Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Monday, February 18, 2008

Detroit Tigers 2008 Preview: Burning Bright, or Crashing and Burning?

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

I think that they were hoping for a little more. An 88-74 season is certainly nothing all that terrible, but when you won 95 games and played in the World Series the year before, it can be considered a bit of a disappointment. Magglio Ordonez had a monster season, and Carlos Guillen, Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, and Justin Verlander were all outstanding as well, but the rest of the rotation collapsed and Gary Sheffield did not provide all of the power that the Tigers were hoping for. They also were using a first baseman who hit four home runs in 143 games and a left fielder with a .264 on base percentage. Over the winter the Tigers ditched that dynamic duo and traded for one of the ten best hitters in the game.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

They can and did. The 2007 Tigers scored more runs than any team in the AL other than the Yankees. They scored about the same number of runs at home and on the road. Management cleared out the dead wood (Craig Monroe, Sean Casey, Brandon Inge) and replaced them with better hitters; in the case of Miguel Cabrera, a way, way better hitter.

CF Curtis Granderson
2B Placido Polanco
DH Gary Sheffield
RF Maggilo Ordonez
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Carlos Guillen
SS Edgar Rentaria
LF Jacque Jones/Marcus Thames
C Ivan Rodriguez

A lot of people are looking at the individual stats that these guys put up in 2007 and thinking that the Tigers will score 1000 runs. A few silly people are even saying that this is the best offense of all time. It's not, and they won't score 1000 runs or even get close. Cabrera is an awesome hitter, but Ordonez and Polanco can't reasonably be expected to hit .363 and .341 again. That doesn't mean that they will be bad; I'm sure that they will both be above average offensive players in 2008. It does mean that they will regress closer to their career records. But this team doesn't have to score more to win more games. Staying right where they were will be fine. It's the pitching that needs the fixin'.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The Tigers went into the 2007 season thinking that they had a strong, deep group of pitchers. They had allowed the fewest runs in the AL in 2006 with a solid core of starters and a terrific bullpen. Not much of that worked out for them in 2007. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, the Tigers allowed over 100 runs more than the previous year, finishing ninth in the league. Jeremy Bonderman gets extra credit from me for screwing up several of my fantasy teams, as well.

SP Justin Verlander
SP Kenny Rogers
SP Jeremy Bonderman
SP Dontrell Willis
SP Nate Robertson

CL Todd Jones
RP Fernando Rodney
RP Bobby Seay

Verlander took major steps towards being one of the best starters in the AL, increasing his strikeout rate while lowering both his walks and hits allowed rates. Rogers is 43 years old and was hurt for most of 2007. Bonderman had elbow issues and needs to be watched closely this spring. I know that everyone love Dontrell Willis, but let's face some facts here: in 2007 he had a 5.17 ERA, allowed 241 hits in 205 innings, and his K/BB ratios aren't anything special. This could certainly be at least a league average rotation if everything goes well, but there is a very good chance of another flameout.

Witnesses for the defense

Granderson is a terrific defensive centerfielder. Polanco managed to play 141 games at second base and not make a single error. Inge was a better than average third baseman; replacing him with Cabrera is a bit of a defensive loss (although made up for in spades by the offensive upgrade). Jones in left is an improvement over Monroe. Moving Guillen to first and replacing him with Rentaria is another gain. Overall the defense is one of the better ones in the AL.

Farm aid

If you want to find the better prospects from the Tigers system, you might want to check in Atlanta and Florida, which is where they are now. I can't really fault them for giving up Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller when the chance arose to obtain Cabrera; however, if the Tigers don't win with Cabrera now they may well kick themselves later. There is very little immediate help forthcoming. Dallas Trahearn might get a shot if the starters break down; ditto Eulogio de la Cruz and Yorman Bazardo in the bullpen. There are no position players anywhere near the majors.

Watch out for that tree!

Ivan Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer in waiting. He's also 36 years old, has caught 2061 major league games, and had a .294 on base percentage last year. His offensive value is largely tied up in his batting average, although he did hit 31 doubles and 11 homers in 2007. He could very well put up a batting line of .255-.270-.380 this year. Gary Sheffield's slugging averages since 2003 have been .604, .534, .512, .450, .462, a trend that neither his age (39) nor Comerica Park are likely to help him break. If his bat slows down at the same rate, he's got a .430 slugging average in his near future, although his walks still help him to have value. Kenny Rogers had a reasonably good September and may have another season left, but he could just as easily have one of those 6.65 ERA seasons that tell a pitcher in no uncertain terms that time is up. I don't know how Todd Jones got through last year, much less how he wracked up 38 saves. I'm not sure he knows, either. Jones could have a similar year, or he might run his ERA over 6.00 and be replaced. If I were a betting man, I'd go for the latter.

Usually I don't put 23 year olds in this category, but I'd like to state my opinion that pitchers who injure themselves playing guitar hero and moving boxes at home aren't likely to match the longevity of, say, a Goose Gossage.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

After the Cabrera trade, many immediately projected the Tigers as the team to beat in 2008. I'm not so sure. There are an awful lot of question marks here, especially in the rotation and the bullpen. The Tigers won 88 games with a bad to mediocre staff last year, so any improvement should push them at least 4-5 games in the standings. A healthy Bonderman living up to his stuff would move them forward even more. I think that Bonderman, Willis, and Nate Robertson are all capable of and will be better in 2008, so I'm going to go with the upside. But it's not the sure thing that a lot of people think that it is.

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  • "Burning bright?"

    Nice going, buddy. You've just proven that you're the Roy Thomas of baseball bloggers.


    By Blogger Bob, at 8:31 PM  

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