tigers had another Shelton type on their hands when rookie Brennan Boesch burst onto the scene in 2010 with a nearly identical, Shelton-esque .342 batting average and .990 OPS in the first half. Unlike Shelton, Boesch numbers tanked dropped like a lead weight. His second half batting average was a paltry .163 and his OBP was more than halved, going from .990 to .458. From everything Boesch did in the second half, it seemed like the Tigers had another Chris Shelton on their hands—however, that would change as the rookie posted a solid sophomore season.

The fifth place finisher in the 2010 Rookie of the Year voting posted a solid .283 batting average and a .799 OPS. In addition, his first and second half numbers weren’t separated by a continent sized chasm— .289 was Boesch’s batting average in the first half, while the second half brought a .276 line.

It took longer than Shelton, but Boesch eventually succumbed, his batting average in 2012 was .240. His OBP was .659. A full .140 points lower than 2011’s. He wasn’t with the team by the start of the next season.

As it is right now, Detroit has found a third hitter who has come out of nowhere, JD Martinez. This time, they’re hoping the story plays out a little differently.

Martinez’ first half numbers are very similar to both Shelton and Boesch. He hit .346 in the first part of the season with a 1.035 OPS. In addition to those gaudy numbers, Martinez has added a presence that Detroit desperately needed in the middle of the lineup. In most cases, Brad Ausmus will deploy some combination of Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the first four spots in the lineup. Outside of those five the team’s hitters aren’t nearly as potent. Or at least that was the case heading into the season. JD Martinez’ arrival has added much needed power to the teeth of the lineup—power that also extends the lineup and gives it more depth.

His numbers haven’t tanked as badly as Boesch’s did, but Martinez splits are significantly different. He’s hitting .261 in the second half with a .723 OPS. However, there is reason to believe that he’s turning things around mid-decline. Over the last 14 days, the former Astro owns .327 batting average and a .836 OPS. Martinez is clearly turning it around, and that can only be good news for the Tigers.

Tigers’ hitters to come out of nowhere on hot streaks have had their faults. Shelton struggled to hit at home (in addition to his decline) and Boesch couldn’t sustain success after pitchers started throwing more off-speed offerings and less of the steady diet of fastballs that he had been feasting on. Martinez however, hits at home (.318 batting average) and looks to be sustaining his success. If the numbers of the last few weeks tell us anything, it is that JD Martinez is here to stay in Detroit.

 

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: The Importance of Victor Martinez

As the Detroit Tigers claw their way back into the playoff picture, one player remains as important, and consistent as ever—Victor Martinez.

The man referred to as V-Mart is turning in his best season as a pro. Not only is passing previous career highs, his 26 home runs are one more than previous best and his 22 intentional walks are 10 more than he’s ever had in a season, but at times he is carrying a Tiger offense that has sputtered occasionally. With Miguel Cabrera mired in the midst of a down year (by his own high standards) and Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter and JD Martinez struggling at times, V-Mart has been the constant presence in Detroit’s lineup.

Miguel Cabrera’s “protector” in the lineup has always been a vital position in Detroit—or in other words, a batter to hit behind Cabrera that will keep pitchers honest so they can’t simply intentionally walk the MVP and deal with a much lesser hitter.

There’ve been all kinds of hitters protecting Cabrera since the former Marlin arrived in Detroit. Ranging from Carlos Guillen to Brennan Boesch to Prince Fielder, there was certainly diversity in terms of hitter types. However, Victor Martinez has been the best of the group. It may have been a forgone conclusion before, but now it should be set in stone.

Martinez is a complete hitter. He used to catch on a full time basis before becoming a designated hitter. He’ll get the odd start at first base when Miguel Cabrera gets a day off from the field, but for the most part V-Mart is a DH. That fact may prohibit him from gaining serious traction in an MVP race, but he certainly deserves to be part of the conversation.

