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.

Season Forecast: Arizona Diamondbacks

Last Five Years:
2009:  70 – 92    (5th in NL West)
2008:  82 – 80
2007:  90 – 72
2006:  76 – 86
2005:  77 – 85

Runs Scored: 720 (8th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 782 (14th, NL)

The Diamondbacks play in a park that helps the offense – 817 runs were scored in games played at home, against the 685 runs scored on the road – so to be in the middle of the league in scoring tells you that the offense isn’t the eighth best offense in the NL.  It’s actually one of the worst.  One reason for it?  The Snakes struck out 1298 times, more than any other team in the majors.

Season Recap:

The Diamondbacks were the surprise team to win the NL Central in 2007 and then opened 2008 like they were going to stomp everyone.  Instead, they slowly collapsed until finally bleeding away the division on the last weekend of the season.

I don’t know about you, but something told me that the 2009 team would have to start guns a-blazing to feel good about the year, and should have been expected to win 80 – 85 games anyway.  Instead, Brandon Webb blew out his shoulder on opening day and the team never really recovered.  When the offense showed little consistent signs of life, the Diamondbacks fell to the bottom of the league and never really contended.  A losing stretch in early May put them behind the eight-ball, and many other losing stretches contributed to losing 92 games and finishing last in the division race.

That being said, as I see it the problem was tied to two things – losing Webb and replacing him with the ineffective Yusmeiro Petit and Billy Buckner probably cost the team about 60 runs defensively.  Despite that, the rest of the rotation and most of the bullpen were somewhat above average players.  That leaves the offense – and the offense wasn’t good enough to help the pitchers.

Pitching:

Danny Haren was magnificent – saving his team about 40 runs with his low ERA (3.14) in a tough park and pitching more than 229 innings.  Haren also fanned 223 while walking only 38 batters.  Doug Davis and Max Scherzer were league average in terms of ERA – though Scherzer looks to have a solid future as a #2 starter right now.  Jon Garland ate up enough innings as a #4 starter.  The only weak link was having to replace Webb with Buckner and Petit.

The bullpen featured no real aces – closer Chad Qualls had a 3.63 ERA and only 24 saves – but they had no problems, unless you consider a couple of short term players.  No reliever with more than 50 innings pitched was worse than league average.  Three of the four lefties, however, weren’t very good in short runs – including Scott Schoeneweis, Daniel Schlereth, and Doug Slaten.

Fielding:

Arizona pitchers weren’t helped too much here, but a lot of that is the park.

The infield of Chad Tracy, Felipe Lopez, Mark Reynolds, and Stephen Drew were basically average, though Lopez and Drew weren’t necessarily good at turning two.  The problem was that a couple of the backups weren’t very solid in limited innings – including the really poor 2018 innings Reynolds played at first and the 241.2 weak innings Augie Ojeda turned in at short.

The outfield should have been better, but Chris Young seemed to take his problems at the plate with him to the field, costing his team about eight runs.  Gerardo Parra is decent enough and Justin Upton, a pretty good right fielder, also got a lot of extra action with so many right handed pitchers on the staff.

Catchers Miguel Montero and Chris Snyder weren’t awful, though they were pretty easy to run on.

Batting:

The highs?  Justin Upton looks like the second coming of Henry Aaron.  You’d like him to walk a bit more, but he has developing power and hits .300.  Mark Reynolds fanned 223 times (!) to set the major league record but he doesn’t care.  He batted .260 with 44 homers, does draw a few walks, and puts runs on the board.  Felipe Lopez hit .301 at second, which was helpful, and Gerardo Parra hit .290 but didn’t do much else – he will be better with time.  Catcher Miguel Montero hit .294 with some power.  Stephen Drew was league average.

The problem is that the lows are LOW.  Chris Young, the regular centerfielder, hit all of .212, striking out 30% of the time, despite showing a little more patience.  Eric Byrnes came back from leg injuries to hit .226 with only 12 walks in half a season of plate appearances.  Chris Snyder batted .200 in 165 at bats.  Former producers Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy didn’t hit.  When Tony Clark retired – his bat failing him – his replacements on the roster, guys like Josh Whitesell and Brandon Allen didn’t hit either.  The really good teams have six or seven positive run producers and a couple of guys who pitch in.  The Diamondbacks had three and sometimes more guys who weren’t getting any hits and no bench players to write home about when the few that could hit took a day off.

