2011 Season Forecast: Detroit Tigers

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  81 – 81
2009:  86 – 77
2008:  74 – 88
2007:  88 – 74
2006:  95 – 67

Has it been that long since Kenny Rogers was doctoring baseballs in the World Series?

More to the current team – last year the Tigers were 52 – 29 at home, and 29 – 52 on the road, with comparable splits in terms of runs scored/allowed.  The Tigers were +82 in runs at home, and – 74 in runs on the road.

Runs Scored: 751  (8th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 743  (10th in the AL)

You’d think that a team that was below average in offense and defense would have a record slightly below .500, but the Tigers held on for dear life to stay at .500.

Season Recap:

The Tigers were picked by many to compete for the AL Central crown, but most people had them second or third.  After a reasonably good April, the Tigers gave back games in May, won a few more than they lost in June, and then just kind of stayed just off the fringe of the race until August.  By then, they had lost Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.  The Scott Sizemore experiment was a disaster, which didn’t help, and despite the best efforts of Miguel Cabrera, the offense couldn’t deliver down the stretch.

The Tigers were a team that got on rolls – good and bad.  They would win a bunch of games and make a run to the top.  Five of six off the start, six in a row in early May, eight of nine against Pittsburgh, Washington and Arizona (I mean – WOW – Detroit had an easy interleague schedule) to move to 37 – 29.  The fourth streak, in early July, put the Tigers at 48 – 37 one day before the All-Star break.  Unfortunately, the Tigers lost all momentum – losing seven in a row and 20 of 25 to fall out of the race by early August.  Toward the end of the season, Detroit rattled off eight wins in nine games to get to 80 – 75, but lost six in a row and had to win the last game of the season to get to .500.

Starters:

Justin Verlander is a legitimate ace, saving his team 20 runs over league average pitching and winning 67% of his decisions.  Max Scherzer, acquired from Arizona, is a solid #2 starter and was a start away from 200 innings, which he should make in 2011.  Rick Porcello wasn’t as good as hoped, but there are things to build on.  Armando Galarraga, he of the perfect game that wasn’t, was a moderately below average pitcher in part because he, like Porcello, pitches too much to contact and doesn’t miss bats with pitches.  Jeremy Bonderman made a comeback season, but in a painful way – an ERA of 5.53 pitching in a decent pitcher’s park and with a reasonably good defense behind him – he was 32 runs worse than an average starter of his 171 innings.  An extra run a start.  Ouch.  Two others made a few starts, Dontrelle Willis – who is gone – and Andrew Oliver, who should be back in AAA.

Looking ahead, Verlander, Scherzer, and Porcello return, to be joined by reliever Phil Coke – a decent middle reliever – and former quality starter, Brad Penny.  I’ve always been a fan of Penny’s (works very fast, throws strikes), but I don’t know if his body can handle the load.  He’s turning into Rick Reuschel, which can’t be good either.  However, he’s a better bet to be successful than Jeremy Bonderman.  The problem may be finding a sixth starter option.

Relievers:

The bullpen is led by closer Jose Valverde, a very good finisher, and imported setup man, Joaquin Benoit – a shut down 8th inning option.  After that, Joel Zumaya is still around (albeit a chance to get injured), and a few others are there to mop up, including Daniel Schlereth (a decent enough lefty with gobs of upside), Ryan Perry, and Brad Thomas or Eddie Bonine.

Catching:

Alex Avila earned the job full time, and his backup will be DH Victor Martinez.  Avila has tolerable defensive skills, but needs to step up some with the batting average – which would start with striking out less.