Once thought of as a hitter more acclimated to contact than power, Martinez has brought it in the slugging department. His 26 home runs are the most he’s ever had. His previous high was 25 and it took him 27 more games to accomplish it. And it’s not just the home runs; the former Indian’s slugging percentage is half a point higher than it’s ever been. At .555, his slugging percentage ranks fifth in the Major Leagues. Notable hitters with a lower number include David Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Paul Goldschmidt and all-worldly Miguel Cabrera.

Martinez hasn’t fallen off in terms of hitting for contact either. A quick glance at MLB’s statistical leaderboard finds the Tigers’ DH in the top 10 in batting average (second), on base percentage (sixth), OPS (third), total bases (seventh) and runs created (tied for fifth). He also is tied for tenth in the AL in hits.

You could list stats proving Victor Martinez’ worth as an elite hitter until your blue in the face, but the most telling and important stat is his strikeout to walk ratio. Most elite hitters draw a ton of walks, but they also strike out a lot. Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout have respective walk totals of 87 and 69. They both have more than twice as many strikeouts as they do base-on-balls.

Martinez doesn’t walk as much, he only has 54, but his strikeout total is miniscule—38. This territory isn’t new to the former Red Sox hitter; he had one more walk (75) than his strikeout total in 2009.

Strikeouts are rally killers. They let the opposing pitcher gain more confidence and feel like he’s getting into a grove, especially the first time through the order. The fact that Martinez doesn’t punch out much means that when he gets out, he isn’t constantly hitting into double plays and destroying scoring chances.

Moving into the cleanup spot has worked wonders for Victor Martinez, he’s already surpassed his RBI total from last season in 39 fewer games. With two more home runs he’ll have doubled his total from last year.

To sum it up, Victor Martinez is immensely important for the Tigers, down the stretch and otherwise.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

Detroit Tigers Acquire David Price: How, Why and What it Means for the Tigers and the Pennant Race

Who Was Acquired: The Tigers acquired starting pitcher David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade.

Who They Gave Up: Centerfielder Austin Jackson, starting pitcher Drew Smyly and minor league shortstop Willy Adames.

Who Else Was Involved: The Seattle Mariners, who acquired Jackson while also sending infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay.

What it Means for the Tigers:

Detroit acquired one of the premier starting pitchers in the game, David Price. The cost? Austin Jackson, Willy Adames and Drew Smyly. The price to pay (if you excuse the pun) wasn’t as high as say the pieces Kansas City gave up for James Shields, but it was still high. Jackson is as good of a defensive centerfielder as you’ll find and brings pop and speed to the lineup. Smyly, on the other hand, is a young, controllable and versatile pitcher who has quality numbers in his career out of the ‘pen and in the rotation. Adames is in the lower minors and is a long way away from the Majors.

The Tigers didn’t pay a whole lot for Price. You could arguably say that the Red Sox got a better haul for either Jon Lester or John Lackey. Chicago may have gotten a better deal for Jeff Samardjiza. Detroit can now pencil in some combination of Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer for games one through three of the postseason. That’s not even mentioning Rick Porcello, who is finally showing all the potential and promise he had earlier in his career, or Anibal Sanchez who not only was ridiculously dominant against Boston in the playoffs last year, but also led the American League in ERA last season.

This trade was partly made possible due to offseason acquisitions Rajai Davis and JD Martinez. Before their acquisitions the outfield was very clearly Jackson, Torii Hunter and some combination of players filling the third spot. Now with Martinez hitting like a middle-of-the-order bat and occupying the corner outfield spot opposite Hunter, the team can slide Davis to center to fill the void created by Jackson. Davis’ skillset also made it easier to part with Jackson. Last season, Jackson was the lone source of speed in the lineup— something that was exposed in October. Davis can cover ground in the outfield, can steal a multitude of bases (even more than Jackson) and hit for some power. On a minor note, this solves the Andy Dirks issue. When he’s healthy, Dirks will be the fourth outfielder, something that wasn’t clear before, due to all the outfielders and Dirks’ injury.

