Detroit Tigers: Neftali Feliz has a Chance to Solidify Himself as the Tigers’ Closer for 2016

With news coming out of Detroit that Brad Ausmus will continue to manage the team next season, and thus keep his job, it’s now a time of evaluation for the Tigers as the team decides which non-core players to keep around next season.

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With a number of starting players set in stone (Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, James McCann, etc.) the likely focus of the evaluation process will be positions where there is uncertainty. Naturally, the most uncertain area of the Tigers’ roster will be under close examination. That uncertain area? The bullpen. More specifically, the back end of the bullpen.

Alex Wilson has performed admirably for Detroit, pitching wherever he’s needed. The former Red Sox pitcher owns a 2.19 ERA in 70 innings and is one of the few relievers with job security heading into next season. However, Wilson’s ERA is nearly a run higher in save situations then it is in non-save situations. He’ll pitch effectively wherever the Tigers pitch him, but ideally the team would probably have Wilson throwing in the seventh or eighth inning in front of a lockdown closer.

Where that closer emerges from (free agency, trade, the minor league system, etc.) remains to be seen, but the Tigers have one building block in Wilson.

With so little certainty in the bullpen heading into next year, especially with Bruce Rondon being sent home early, now is the time for relievers not named Wilson to make their respective marks.

One reliever who could benefit greatly from Rondon’s absence is Neftali Feliz.

The former Texas Ranger still owns an unsightly 7.33 ERA for the Tigers, but a closer look at his numbers reveals a much better product. Feliz’ FIP, or of fielding independent pitching, is 3.78. Additionally, over his last 12 appearances (12.2 innings), the ex-Ranger has a 2.13 ERA and is holding batters to a .178 batting average. Over those innings, Feliz has struck out 11 batters while only walking one. Opposing hitters have managed a .457 OPS against the reliever.

Looking at those stats, Feliz clearly has the talent to be a significant contributor to the Detroit bullpen. He may even end up as closer. As of now, he has three saves in a Tigers’ uniform, two of which have come in the last two wins for the team. With Rondon no longer with the team for the duration of this season, Neftali Feliz has a chance to cement himself as a late-inning option for the Ausmus heading into next season.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Texas Rangers 8/21/15

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Detroit Tigers: Ian Kinsler Is Having A Backwards Season… And That’s Just Fine With The Tigers

Ian Kinsler tends to be an extremely good baseball player in the first half of every season. And while he doesn’t fall off the face of the earth in the second half, historically, his numbers drop. Kinsler has 405 career first-half RBI, but only 281 career second-half RBI. He’s a career .284 hitter in the season’s first half, but only a .264 hitter in the second half.

This season has been different—much different.

The second baseman went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in a 9-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, dropping his average to an uncharacteristically low .258. This was a major flip-of-the-script as far as Kinsler was concerned. The former Texas Ranger generally puts up lower (comparatively) numbers in the second half—not the first.

Luckily for the Tigers, Kinsler took off after that. He collected three hits, including a double, while scoring a run, driving in another. He’s hit an absolutely scorching .385 (!) since with five home runs, three triples, 14 doubles and 31 runs scored in 41 games. Over that span he’s struck out a relatively low 19 times. You want another stat? Ok, here’s another one—his OPS since July 2nd is 1.002.

Kinsler hit so well that manager Brad Ausmus moved him down to the third spot in the order in an attempt to re-solidify the offense. The hot streak couldn’t have come at a better time. Miguel Cabrera went down only a few days after Kinsler started raking and only returned recently. Throw in Victor Martinez’ struggles (.240 batting average, .698 OPS since July 1st) and you start to wonder where Detroit would be without their second baseman.

If Monday’s rain delay-induced marathon was any indication, Kinsler isn’t slowing down. The four-time All-Star’s stat line: 5-for-5, three runs scored, two RBI and a home run—all the while seeing a joint-team high 25 pitches.

With Cabrera back in the lineup Kinsler is back in the second spot in the batting order, but that hasn’t slowed him down. In the four games since Cabrera returned, the second baseman is hitting .389 with four runs scored and three RBI.

With Cabrera hitting .333 since his return, not to mention an absurd 1.167 OPS, Detroit will be hoping the Kinsler-Cabrera two-headed monster in the team’s top third of the order will mean more runs and a push towards the playoffs. An offense can only do so much, but when a team has a catalyst displaying the hitting acumen Kinsler has shown as of late, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Chicago Cubs 8/18/15

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The Detroit Tigers Aren’t Out of the Playoff Race Yet

Entering Friday, the Tigers sat an uninspiring 13 games out of the American League Central lead. However, they also began the day only five games back of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the second wild card spot.