Infield:

Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best hitter in baseball, and last year seemed to have beaten whatever demons befell him at the end of 2009.  Of course, he blew that heading to spring training, but he should still be able to hit the ball in 2011.  The Tigers missed Placido Polanco, a solid defensive player who chipped in by hitting around .300.  Last year, Scott Sizemore earned a shot, but gave it away by showing less than acceptable range and hitting .224 and striking out about 28% of the time.  Carlos Guillen played a little at second before his body gave way and Will Rhymes took over.  In the minors, Rhymes was never Sizemore’s equal in terms of being a prospect, but at the majors, Rhymes was a better fielder and hitter. Looking ahead, the same three guys are back – and someone will have to back up Guillen when he breaks down in June or July.  (Look, I like Guillen, but this is what happens when you get old.  If he plays 140 games, the Tigers will benefit greatly, but I don’t know that he can do it.)  Jhonny Peralta returns to play short for the full year – not a solid defender anymore but can still put some runs on the board.  Brandon Inge returns to play third base – fielding well, hitting a few homers, but otherwise being an ordinary player.

Looking at this, the problem is that the front four are (a) on the down side of their career, or (b) trying to age faster than he has to by adding weight and drinking heavily.  This can’t be a good sign if you are a Tigers fan.

Outfield:

Austin Jackson was fantastic last year – a lot of hits, decent defense, and flashes of brilliant speed (10 triples, 27 stolen bases).  He is among the best centerfielders in the AL.  Right fielder Magglio Ordonez is getting long in the tooth, still can hit, but his defense is problematic.  And he can’t DH as much as you’d want because Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH.  In left, either Ryan Raburn or Brennan Boesch, who are essentially the same player, will get to play.  Raburn is marginally better – higher average, slightly better glove – but you wouldn’t complain (as a pitcher) if your outfield were Raburn, Jackson, and Boesch.

DH:

Did I mention that Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH?  He replaces Johnny Damon, who heads to Tampa because everyone from the east heads to Florida to retire.  Martinez should contribute more than Damon, but not a TON more.  Martinez played in Boston and generated about 83.4 runs of offense, while Damon played in Detroit and generated 79.7 runs.

Down on the Farm:

Alfredo Figaro looked like the best pitching prospect at AAA Toledo, but even with a decent W/L record and K/W data, his ERA was the same as the team average and when he got a cup of coffee with the big club, he was treated rudely by batters.  The best hitters are on the Tigers – Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes.  Not a lot of immediate help here…

Heading to AA Erie, the most interesting person there might be outfielder Brandon Douglas.  He has NO power.  None.  What he has is amazing contact skills and has hit .331 in his several stops in the minors.  I can’t tell how good a fielder he is – he’s bounced around between second and short, which means he’s a second baseman in the bigs.  If he’s ANY good at all, in a year or two he could be the next Placido Polanco.

Another guy who could be interesting is pitcher Adam Wilk.  Wilk made 14 starts in low A ball after coming out of Long Beach State and struck out 67 and walked just seven batters.  He had comparable numbers at A+ Lakeland (100Ks, 19 walks in 24 starts), and then slid into AA for three starts – and all were successful.  He’s not making the Tigers in 2011, but he COULD make the team in 2012 and be a good fourth or third starter.

Last year’s #1 pick Jacob Turner did what you wanted to see in his first year of professional ball, and will likely start 2011 in A+ Lakeland before moving to Erie mid-season.  Second round pick Andrew Oliver is moving quickly through the system and was given a cup of coffee in 2010 with the parent club.

Season Forecast:

I’m not convinced that Detroit will compete.  Inge, Guillen, Peralta, and even Cabrera are candidates to regress from 2010.  That could be 20 runs defensively and 40 runs offensively.  The outfield will stay the same – the gains in center field and possibly left are offset by the potential losses in right field.  Then you get to the pitching staff, and I don’t see how Coke is better than Galarraga and even though Penny is better than Bonderman – how many starts will that be?  10?  20?  30?  The sixth starter option doesn’t appeal to me – so if it’s 10, the pitching won’t be much better in 2011 than it was last year.

Given this, I think the Tigers will score about 720 runs and allow about 760, which is about 77 wins.  It’s not too unreasonable to think it could be worse, especially if Cabrera misses a significant amount of time or plays below the level we are used to seeing.  This team could injure it’s way out and suffer through six months that were as bad as the Tigers were in July and August.  That’s a 70 – 90 team.

