Projected Division Finish
1. Kansas City Royals
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Minnesota Twins
2014 Finish: 90-72 (First Place)
Projected Batting Order
CF Anthony Gose/Rajai Davis
2B Ian Kinsler
3B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
RF J.D. Martinez
LF Yoenis Cespedes
C Alex Avila
3B Nick Castellanos
SS Jose Iglesias
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
LHP David Price
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Alfredo Simon
RHP Shane Greene
CLOSER Joe Nathan
The Tigers have been the class of the AL Central for the last 4 years. They have ridden overpowering starting pitching and a slugging offense to the playoffs in that time, but have only appeared in one World Series and have never won it all. They are in win now mode for owner Mike Ilyitch, but their window is closing.
The offense was great last year but the pitching staff wasn’t as strong, specifically in the bullpen. The bad news in Detroit is that this pitching staff took a hit this offseason losing Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and not adding new names to a struggling group of relievers. The good news is they still look like they could be the best team in the division with the Royals also losing talent and Chicago’s improvements likely only making them as good as Detroit and K.C.
If the Tigers want to win their 5th straight division title, they will need to play better as a group and get some help from the few new pieces they did add to this team.
The Tigers offense continued to excel last season with an MLB best 277 team batting average and 757 R, good enough for second in the league. They led the league in hits and were fourth in HR and SB. The team still felt it could get better, specifically looking to get more athletic and rely less on the long ball. It’s a risk to tinker with an offense that is humming along, but luckily most of the moves the Tigers made were minor and could definitely make the club better in the long run.
Their offense is powered the best hitter in baseball, Miguel Cabrera. He had a “down” year last season hitting 325 with 25 HR and a team leading 109 RBI. The “down” part was in the power department, but he was injured at the end of the year and was pretty much swinging with his arms alone. He had ankle surgery this offseason, but he looks like he’ll be back in time and is playing well in his shortened spring. He’ll hit third again and should be a lock for 310-320, 30 HR, 105 RBI and 90 R. That’s just the floor, as he could pop off a 340 season with 40 HR or 120 RBI with good health and some luck.
DH Victor Martinez had his best offensive season last year and actually led the Tigers with a 335 AVG and 32 HR. He also chipped in 103 RBI and 87 R. When the Tigers play interleague games, he will get the occasional day off, but will sometimes man first, allowing Miguel Cabrera to get a day off or move over to third base. There was concern about him rehabbing a knee injury in the offseason, but he is on track to be back for Opening Day. He’s a 306 career hitter and has hit over 300 the last 4 years. 2 of the last 4 years he hit over 330. The power was a surprise as he generally sits around 20 HR. I’d be surprised if he did that again, but think he should also be a lock for 300-310 with 20-25 HR and 85 RBI hitting in this lineup. But with good health and some luck, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him hit 330 with 30 HR and 120 RBI.
Ian Kinsler was the new second baseman last year and his first season in Motown was great. He stepped in as the Tigers leadoff hitter and hit 275 with 17 HR, 92 RBI, 15 SB and 100 R. Kinsler is one of my favorite players because I love his versatility. He had a 30/30 season in 2009 and hit 319 in 2008. He also hit 255 with 32 HR in 2010. However as he’s getting older, he is settling more into a role where he contributes a little in each category in every season. Despite his OBP falling to 307 last year, I think he will have another solid season, even if he moves from the top of the lineup to the number 2 spot. I’ll put him down for 270 with 15 HR, 12 SB, 75 RBI and 80 R. There is a chance he could hit 25 HR and hit 250. There is also a chance he could hit 290 with 12 HR and 100 R if he is asked to leadoff again.
J.D. Martinez was one of the biggest offensive breakout stars of the 2014 season. He was considered a bust from the Astros organization when he made a conscious change to tweak his swing and mimic….Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers needed outfield depth, picked up Martinez and he responded by having his best season ever. He hit 315 with 23 HR and 76 RBI in 123 games. He loved raking behind Cabrera and Martinez last year and will be in the same spot again. While 315 may be a bit of a stretch, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Martinez hit 280 with 30 HR and 90 RBI. Perhaps that’s high, but I like him this year. I’d put his floor at 250 with 25 HR and 75 RBI.