Price’s acquisition also sets up an all-out war for the American League pennant. With all due respect to Anaheim and Baltimore, the AL champ will be from Michigan (more likely) or the Bay Area. The Tigers and A’s have met in the last two postseasons, with Detroit winning both matchups. Oakland has made big acquisitions as well, bringing in Jon Lester and Jeff Samardjiza. The A’s made these trades to win it all, but also to get by Detroit who have knocked them out of the playoffs the last three times Billy Beane’s team have made it.

The acquisition of Price also gives the Tigers insurance down the road. If Max Scherzer leaves, the Tigers now have Price as cover, if you want to call one of the best pitchers in the game “cover.”

If anything, this trade signifies pitching as king in baseball. The Tigers now employ the last three American League Cy Young winners in the league. If the previous thinking holds, and pitching is king, the Tigers have it in spades. Look out World Series, here comes Detroit.

Mapping the Tigers’ Off-Season Full

The baseball world was thrown into some disarray today. Jim Leyland stepped down. After decades in the game, according to Leyland, it was time to step down.

Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers will have their own check-list of items to accomplish this offseason. Here are some of them-

1.       Find a Good Fit to Lead the Team

With Leyland’s managerial days behind him, the team will need someone else to take the reins. The Tigers’ vacancy will automatically leapfrog the job opportunities in Cincinnati and Washington as the top gig on the market. After all, what manager wouldn’t want to take over a club who has made three straight LCS appearances as well as having arguably the best players at their positions (i.e. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera, etc.)? The Tigers could go numerous ways here.

One would be to go the “Mike Matheny” route and hire someone with little- to-no managerial experience, but is familiar with the organization. Brad Ausmus would fit the bill. However, this may or may not fly. The team is a championship contender, and throwing a first time manager into the fire like that may not work. It worked for Matheny, but Walt Weiss, Robin Ventura and Mike Redmond’s respective career starts haven’t exactly gone swimmingly.

The second option would be the “John Farrell” route: hiring someone who is familiar with the team, and has previous experience. Gene Lamont would fit this bill, and Leyland will surely give his old friend his backing, but whether Dombrowski wants to go this route remains to be seen.

Finally, the last option is the “Terry Francona” route. The team would go with an experienced, proven winner as their manager, someone who knows how to win. Francona, Buck Showalter and Clint Hurdle are recent examples of this route that have worked out well. Dusty Baker, Charlie Manuel and Lou Piniella’s respective names have already been tossed around. However, all that being said, the Tigers can’t afford to have a Bobby Valentine hire. It would be disastrous.

2.        Free Agent Decisions

With numerous potential free agents, the Tigers will be faced with plenty of tough choices come decision time. Brayan Pena, Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago, Jhonny Peralta, Octavio Dotel, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit could all be out of contract. Resigning them or finding replacements will be important. Veras has a modest club option in his contract, meaning he will likely be back. Infante probably will be resigned if he doesn’t ask for too much money relative to his worth. Pena is another good bet to resign thanks to his strong offensive numbers filling in for Alex Avila behind the plate. Meanwhile, players like Santiago and Dotel could be phased out in favor of younger, cheaper options like Hernan Perez and Luke Putkonen. The trickiest cases could be Peralta and Benoit. Peralta has stated that he would be open to returning to the Tigers as an outfielder, and while his bat would be welcomed, I’m not sure how comfortable the Tigers would be with sticking him in left field from a defense standpoint. Benoit might be harder to predict still. The former Texas Ranger justified the three-year, 16.5 million dollar contract the Tigers gave him with another strong showing in his walk year. After taking over for reclamation project Jose Valverde, Benoit went on to convert 24 saves. Sadly, he will likely be remembered for his postseason shortcoming in Boston. Detroit would probably like a closer with more experience in the role. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Benoit return to the Motor City, however, it will likely be for less money than he previously got, and he probably won’t be closing.