Transactions:

On the way in?  Infielder Tony Abreu, acquired from the Dodgers and can play second or short.  He might well be a hitter, but I don’t see him as the new Rafael Furcal either.  Kelly Johnson was signed from Atlanta to play second – a decision I like – and Jeff Bailey was signed away from Boston, another decision I like because he is a solid bench player.  In January, Arizona added Adam LaRoche, which will pay off in the second half…  In March, the Snakes signed Kris Benson, who actually made the roster…  The Diamondbacks traded Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit for pitcher Edwin Jackson and Yankees prospect Ian Kennedy in the deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees…  I’m not sure I’d make that deal, but what the hey.  The other questionable deal was trading for Cubs malcontent pitcher Aaron Heilman.

On the way out?  Yusmeiro Petit was claimed by Seattle on waivers, Doug Davis signed a deal with Milwaukee and Chad Tracy signed with Chicago.  Eric Byrnes was released and called it a career.  Jon Garland was allowed to leave and pitch for the Angels.

Propspects:

At AAA Reno, the two hitting prospects appeared to be former White Sox farmhand Brandon Allen and utility outfielder Alex Romero.  Allen hit like Babe Ruth in 38 games to earn a call, but didn’t amount to much in 104 at bats with the Snakes.  I don’t think he’s THAT good, but he’ll be better in another shot.  Romero has had two trips to the bigs and didn’t hit either time and I think will be lucky to hit .260 in the majors.  The best pitchers in AAA were Buckner and 29-year-old Doug Slaten.  Buckner at least looked like a prospect, but hasn’t yet found his stride in the majors and may run out of time.

Schlereth tore through AA Mobile, fanning 39 in 26.2 innings, which is how he quickly was given a shot at the majors.  He’s a touch wild, but has a live arm.  Bryan Augenstein made nine starts there, finishing with a 0.99 ERA, 36Ks and only 9 walks in 45.2 innings.  Not nearly as successful at Reno, he still earned a tryout with the Snakes.  I think he’s going to be fine but is two years away.  Reliever Josh Ellis had a good year and might make the relief corps by the end of 2010.  A young arm is 2007 first round pick Jarrod Parker, who dominated A+ Visalia before getting sixteen decent starts in AA.

At Visalia, I also like pitcher Josh Collmenter who had a decent K/W ratio (152/55) in his 145 innings and he kept the ball in the park.  Obviously, he’s still a few years away.

Looking ahead for 2010:

The pitching staff will likely be weaker if Brandon Webb can’t pitch – and because I don’t like this year’s rotation compared to last year’s rotation.  I know – Jackson was very good for Detroit, but I think Max Scherzer looks like a solid pitcher.  Call it a wash.  Ian Kennedy won’t pitch as many innings as Doug Davis did and may not be as successful, and even though Jon Garland is just there to take up space, he’s better than most fifth starters.  His replacement may well be a step down and I think he’ll be missed.  As such, I see the rotation falling back by 25 runs.

The bullpen isn’t going to be better with Aaron Heilman – it could be worse by ten runs.

The offense?  I like adding LaRoche and Johnson, which I think could be worth 30 runs, mostly because LaRoche will be solid.  Johnson could come back nicely, but that means being as good as Lopez was last year.  A full year of Parra will be better than Eric Byrnes; if Chris Young can come back at all the outfield will also be better by 30 runs.  Defensively, the changes will not help the team and may make the infield defense a little worse.  However, the outfield defense, with two centerfielders and Upton should be steady.

As such, with 780 runs scored and 810 runs allowed, the Snakes should win 78 games.  That’s an improvement over last year, but not enough to threaten anybody at the top of the division.

Three Team Deal Leaves Yankees Feeling Grand(erson)

Curtis Granderson could be the centerpiece of a three-team deal that would bring the all-star centerfielder to the Yankees.  Various news agencies are reporting that the deal has been agreed to in principle – Granderson would go from Detroit to New York, while Yankee prospects would disperse – AAA centerfielder Austin Jackson would head to Detroit along with lefty reliever Phil Coke, one-time top prospect Ian Kennedy would head to Arizona, where he would be joined by Detroit starter Edwin Jackson – giving the Diamondbacks a pretty solid rotation, and two D-Back arms, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth would join the Tigers.

Let’s do this by team.  The Yankees have to deal with the potential free agency losses of both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.  Granderson would likely move Melky Cabrera to left (Cabrera might be a better centerfielder these days, though) letting Damon find a new home.  The thinking is that the overall outfield defense would improve (either Cabrera or Granderson in left is an upgrade over Damon), and Granderson would at least maintain the offense provided by Damon.  Except that Damon has hit pretty well and Granderson hit .249 last year – his second straight year of decline after breaking through in 2007.  What might be a concern is the Yankees dropping a couple of useful relievers (Coke, Bruney) – but it might be that Chamberlain is going back to the bullpen, especially if the Yankees land a starter in the next several weeks.