New arrival Yoenis Cespedes steps in to the lineup to take over left field and hit in the 6th hole. I’ve heard chatter about him hitting second, Kinsler hitting leadoff and the letting the CF platoon hit ninth. I think that’s a possibility. But if Gose and Davis can hold down the leadoff spot, their ceilings are higher than Kinsler’s because of their speed. It also allows Kinsler more RBI opportunities with his power. So I think Cespedes will spend most of his time hitting 6th, possibly the best number 6 hitter in baseball. In some ways, Cespedes had his best season last year with the A’s and Red Sox. He had a career high 100 RBI and 89 R. He stayed healthy and played in a career high 152 games. But he seemed bored at times in Oakland hitting 256 in 101 games. After a great rookie season where he hit 292 with 23 HR, 83 RBI and 16 SB, he hasn’t quite lived up to his supposed potential. But now that he is no longer depended upon to be the focus of the offense, he may play a little better. I like him for 20-30 HR and 80 RBI. The AVG is a question, but likely 260-275 with maybe 5-10 SB.
I mentioned the centerfield platoon, which will be between Rajai Davis and new addition Anthony Gose, a great athlete who played part time in Toronto last year. They want him to take the lion’s share of time in center field. He’s a defensive upgrade over both Rajai Davis and the departed Austin Jackson. The question is whether he can hit enough to play everyday. More people are starting to think Gose will just man the larger share of a center field platoon with Davis. He played in a career high 94 games last year, but hit only 226 with 15 SB. If he couldn’t hit in Toronto, I think it’s tough to assume he’ll hit in Detroit. I have a feeling he will end up becoming a part-time player.
That would mean Rajai Davis would be a full time player again. Right now he is slotted to get the smaller platoon share leading off against lefties. He is one of the best fourth outfielders in the game and has a habit of getting extra playing time each year. Last season he hit 282 with 36 SB and 64 R in 134 games. The year before it was 108 games for Toronto where he hit 260 with 45 SB. He’s a career 270 hitter with 304 SB, but has mainly played in a part time role. I like this guy a lot because he has game changing speed. He is better as a left fielder, but can cover center in spite of his weaker arm. I suspect he’ll play a little more than expected, sneak into another 400 ABs and snag 30+ bases while hitting around 270.
The rest of the offense is made up of catcher Alex Avila, third baseman Nick Castellanos and shortstop Jose Iglesias. Avila has the most experience, but outside of an All Star season in 2011, has greatly struggled at the plate. In his first full season last year, third baseman Nick Castellanos hit 259 with 11 HR and 66 RBI. His offensive future is bright and I like him for 12-15 HR this year, even if a sophomore slump drops his AVG to 250. The other young starter on this club is Jose Iglesias, who missed the whole season with broken shins. Right now he is a defense first player who has a good line drive stroke but too many Ks. Any offense he provides is gravy.
That’s the offense. There isn’t a ton of depth, but they have guys who can play multiple positions. The focus for this year was to get more athletic. I think it will work, but the Tigers have to stay healthy because the options on the bench are pretty limited.
On defense the Tigers look like they’ll be better. Miguel Cabrera is fine at first and Kinsler is good at second. Iglesias should be very good at short, helping make up for Nick Castellanos’ defensive deficiencies at the hot corner. Cespedes is excellent as a left fielder, Gose is very good in center and Martinez is above average in right. Alex Avila is getting better defensively, but is a little above average at best. While there aren’t a lot of bench options, the Tigers feature a team with very versatile starters. Victor Martinez is the emergency catcher and can play first, albeit not very well. Miguel Cabrera backs up third (though that’s not great either). Cespedes can play all three outfield positions and is very good in the corners. Rajai Davis can play left and center, though he’s better in left. And Gose can play all three outfield positions well. It’s not the best defense in baseball, but it should be better than last year.
Last year, the Tigers’ pitching staff struggled. As a group their 4.01 ERA was towards the bottom half of the league and they gave up the third most hits. While Justin Verlander’s struggles were covered extensively, the other major culprit was the bullpen, which had the second worst WAR, third highest ERA and worst BAA in the league. What’s more unsettling, is that not much was done to fix this pitching staff. If anything, they now look worse on paper with the losses of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The hope is that the offense will be better to compensate, but how much better can it really get?
David Price is the new ace of this staff after being added mid season in a trade with the Rays last year. The lefty is a former Cy Young Winner and strikeout king, having led the majors in Ks last season (271). He went 15-12 with a 3.26 ERA for the Rays and Tigers with only 38 BBs in over 248 IP. Hitters put the ball in play more against him as evidenced by his 243 BAA. But he is one of the best in the game, in the early part of his prime and isn’t someone to worry about. Even if that BAA stays where it is, he has the stuff, specifically strikeout stuff to get out of many jams and keep his ERA well under 4. I’m thinking 15-18 Wins with a 3.20 ERA and another 240 Ks in 220 IP.