3.       Upgrade in the Lineup and the Field

Even teams that win it all need to make changes and upgrade. You have to keep up with the Joneses.

With Infante in danger of walking in free agency, second base could be a potential hole, once again, for the Tigers. It may sound radical, but what about Brandon Phillips? Not only is he considered, and probably is, one of the best defensive players at his position, but he can also swing with the best. Phillips may be the most polished all-around second baseman in the game not named Dustin Pedroia.

He drove in 103 runs in a down year and reports out of Cincy are that the team is looking to trade him. If the Reds are bent on dealing him, and are willing to eat the majority of his salary to do so, the Tigers should engage in trade talks. As good as Infante is, Phillips would be a massive upgrade with the bat and in the field. All of a sudden the defensively challenged Tigers could possess the slickest fielding double play tandem in the league with Phillips and Iglesias up the middle.

Not only that, but he could help lengthen a lineup that is a smidgen top heavy. Hitting the former Indian sixth behind Victor Martinez would give the team a formidable lineup that would only get more formidable should they find a new left fielder.

As much as Jhonny Peralta wants to come back to Detroit, I’m not sure the team could stomach his defense in left. It’s unfair to ask Peralta to become a whiz in the outfield after learning the position for the first time in his life just a few weeks ago. That being said, he will have growing pains should he stay there. Growing pains the Tigers cannot afford.

Top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos could be ready for a full season of big league at bats next season, and all indications are that the former third baseman is going to be very good for a long time. They may hand the left field job to him outright, or bring him along in slowly in a platoon with Andy Dirks, or a low-buy free agent. Should the team go with the “bring along slowly, platoon” route, Grady Sizemore, Nate McClouth and Jason Kubel are all viable options in that regard.

If the team feels their top hitting prospect isn’t ready for the big time, the last option is signing someone similar to Torii Hunter, a veteran on a short contract who can still produce at a high level. Old friend Curtis Granderson might be too expensive, but if the money isn’t too obnoxious and the team doesn’t feel Castellanos is ready, the Grandy-Man could find himself in Detroit once again. It could be beneficial for Granderson as well. Not only would he get the chance to win, he would also improve his free agent stock for next season on a one-year contract if he doesn’t find a multi-year deal to his liking this offseason.

4.       Upgrade the Bullpen

Many will probably tell you the Tigers shortcoming in the ALCS was their bullpen. That and nagging injuries and slumps to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, respectively. The Tigers don’t have a bad bullpen. Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, Benoit and Al Albuquerque are all quality options. The Tigers just need more depth and a true closer. Whether it is by trade or by free agency, the club needs a closer. Edward Mujica could be had in free agency should the Cardinals chose not to resign him. However, his general inexperience as a closer before this year could make the Tigers think twice. Another former Tiger who could interest the team is Fernando Rodney, who after struggling in Anaheim, has experienced a career renaissance in Tampa Bay. Other intriguing closer candidates that could be had are Steve Cishek, Huston Street and Joe Nathan.

Outside of closer, the Tigers need more quality arms in the ‘pen. Free agents such as Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier as well as low-buy, reclamation projects Joel Hanrahan and Francisco Rodriguez are fits.

It all starts at the top for the Tigers. They need to find a new manager before moving on to the rest of their offseason tasks. Here’s hoping they find the right fit.

Mapping the Tigers’ Off-Season Part Three: Upgrade in the Lineup and the Field

Even teams that win it all need to make changes and upgrade. You have to keep up with the Joneses.

With Infante in danger of walking in free agency, second base could be a potential hole, once again, for the Tigers. It may sound radical, but what about Brandon Phillips? Not only is he considered, and probably is, one of the best defensive players at his position, but he can also swing with the best. Phillips may be the most polished all-around second baseman in the game not named Dustin Pedroia.