Where can you find optimism?  Brad Penny making 30 starts, Rick Porcello getting a bit better, Guillen and Ordonez not only maintaining batting skills but playing 130 games each, and Ryan Raburn bouncing up in his numbers.  If ALL those things happened, the Tigers could win 85 games.  I just think that’s a lot to ask for.

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Coghlan, Bailey Earn Rookie of Year Honors… Other News…

Nice to be back after a long weekend camping near Lake Okeechobee with my son – a boys weekend and a good time.  In retrospect, we probably should have stayed longer and fished more on Sunday morning, so next time that will be the plan…

Coghlan wins NL MVP…

Beating out a good crowd, including Andrew McCutchen and J.A. Happ, Florida Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan won the NL Rookie of the Year Award.  He’s the third Fish to win, following Dontrelle Willis and Hanley Ramirez.  Keith Law was interviewed on ESPN Radio last night and said that the Marlins are going to have ROY candidates every year because they need to integrate young players onto the roster more regularly than other teams – a fair assessment.  At the same time, Coghlan deserved it.

I don’t know if you have ever seen him play, but he’s got to be the quietest hitter you’ll ever see.  There is little wasted motion.  He gets in his set position and hardly moves until he whips his bat around to tattoo a pitch.  He strikes me as a Todd Walker, Chuck Knobloch type, someone who can be valuable at the top of the order for a few years and then maybe last forever as a utility player/pinch hitter type.  Having seen him play, though, (and admittedly as a Marlins fan) I’d love for him to take another step forward.  To do that, he’d have to add a little power and keep his speed.  I don’t know that it’s possible, but even if he stays the way he is right now (and Coghlan finished the season with about 80 hits in the last two months alone – singles and doubles all over the place and two hits nearly every night), he’ll be a good one for a long time.

In the NL, there were several really good candidates.  Andrew McCutchen could be a Curtis Granderson type – but as a rookie, he wasn’t any more impressive than Coughlin.  Tommy Hanson was a very good pitcher for Atlanta, as was Happ for Philadelphia, and Randy Wells for Chicago.  Of the three, I think Hanson has the best chance for long-term success, but I’d be happy with Wells in my rotation for the next ten years, too.  It’ll be fun to see where they wind up in 2012.

Andrew Bailey Takes AL Rookie Hardware…

In the AL, a closer won the Rookie of the Year award, Oakland’s Andrew Bailey.  Bailey was impressive – 26 saves in 30 chances, a solid ERA and opposing batting average.  Certainly, Bailey had the credentials for the award.  Other rookies were equally solid – Brett Anderson (Oakland starter), Rick Porcello – who could be a good pitcher for a long, long time, and (my choice), Elvis Andrus.  Andrus was an amazing fielder and had as much to do with the success of his team as anyone.  If he continues to improve as a hitter, Andrus will be an all-star for a long time.  Andrus got robbed twice this year – once by Derek Jeter for a Gold Glove and now this…

Hot Stove News…

Ramon Hernandez will be back with the Reds, signing a one year, $3 million deal with an option for 2011 tied to games played (and collecting a $1 million buy out).  The Reds had declined his $8 million option…  [ESPN]

Ben Sheets says he will be ready for spring training.  Any takers?  According to ESPN, there will be interest, for sure, even though he’s had five arm related DL trips and a case of vertigo…   (I’d love to find out, personally – can the Marlins sign him to a one year, incentive laden deal???)  [ESPN]

Speaking of Milwaukee, the Brewers declined Braden Looper’s option worth $6.5 million (not a bad price for a league average – at best – pitcher), and paid Looper $1 million in a buy out.  Looper will join the list of more than 150 free agents…  [FoxSports]

Jack Wilson signed a two-year, $10 million deal to stay in Seattle – which the pitchers will appreciate…  [ESPN]

FoxSports says that free agent Pedro Martinez had so much fun in Philadelphia, and feels so good, that he wants to play all of 2010.  Philadelphia, LA, and Chicago are expected to be suitors…  [FoxSports]