Why is this important?

Because Miguel Cabrera is back.

The slugger returns from a lengthy disabled-list stint and immediately gives the Tigers a massive shot in the arm (understatement of the century).

Cabrera’s numbers on the season? A .350 batting average, a .456 OBP, a 1.034 OPS (!), 15 home runs, 54 RBI and 32 extra-base-hits.

Yeah, he’s going to help the Tigers.

Detroit opens a three-game set in Houston against the Astros on Friday before facing the Cubs in Chicago before returning home to face Texas. The former Marlin slots in at third in the Tigers’ batting order. His arrival means the red-hot Ian Kinsler (.374 batting average, .979 OPS since the start of July) receives more at-bats in the second spot in the order. It also means less pressure on Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, who slide down the order. At the very least, Cabrera moves everyone but Kinsler down in the lineup, thereby lengthening it considerably.

To put Cabrera’s importance to the team in perspective, his WAR is 4.0. That’s for wins above replacement. Four wins. Add four wins to the Tigers and they would be .500 on the season.

Not only is Cabrera back, but Bruce Rondon is pitching like the pitcher most thought he would become. Rondon owns a 1.80 ERA over his last 11 appearances, striking out 14 batters in ten innings in the process.

Rondon’s resurgence gives the Tigers three dependable, late-inning arms at the end of games. With Rondon, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, there less of a need to feel anxious when the Tigers close out games.

Further stats of note on Rondon? His FIP (Fielding independent pitching—basically an ERA that the pitcher can control) is 2.43, lower than every reliever the Tigers have used this season. He’s also allowed only three base-runners (one hit, two walks) over his last six outings. He’s struck out 40% of the batters he’s faced over that span. In terms of his last six outings, Rondon’s opponents are managing a .259 OPS.

If he continues to pitch like that down the stretch in save-situations, the Tigers are going to be tough to beat.

The tricky part of the wild-card situation is that the do have to beat a number of teams (at least in the standings) in order to make it into October. The Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays all sit ahead of Detroit in the wild card race. That’s not to mention the New York Yankees and the Angels, who lead the race. Even with all those teams ahead of them, the Tigers can take solace in the fact that all of them (with the exceptions of Tampa Bay and Texas) have struggled as of late. New York and Baltimore are both 4-6 over their last ten respective games while Anaheim is 5-5. Minnesota is the fastest sinking ship in the harbor with a 3-7 record over the team’s last ten contests.

With Miguel Cabrera back in the fold and the back-end of the Tigers bullpen gaining some much needed consistency, the Tigers aren’t out of the playoff picture yet, not even close. Throw in some uncertainty ahead of the team in the standings and Detroit has the potential to make some noise down the stretch and once again make the postseason.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Houston Astros 8/14/15

Miguel Cabrera is back. Rejoice! Here’s the lineup as the Detroit Tigers take on the Houston Astros and starter Dallas Keuchel.

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Detroit Tigers Lineup vs the Kansas City Royals 8/12/15

Here’s the Detroit Tigers’ lineup as Daniel Norris takes the mound in Kansas City against the Royals. 

(RELATED: Tigers must stop being patient with the bullpen).

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Detroit Tigers: Predicting the Lineup in 2020

After trading David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes (in that order no less!), the Detroit Tigers are seem to have an eye on the future. The team will still be ultra-aggressive in winning in the short-term, but the trades of the impending free agents signal that the team is at least conscious of building a long-term winner that is more sustainable. Here’s a look at what that future might entail. Without further ado, ladies and gentleman, you’re 2020 Detroit Tigers (as it stands right now anyways…).

  • C: James McCann

Anyone under the impression that James McCann would take time to acclimate have been dead wrong. The catcher has lived up to his reputation defensively—he leads all catchers in fielding percentage (0 errors) while grading out well in defensive metrics. McCann also has thrown out 45% of would-be base stealers. The 25-year-old is hitting .282 with 22 extra-base-hits and owns a 1.3 WAR as a rookie. The Tigers seem set behind the plate for the next decade.

1B: Miguel Cabrera

By this point, Miguel Cabrera will be one of the game’s greatest all-time players. He isn’t going anywhere, regardless of his salary.