He drove in 103 runs in a down year and reports out of Cincy are that the team is looking to trade him. If the Reds are bent on dealing him, and are willing to eat the majority of his salary to do so, the Tigers should engage in trade talks. As good as Infante is, Phillips would be a massive upgrade with the bat and in the field. All of a sudden the defensively challenged Tigers could possess the slickest fielding double play tandem in the league with Phillips and Iglesias up the middle.

Not only that, but he could help lengthen a lineup that is a smidgen top heavy. Hitting the former Indian sixth behind Victor Martinez would give the team a formidable lineup that would only get more formidable should they find a new left fielder.

As much as Jhonny Peralta wants to come back to Detroit, I’m not sure the team could stomach his defense in left. It’s unfair to ask Peralta to become a whiz in the outfield after learning the position for the first time in his life just a few weeks ago. That being said, he will have growing pains should he stay there. Growing pains the Tigers cannot afford.

Top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos could be ready for a full season of big league at bats next season, and all indications are that the former third baseman is going to be very good for a long time. They may hand the left field job to him outright, or bring him along in slowly in a platoon with Andy Dirks, or a low-buy free agent. Should the team go with the “bring along slowly, platoon” route, Grady Sizemore, Nate McClouth and Jason Kubel are all viable options in that regard.

If the team feels their top hitting prospect isn’t ready for the big time, the last option is signing someone similar to Torii Hunter, a veteran on a short contract who can still produce at a high level. Old friend Curtis Granderson might be too expensive, but if the money isn’t too obnoxious and the team doesn’t feel Castellanos is ready, the Grandy-Man could find himself in Detroit once again. It could be beneficial for Granderson as well. Not only would he get the chance to win, he would also improve his free agent stock for next season on a one-year contract if he doesn’t find a multi-year deal to his liking this offseason.

Torii Hunter’s Impact with the Detroit Tigers

I’ll admit I didn’t see the signing coming; I’m a bit of a homer when it comes to placing trust in Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry, so I didn’t want the signing initially. But the more I look at it, the more there is to like.  Yes, Hunter is getting up there in years, but after further digging, he’s still a very good player in this league despite being 37.

Last season, the Tigers were knocked for not having a good defensive team. That criticism was mainly placed on the infield. But in terms of “elite” defenders, the only one the Tigers had who could change a game in the field was Austin Jackson. Infield aside, the corner outfielders were a tad suspect with the glove. Dirks, Boesch, Berry and Avisail Garcia’s collective number of runs saved above average per 1,200 innings (from the folks over at baseball-reference) was -26. Dirks was the only one of the group whose number was a positive one with three runs scored above average. The point here is that the overall defense in the outfield corners could have been better. Enter Hunter, who despite being nearly a decade older than every one of the previous four, saved 16 runs above average per 1,200 innings.

The beauty of the signing is this: yes, Hunter is valued defensively, and maybe he was needed defensively, but he also brings a whole lot to the table offensively. So often teams bring in an outfielder or use an internal option that is a far superior defender, but lacks completely with the bat.  Teams feel they need to upgrade defensively and save runs there and completely mail it in offensively. But this is the beauty of the signing. Hunter upgrades the defense and offense drastically.

The other bonus of having Hunter as well as Jackson in the outfield means Jim Leyland has his pick of outfielders to use strategically on a game-to-game basis, whether that be Berry, Garcia, Boesch or Dirks.

The Tigers won the American League pennant last year. They also won it, when at times the death-row duo of Miguel Cabrera and Fielder looked like the walking dead. But now Victor Martinez will be 100% healthy, and Torii Hunter joins the mix. Death row just got a whole lot deadlier.

The Best in World of Sports: An Atlas of Atlases

In Greek mythology there is a Titan named Atlas who held up the world, or held up the sky so that it didn’t crash down on the Earth.

In the world of sports, each team has its own “Atlas” who keeps the team from falling flat.