Beyond Price, things get murky. Justin Verlander is the number 2 man on paper, but he has fallen hard the last few years. After a great 2012 season, he had a “down” year in 2013 going 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA and 217 Ks in 218 IP. Then the wheels came off as he went 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA and only 159 Ks in 206 IP in 2014. The numbers also are trending the wrong way as his K rate has dropped, his ERA has noticeably risen, his WHIP has gone through the roof and hitters hit a career worst 275 off him last year.. Perhaps its mileage as he’s thrown over 32,000 pitches over his 10 year career. In addition, he will start the year on the DL after straining his triceps in a spring start. I don’t know what to make of Verlander this year. While he could find his way to double-digit wins, I think it will come with an ERA well over 4 and a fairly low number of Ks. I also think this may be one of the first years in a long time where he doesn’t make it to 200 IP.
The Tigers are hoping Verlander won’t need to be an ace with Anibal Sanchez having a better year. Sanchez wasn’t bad, but injury limited him to 21 starts where he went 8-5 with a 3.43 ERA. The year before he had a league leading 2.57 ERA as he won the ERA title, struck out 202 hitters and won 14 games. That year looks like an outlier. His career ERA is 3.53. and he’s only pitched to a number lower than that 3 times in his career, though two of those years were in 2013 and 2014. I doubt he’ll ever see 200 Ks again as he usually sits between 6 and 7 Ks/9. If healthy, I think he can be a quality pitcher, but not an ace. Think 12 Wins, a 3.50 ERA and 160 Ks in 200 IP. Not bad, but not a replacement for Scherzer.
For their fourth starter, the Tigers replaced Rick Porcello with Alfredo Simon from the Reds. Simon is similar to Porcello, a groundball pitcher who keeps the ball in the yard. He may be a viable replacement after going 15-10 last year with a 3.44 ERA in 196 IP. I think the move the AL will be offset by his leaving the hitter friendly dimensions of Great American Ballpark and he can continue to pitch to an ERA under 3.50 and double-digit wins. If he can pitch 200 IP and stay around 3.40, he will be a great addition for Detroit.
The final rotation spot will go to youngster Shane Greene. Greene made 14 starts last year, his first in the majors. He went 5-4 with a 3.78 ERA and a very sharp 81 Ks in 78 IP. The other numbers look bad. His 1.40 WHIP wasn’t helped by his 29 BBs. And his 262 BAA is way too high. Young pitchers need adjustment time, and Greene isn’t really behind the curve. But having a young pitcher make 20+ starts for a team with playoff aspirations is a risk. I wouldn’t be surprised if he struggled this year with a losing record, ERA around 4.50 and perhaps a demotion back to Triple A.
The Tigers bullpen was woeful last year and didn’t get much better this offseason. Joe Nathan is slotted to close, but that’s likely to be short-lived. The former All Star has struggled this spring and was terrible last year with a 4.81 ERA, 7 blown saves, and 29 BBs in 58 IP. His 265 BAA and 1.53 tell the story. Closers can’t allow base runners and Nathan allows a ton. He’s got a lot of mileage on that arm and has a short leash. I think he will start the season as the closer, but don’t expect him to last long, perhaps being replaced in April.
The man to replace him will likely be Joakim Soria. Soria is a former closer who is having a very good spring. He split his time between the Rangers and Tigers last year going 18/20 in Save opportunities. But he struggled in Detroit with a 4.91 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 289 BAA in 13 games. The good news is he is the best guy in the pen this spring, is finally over his injury from 2012 and is starting to look like the All Star closer he used to be with the Royals. While he will start the season as a setup man, expect to see him take over the closer’s role before June. From there, I’d expect 25+ Saves with about a K per inning and ERA around 2.50.
The rest of the bullpen looks suspect. There are veteran arms, but veterans who have struggled greatly in the past with Detroit. Alburquerque, Gorzelanny and Chamberlain are the names you know, and none were good last year. They are hoping those guys will be better, but that’s not a great strategy. I suspect this bullpen will struggle again.
The Tigers pitching staff was not good in 2014. They have lost their best starter from last year and a quality mid rotation piece. While Simon is a good replacement for Porcello, a healthy Sanchez isn’t a replacement for Scherzer. Verlander is a question mark and Greene is young. The bullpen still looks awful and the offense can only help so much. While I see this team winning a lot of games, their Achilles heel will be the pitching staff once again.
The Tigers have won 4 straight division titles and have been the class of the AL Central for a while. I think they still may be the best team in the division because their offense is phenomenal and they have an ace in David Price. But the rest of the pitching staff pales in comparison to what other teams in their division have to offer. Offense is exciting, but pitching wins championships. When the Tigers’ offense went up against great pitching last year, they struggled. They will continue to face great pitching this year, but don’t have enough pitching on their end to combat it. For that reason, I think the Tigers will definitely lose their hold on the division.
I’ll put them down for 85 Wins and a second place finish in the Central. I have them shockingly missing the playoffs.