2B: Dixon Machado/ JaCoby Jones

Here’s where it gets interesting. Ian Kinsler will be 38 by this point, and the Tigers have two excellent converted shortstops ready to take the reins. Machado is currently at Triple-A, and is a plus-plus defender while Jones is at Double-A and has tantalizing potential.

Machado has already earned a cup of coffee with the Tigers this season and with a .267 batting average in the high-minors, there’s hope that he’ll offensive potential to go along with his excellent defense.

While further down the minor-league ladder, Jones possess just as much potential as Machado—if not more. The former third-round pick has raw power to go along with elite athleticism and plus-plus capabilities on defense that allow him to play most positions. This will obviously be the case with Jose Iglesias entrenched at shortstop, so expect Jones to be in the Tigers lineup come 2020, if not much, much sooner. The prospect is off to a strong start in Double-A after hitting three home runs in one game soon after arriving from Pittsburgh.  

SS: Jose Iglesias

When a 25-year-old shortstop can do this

And this

Then you’ve clearly found a keeper. Throw in the fact that Iglesias is hitting .318 this year (and in the process earning his first All-Star nod) and you might just see him in a Tigers uniform in 2025, let alone 2020.

3B: Nick Castellanos

Nick Castellanos is finally starting to become the hitter everyone thought he would be.

While his .237 batting average this season is far from encouraging, his recent numbers are. The third baseman is hitting .276 with seven home runs, 24 RBI and an .846 OPS since June 23rd.

Castellanos still has work to do in terms of reaching full potential, but the fact that he has almost surpassed his home run and RBI totals from last season is an extremely good sign moving forward. It seems like he’s been around for ages, but Castellanos is still only 23-years-old. When he reaches his prime, he should be a more-than-competent middle-of-the-order bat.

LF: Anthony Gose/ Christian Stewart/ JaCoby Jones

Again, another tough decision. Gose will only be 29 in 2020, so he’ll likely still be with the team if he performs well. But, by that time he’ll likely have shifted to left in order to accommodate top prospect Derek Hill.

Stewart is one of the team’s better outfield prospects. He may not be on Gose’s level defensively, but it seems that his offense will be his meal ticket in the bigs. Jones’ potential won’t be recounted again, but put it this way—he can be a plus defender in the outfield as well as the infield.

CF: Derek Hill

Hill isn’t going to be a power-hitting player in The Show, but he’s got plenty of speed to help him reach the bigs and stay there. Hill has what scouts would call “plus” speed. The prospect also possesses good plate discipline. He’ll be a dangerous leadoff-type hitter for the Tigers for years to come—not to mention a strong defensive centerfielder.

RF: J.D. Martinez

Maybe the biggest lock here not named Miguel, J.D. Martinez isn’t leaving Detroit any time. Right now its probably a safe bet to assume he’ll be with the team until he retires. The Tigers will need protection for Cabrera once Victor Martinez retires/departs, and they already have that in J.D.

Fun fact: J.D. Martinez has homered in three consecutive games three different times this season.

DH: Steven Moya

If Moya can put it together in Triple-A, this job’s his. Dude can hit the ball a mile.

Bookmark/subscribe/follow/keep on eye on Know Hitter over the next few days—coming soon, predicting the Tigers pitching staff in 2020.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers: Former Infielders Hitting Well With Other Teams

What do the Toronto Blue Jays’ Devon Travis, the Cincinnati Reds’ Eugenio Suarez and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Hernan Perez have in common?

Not only are they all 24-years-old, they were all at one time (in the last year) a member of the Detroit Tigers’ farm system. Another trait they have in common? They’ve all been pretty successful with the bat this season.

Devon Travis, Toronto Blue Jays

Acquired from the Tigers for centerfielder Anthony Gose, Travis established himself as an early candidate for Rookie of the Year honors with a .325 batting average, six home runs and 19 RBI over the season’s first month. The second baseman struggled in May (his average dropped to .269), and eventually hit the disabled list.

The former Tigers’ farmhand returned in late June and has been on a tear ever since. His batting average since returning is an absurd .354. His home run (0) and RBI (eight) numbers since aren’t the same as before, but no one can deny Travis’ hitting ability.

The Tigers certainly aren’t complaining. Travis wouldn’t have unseated Ian Kinsler at second, while Gose has provided strong defense in center to go along with a .272 batting average and 14 steals in 82 games. Gose has also contributed 19 extra-base hits.

Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds

Sent to the Reds in the Alfredo Simon trade, Eugenio Suarez has been almost as much of a surprise as Travis at the plate. The shortstop didn’t make the team out of Spring Training, but has been excellent since being called up. He’s hitting .313 with five (!) home runs and 18 RBI in 36 games. His OPS is .825 and he’s already earned a WAR of 1.

With the Reds going through a transition with Johnny Cueto now departed, look for Suarez to receive more at-bats as the team evaluates for the future. Safe to say Suarez has already made quite the first impression.
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Hernan Perez, Milwaukee Brewers

Lost via waiver claim to the Brewers in early June, Hernan Perez, like Travis and Suarez, has raked. The American League’s eighth youngest player in 2012 owns a .311 batting average in 41 games for the Brew Crew after an awful .061 line in 22 games for Detroit. Perez has driven in four runs and smacked 11 extra-base hits (nine doubles, a triple and a home run) while playing three positions across the infield.

Like Cincinnati, Milwaukee is going through a transitional period. Perez seems to be making the best of the situation.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Detroit Tigers: Time for Dave Dombrowski to Pull His Usual Trade Deadline Magic

With the news that the Detroit Tigers are in fact not going to be sellers, its once again time for general manager Dave Dombrowski to pull is standard trade deadline magic.

The Tigers need the help, and thankfully, Dombrowski is adept at providing it.

Dombrowski has a long history of winning trades. He fleeced the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera, turned Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson into Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke as well as acquiring Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson (plus a prospect) for Rick Porcello.

While those trades are wonderfully lopsided (at least in the Tigers’ favor), some of the Tigers GM’s best work has come at the trade deadline. He convinced the Mariners into parting with Doug Fister essentially for a singular reliever while acquiring Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for what has amounted to a couple of A-ball pitchers.

However, the most impressive trade on Dombrowski’s resume may have been dealing for David Price. The Tigers dealt Austin Jackson, Drew Smyly and Willy Adames (a top shortstop prospect, but not one that was going to unseat Jose Iglesias as the team’s long-term starter) in order to acquire their current ace.

It’s time for Dombrowski to work that same magic.

There’s probably skepticism in the Tigers adding at the trade deadline. If you made a dollar for every time someone lambasted Detroit’s “lack of a farm system,” you’d have more cash than Bill Gates. Still, Dombrowski acquired Price without surrendering a hoard of top prospects, and did the same with both Fister and Sanchez.

It would not be surprising to see Dombrowski dip into the Tigers’ farm system and deal for talent. The reality is that Detroit’s system isn’t nearly as bad as people think. Two of the team’s top prospects last year (Detroit was again critiqued for having a bad farm system), now rank as two of Baseball America’s top 50 prospects in. Both were traded at the deadline, but it just goes to show that the prospects in the Tigers’ system may get a bad rap.

Additionally, the system has produced notable, young big leaguers such as Devon Travis, Smyly, Avisail Garcia, Eugenio Suarez, Nick Castellanos and James McCann.

Travis is hitting .302 in his rookie year in Toronto. Smyly has been injured a good deal since heading to Tampa Bay, but owns a stellar 1.96 ERA as a member of the Rays. Like Travis, Suarez has been a force at the plate for his new team, hitting .315 with five home runs and 18 RBI in only 35 games. Garcia is a cornerstone player for the White Sox, while Castellanos is finally showing signs of being the hitter the Tigers envisioned when they drafted him. McCann has quickly established himself as one of the premier young backstops in the league, making Alex Avila and his comparatively massive salary expandable.

If anything, the trade for Price, with Adames and Smyly going the other way, has proven that Detroit’s system is underrated. While it is unlikely that consensus top prospect Steven Moya is moved, the team has a glut of minor league catchers and relievers that may interest teams. The Tigers are set behind the plate with McCann and have Bryan Holaday in Triple-A. They could deal Avila, or top catching prospects Grayson Grenier, Shane Zeile or Arvicent Perez. Infield prospect Javier Betancourt (Adames’ former double-play partner) could also be dealt in the right trade given not only Iglesias and Ian Kinsler’s presences, but also the presence of two-way infield prospect Dixon Machado.

Regardless of who is traded, it’s time for Dombrowski to slightly rejig the team in an attempt to claim the World Series. The Tigers have the offense to succeed in October, and can look to their division-rival Royals as an example of a team that (last year) made a second-half run all the way to Game Seven.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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