Some of the best “Atlases” in recent sports memory:

  1. LeBron James- Cleveland Cavaliers. During LeBron’s tenure the Cavaliers were essentially James and a never-ending roll call of role players. Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace were the only really good players who James played with in Cleveland. And at that point both were in the respective twilights of their careers, and Wallace wasn’t scoring much (as per usual). Cleveland was so bad without “King James” that they set an NBA record for the longest losing streak: 26 games after he made the decision to go to South Beach.
  2. Derrick Rose- Chicago Bulls. A small sample size, but while Rose dominated Game One of the first round of the playoffs versus Philly, he tore his ACL towards the end of the game. After holding on for the win in that game the Bulls went on to lose the series 4-2 to the eight-seeded 76ers. As a follow up, this year with Rose out for an extended amount of time, most pundits and talking heads have Chicago in the 6-8 seed range in the playoffs. Quite a drop-off for the team who had the best record in the East last season.
  3. Luis Suarez- Liverpool. If you take away Suarez’s fantastic production, the Reds would likely be in the relegation zone if not in last.
  4. Dwight Howard- Orlando Magic. Orlando is so bad without Howard it compelled me to write an entire piece on it, you can see that here. Orlando is going nowhere fast.
  5. Steve Nash- Phoenix Suns. Obviously earlier on in Nash’s career he had Amare Stoudamire and friends, so the team wouldn’t be that bad off without him. However, the Suns of the past couple years have needed Nash to help them stay out of the cellar. With him they were camped on the stairs going to the cellar; now they’re the cellar’s likely tenants.
  6. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Trout supporters love overusing the stat about the visible improvement of the Angels’ record with him, as opposed to their record without him. Take away Trout and a lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells goes nowhere offensively. Continue reading

Wrapping Up the Tigers’ Regular Season: MVP Voting, Playoffs and More

While the much-hyped MVP discussion is heating up, the regular season is cooling down.

The Tigers joined the San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds as the only teams in baseball to clinch their own divisions.  Also joining those clubs in October baseball are the Atlanta Braves,  New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s. The Tigers also became the first AL team to clinch their division. The second year in a row that they’ve done that.

But really, no one is reading too much into the playoffs. Yet. Now, the baseball-related discussions are about that AL MVP race and something you might have heard of called the Triple Crown.

Coincidentally or not, both of those discussions involve one Miguel Cabrera who also plays for the Tigers.

Triple Crown & MVP

I’ll start with the Triple Crown first, to get it out of the way.

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Angels: Watch Your Dream Team Monikers

Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson on a team that isn’t an All-Star squad is a bit intriguing. Throw that in with Cy Young runner up Jered Weaver, highly consistent Dan Haren, Super Prospect Mike Trout as well as up and comers Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo. We haven’t even mentioned Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales.

 

 

But I’m not buying it for a couple of reasons. The first being that outside of first base, their infield has zero power. Zero, zip, nada, zilch, whatever term you want to use. Secondly, their outfield outside of an inexperienced Trout and Bourjos is cluttered with the likes of Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu.  The pitching is good, but how good I’m not sure.

 

 

The Angels might not even be the best team in their division. The Rangers lost Wilson but will replace him with Neftali Feliz, who won’t be an exact replacement and will give them quality if not electric innings and wins. Overall the Rangers rotation is a little more balanced seeing as the Angels don’t have a plethora of quality options for the fifth spot, let alone a quality option at all.

 

 

Here’s the historical reason — the last known “Dream Team” or overhyped teams in the last couple of years across sports have failed in reaching the goal of winning a championship. The Heat lost to the Mavs in the NBA Finals, which was the most successful of the examples. The others include the present-day Eagles who are mired in the middle of a dismal 5-8 year. The 2008 Tigers, as it pains me to say, suffered through an exceedingly disappointing year in which they were dubbed by some to have “the best offense ever”, but at the last glance they had a record of 74-88.