Another Phillie chose to become a free agent…  Eric Bruntlett declined a minor league contract offer from Philadelphia.  [SI]

Colorado declined a $5 million option on Rafael Betancourt, but are still trying to work something out with the setup man.  [FoxSports]

Think about it…

FoxSports Bob Klapisch talks about the Yankees and contract options regarding Derek Jeter.  I think it’s a good read…

One of my favorite writers, SI’s Joe Posnanski, picks four players who deserve Hall of Fame plaques.  Tell me if you agree with him…

Happy Birthday! Tom Seaver hits 65.  I can’t believe he’s that old – I can still see him zinging pitches past the Cubs hitters of the 1970s.  (Except that one that Burt Hooten hit off him for a Grand Slam…)

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or rememberances include:  George Stallings  (1867) – a fantastic manager who may become my next biography topic, “The Big Bear” Mike Garcia (1923), Jim Brewer (1937), Dave Frost (1952), Mitch Williams (1964), Jeff Nelson (1966), Eli Marrero (1973), Ryan Braun (1983), and Nick Markakis (1983).

Afterthoughts…

Wally Backman, whose post playing career has been rather problematic, has a job managing Brooklyn – a minor league outpost for the Mets – in 2010.  [ESPN]

After Randy Johnson, Who’s Next to 300 Wins?

With Randy Johnson going for win #300 this week and Jamie Moyer winning #250 tonight, I wondered what the chances were of finding who was next. There aren’t a lot of guys who are close. Mike Mussina would have been next to 300, but he retired at 40 with 270. He would have had a fighting chance, but admittedly, he was running on a lot of guile and luck and three more years of success might have been a lot to ask for.

I’ll do them by age groups.

Over 40: Jamie Moyer would have to win 50 games more to join Johnson and that means pitching until he’s 50. I think he was lucky to get a two year deal and will not make 270, much less 275. John Smoltz has the goods but an arm that is running out of bullets. And, he’s 90 short when he finally makes it back. That’s six years from now when he’ll be 48. Not likely.

Born in 1970 – 1972: Pedro Martinez has 214 and no job, so it’s hard to see that he’ll make it. Besides, he’s not the same guy and his health hasn’t been solid lately. A year younger and still winning is Andy Pettitte, who turns 37 in a few weeks. He keeps threatening to retire, so that doesn’t bode well, but he has 215 wins, so six good years and he’s got a shot. Let’s see what he’s like two years from now and guess again.

Born 1973 – 1976: Derek Lowe has 126, Bartolo Colon has 150. Only Lowe is still going strong, but 170 wins means 10 really good seasons and he doesn’t usually win 17. Kevin Millwood is at 142, turns 35 on Christmas Eve. He’s probably going to make 200 if he stays healthy, but I doubt it.

Tim Hudson and Livan Hernandez are at 146 and 147, but only Hudson seems young at 34. Livan always seemed six years older than he is. Hudson, if he finds a second life, could make a run at 250 but would need a few really successful seasons. Javier Vasquez turns 33 this year, has always been healthy, and has 127 wins. He could make a run at 250, but he could use some help. He’s never won 20, so if he gets there, it’s by attrition.

Born 1977 – 1979: Roy Halliday (131) and Roy Oswalt (129) are 32 this summer. They’ll likely be around 145, hopefully more, by the end of the year. If it’s 150, eight more good years could get them to 270 and then it’s a matter of knowing how healthy either is at 40. My money will be on Halliday.

Barry Zito leads the 31 year olds with 123 wins. If he finds a new life – certainly possible, he could easily make a run at 250. And, if he has a Moyer resurgence, he could get further. I just don’t know if he’ll make it.

The guys who are 30 in 2009 include Mark Buehrle and Johan Santana. Guess who has more wins? If you guessed the Southsider, you’d be right. Buehrle has 122 and at this rate is well on pace for 250 by 40. If this year’s start is indicative of better things to come, he’d have a legitimate shot at 300. Santana is the better pitcher, but only has 109 wins. He’s going to need about five really good years to pass Buehrle and get on track. I like 250 as his end point, but you never know.

