clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

AL Central Preview: Detroit Tigers Edition

New, comments
Detroit Tigers v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

I started seriously following the Cleveland Indians in 2012. From then through the 2014 season, I dreaded tuning in when the Tribe took on the Detroit Tigers because I knew that they would be absolutely destroyed. Those Detroit teams in the early 10s were scary good. But time waits for no one, and that includes baseball teams. Here, in 2019, the Tigers are looking pretty rough. The pitching looks mediocre and the offense looks significantly worse than that. The pendulum will eventually swing back in favor of the Tigers, but for now it should be fun to watch the Indians play them this season. But what, exactly, should we expect from the Tigers this season?

Key offseason transactions

Acquisitions

  • Signed SS Pete Kozma (we won’t discuss this)
  • Signed LHP Matt Moore
  • Signed RHP Tyson Ross
  • Signed SS Jordy Mercer
  • Signed 2B Josh Harrison

Departures/Injuries

  • SS Jose Iglesias became free agent (signed with Cincinnati Reds)
  • DH Victor Martinez retired
  • LHP Francisco Liriano became free agent (signed with Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • RHP Alex Wilson became free agent (signed with Milwaukee Brewers)
  • RHP Michael Fulmer placed on 60-day DL (out for season)

Victor Martinez retiring is going to make an impact on both Cleveland and Detroit fans alike as he’s always been regarded as a fan favorite regardless of where he was playing. From a performance standpoint, however, it’s probably best for the Tigers that he isn’t in their lineup anymore.

Another huge blow to the Tigers in 2019 is the loss of Michael Fulmer. Fulmer had knee surgery last September and the Tigers were hoping he may come back at full strength in 2019. Unfortunately, his elbow is the issue now and he is the next in a long line of pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery. Fulmer had Detroit fans excited after his dominant rookie campaign in 2016 (which ended in him winning the AL ROY award), but now his future is in question as he will miss all of 2019.

The rotation is now filled out with Tyson Ross and Matt Moore, both of which are several years removed from their last good season. Add in Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison to fill in the holes up the middle, and you can see how the Tigers have supplemented their group of younger players with older veterans.

Lineup

Nick Castellanos continued his dominance at the plate in 2018 and turned in his best season to date. He once again played in 157 games (678 PA) and he slashed an incredible .298/.354/.500 (wRC+ 130). He did this all while blasting 23 home runs and knocking in 89 runs. The problem with Castellanos is that he is an abysmal fielder. FanGraphs has him as worth -19 DRS in left field last season and a -12.3 UZR/150. In short, barring some minor miracle, Castellanos’ future is most likely in a DH role. But for now, he’s probably the best hitter for the Tigers.

Last season was Jeimer Candelario’s first full season with the Tigers, and he seemed to take a step back in terms of offensive production. He ended the season with a .224/.317/.393 slash (wRC+ 95). He’s still walking at a decent clip (10.7%), but he’s striking out far too often (25.8%) and isn’t providing the slugging to offset it.

Niko Goodrum was also in his first full season with Detroit last year and he did well, especially considering it was his first full season at the major league level period. He slashed .245/.315/.432 (wRC+ 103), and he can play at pretty much every position except pitcher and catcher.

Don’t expect much from Jordy Mercer. He’s entering his age 32 season and he’s six years removed from his only above average season in 2013 (when he boasted a 115 wRC+ with the Pirates). Josh Harrison, on the other hand, may prove to be a good pick up by the Tigers. An All-Star in 2017 for the Pirates, the second baseman slashed .272/.339/.432 (wRC+ 104) that year. He won’t be an offensive juggernaut, but he may be one of the better hitters in an otherwise thin lineup.

And of course, no Tigers write-up would be complete without Miguel Cabrera. The perennial All-Star and Cleveland killer has slowed substantially in recent years, especially last year due to injury. The normally durable Cabrera played in just 38 games in 2018, and while he hit well in that time (.299/.395/.448, wRC+ 128), it remains to be seen if the 36-year-old can sustain that level of production over an entire season going forward.

Pitching

The Detroit pitching in 2019 will not be good. The Tigers have a ton of talent coming up through the minor league system (Casey Mize’s curveball gives me nightmares), but they aren’t quite ready to produce at the major league level just yet. And with Fulmer out for the entire year, the rotation starts to look mighty shaky. Jordan Zimmermann looks to be the “ace” of the squad, and he hasn’t really put together a good season 2015, and his last truly dominant season was in 2014. Since coming to Detroit from Washington, Zimmermann has not been good.

Matthew Boyd is set to be their #2 and he may be the “best” pitcher on the staff in that he was decidedly average in 2018. He made 31 starts, the most of any season in his career, and he threw 170.1 innings and allowed 83 earned runs while walking 51 and striking out 159 (ERA+ of exactly 100).

If there’s one person who benefits from the absence of Michael Fulmer, it’s Spencer Turnbull. The Tigers drafted Turnbull in the second round of the 2014 draft, and he made his major league debut last September. While he struggled a bit in his 16.1 innings, his 95 mph sinker, 93 mph cutter, and 81 mph curve are all reasons to think he could help the Tigers out this season.

If you’ve followed the Tigers over the past several years, then you’ll be well aware that their bullpen is typically a hot dumpster fire. As evidenced above in the lineup section, however, these times are a-changing. Shane Greene is back as the closer, and while he struggled in 2018, he was lights out in 2017 and could prove to be a reliable late inning option. You also have Joe Jimenez who, despite second half struggles in 2018, struck out everyone in sight all year long. If Greene moves on, expect to see Jimenez as the closer, especially since he’s only 24 this season. Add in guys like Victor Alcantara and Drew VerHagen (when he returns from injury), and you have some guys who will most likely generate more interest than the rotation. Even Daniel Norris, despite his propensity to give up the home run ball last year, was striking out more than a batter an inning last year. And that’s a good thing for the Tigers since it’s very likely that their starters may not survive deep into games in 2019.

Summary

Mike Ilitch, the longtime owner of the Detroit Tigers, passed away in February of 2017. It was often reported that he desparately wanted to win a World Series before he died, and that was evidenced by the exorbitant amount of money he spent on the team year in and year out. This philosophy of “buy a super team”, unfortunately (in the eyes of Detroit fans), never resulted in a championship. After Mr. I passed away, the philosophy around the Tigers changed. Payroll was shed, players were traded, and the focus shifted to building up the farm system in the hopes of going through a rebuild. The Tigers, similar to the White Sox, are nearing the part of their rebuild where the youth that they’ve infused into their system should start panning out. If it does, the Tigers are going to be very competitive yet again, except they won’t have the monster payroll they had a few years ago. It’s a riskier way to build a championship caliber team (we, as Cleveland fans, should know), but that’s the route the Tigers are going. It won’t make them competitive this season, but there’s a good chance that they will be as the next decade rolls around.

By the way, the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera under contract through 2023.

Poll

Where will the Tigers finish in the AL Central this season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    First place
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Second place
    (3 votes)
  • 29%
    Third place
    (23 votes)
  • 37%
    Fourth place
    (30 votes)
  • 25%
    Fifth place
    (20 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now