Born 1980 – 1984: Sabathia is already at 117 and counting. With the Yankees, he’s going to be a candidate for 20 wins a lot and if he stays healthy he could hit 35 with more than 225 wins. He’s my top pick to make 300 next. Josh Beckett has 89 wins, and should make 200, but won’t get much past it.

Carlos Zambrano turns 28 on 6/1 and already has 100 wins. He’s ahead of Halliday’s pace and is a horse. I like his chances to blow through 250 and if he stays healthy and doesn’t get too fat, he could make a run at 300. Jake Peavy is also 28 this year, but ten wins behind Zambrano. I like his chances at 250, but I’d like them better if he were on good teams.

The big winners of the 1982 birth year are Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman, neither of whom will be active in 2015. Justin Verlander has 50 wins and will be around 60 when the year is done. He could be around 200 at age 36, so 250 is not impossible. He COULD be really good, but I don’t buy it.

The guys who are 24 or 25 include too many guys with just 30 wins – Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, and what not. Three really good years, though, and I’ll think about it.

The one really young guy who is off to a good start is the 23 year old Felix Hernandez. He’s blown by 40 wins and should make 55 at the end of the year. Assuming any luck in good health and good teams, he could easily pass 100 wins by 27, which would make him well prepared for a run at 250 or more.

In sum:

SOLID BETS: Sabathia, Halliday, Zambrano
GOOD BETS: Buehrle, Zito, Verlander, Hernandez
LONG SHOTS: Anyone who is 25.
NO SHOTS: Everyone else.

I’d say that ONE of the guys listed here will make 300, and maybe two.

Broadway comes to the Mets, Rockies clear (out) Hurdle

The first manager to fall is Clint Hurdle, replaced after an 18 – 28 start, which makes you wonder how Manny Acta keeps his job in Washington (13 – 34) or similar slow starts in Oakland (18 – 28) or Houston (19 – 27). Or, how about the teams that are disappointing – like Cleveland (21 – 29).

Interim manager, Jim Tracy, won his first game.

The Yankees won, taking over first place in the AL East, getting contributions from a variety of sources, including Jorge Posada. Andy Pettitte left in the sixth with a sore back – he’s day to day for now. Mariano Rivera got the save, making them the greatest combination win/save duo in history. Cue Tim Kurkjian.

Hanley Ramirez isn’t ready to start, but he did pinch hit for the Marlins last night.

Khalil Greene went on the DL with an anxiety disorder. I have that – seriously – and I didn’t miss 15 days (or more) of work. When you make that kind of money and hit .200 with little to show for it, I guess you can. I’d be feeling anxious in his shoes, too… Returning in his place is outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

The last player to miss time with anxiety was Dontrelle Willis, who was slapped around pretty good last night…

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto left last night’s game with dizziness again. Hopefully this goes away soon. He may land on the DL this time, though.

Nick Punto pulled a groin (hopefully his own) and lands on the DL for Minnesota. Coming back from AAA is Alexi Casilla, who has been a good major leaguer before. Here’s to putting it back together.

Houston’s Kaz Matsui is out with a strained hammy.

White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin has plantar fascitis and will go on the DL. My running partner, Mike Coe, has been fighting that for months. Yuck! Dewayne Wise returns from the DL to take his spot.

In a rare May trade, the Mets sent C Ramon Castro to the White Sox for (sort of) prospect pitcher Lance Broadway. I always liked Castro and thought he should play more, but he’s a career backup. He can hit and hit for power. Broadway is a former #1 pick (2005) who hasn’t really found his groove.

Corky Miller loses his backup status in Chicago.

Dodger Will Ohman returns from the DL, but Texas prospect (and darned good pitcher) Matt Harrison goes to the DL with inflammation in his shoulder. Hurry back!

On the mend? Indian pitcher Joe Smith and Mets infielder Alex Cora, also Texas pitcher Tommy Hunter.

Look for David Dellucci and/or Daniel Cabrera to decline AAA assignments and become free agents.