Arizona loses a blue-chipper in Max Scherzer, who looked VERY promising in 2009, and Daniel Schlereth, who has a nice arm but needs to deal with control issues.  However, if Edwin Jackson is as good as he looked for the first four months of 2009 (he slipped as the year ended) and Ian Kennedy stays healthy (he looked great in the Arizona Fall League and appears to be ready), the Diamondbacks could be REALLY solid in the rotation.  Webb (hopefully) , Haren, Jackson, Kennedy is potentially as strong as anybody.

Detroit unloads a lot of salary in Granderson (two more years at $23 million).  Jackson was due for arbitration on the heels of a fine season.  So, adding Scherzer – who, frankly, looks to be better than Jackson moving forward – also cuts the salary back without necessarily hurting the team.  Austin Jackson was a Yankee prospect who appears to be Melky Cabrera – fast, a slashing hitter but not a ton of power – and now appears to be a leading candidate for the centerfield job.  He won’t provide Granderson’s offense (even in an off-season, Granderson does take a walk and hits for serious power), but he could match his defense.  The net change may be 30 runs, but we’ll see.  Adding Coke and Schlereth gives the Tigers a much deeper pen and a potential future closer if Joel Zumaya never gets going again.

It’s hard to call the Yankees a winner in this deal – I think it’s a bit of a wash, really, though they get younger in the outfield.  I don’t like giving up all these arms – but the Yankees do have other options, and they have some money left to spend.  Detroit might take a slight step back in terms of offensive production, but the extra arms might make up for it and Scherzer could wind up being AWESOME (!) and giving them a second ace.  They get some money back that can be used for other holes.  In Arizona’s case, they have a couple of ifs (if Jackson can repeat, if Kennedy stays healthy and produces) and gave away what I thought was a solid future ace.  So, my early take is that the Tigers got the best of the deal, the Yankees are second, and Arizona is third – but could wind up being a surprise winner.  We’ll see.

Other News…

Rafael Soriano accepted an arbitration offer from the Braves – despite the fact that Atlanta added two potential closers to the roster.  Ryan Church was released to make room on the roster for the 2009 closer.  [ESPN]

Carl Pavano also accepted arbitration from the Twins – Boof Bonser will be asked to hit the road or head to the minors.  [ESPN]

Mark Teahan signed a three year, $14 million deal with the White Sox, avoiding arbitration. [SI]

Florida pinch hitter deluxe, Ross Gload, joins the Phillies.  My friend, Gio, will be saddened.  Gload got a two-year deal.  [MLB]

MLB is getting serious in their baseball coverage.  Peter Gammons is leaving ESPN to join the MLB Network and add his writing skills to a growing online news presence.  Gammons joined ESPN in 1989…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

One-time MEGA prospect, Todd Van Poppel, turns 38 today.

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include: Cy Seymour (1872), Joe DeMaestri (1928), Bob (Hurricane) Hazle (1930), Darold Knowles (1941), Del Unser (1944) – one of my favorites as a kid because I thought he was related to Al Unser, but I was wrong, Doc Medich (1948), Steve Christmas (1957), Juan Samuel (1960), Tony Tarrasco (1970), Tony Batista (1973), and Eric Stults (1979).

Afterthoughts…

Mark Buehrle bid $10,000 to manage the Cardinals for a day in spring training – and will use the opportunity to present his prize to a young girl (Mickey Cunningham) with Down’s Syndrome and her mother.  Very cool!  (Tony LaRussa matched Buerhle’s donation.)

Herzog, Harvey Earn Hall of Fame Nods; Hot Stove Updates…

Whitey Herzog, who managed the Cardinals to three World Series and the Royals to three AL West Division crowns, received 14 of 16 votes and will join veteran umpire Doug Harvey at the podium in Cooperstown next July.  If you are a Bill James fan, you probably know a lot about Whitey – James would quote, praise, or refer to him constantly and with good reason.  Herzog was a bright guy who could manage teams with power, speed, and was the Marty Schottenheimer of MLB – you start by having good defense supporting pitchers who threw strikes.  Then, figure out the best way to score some runs and win the division…  Doug Harvey was a well respected umpire for 31 years and certainly deserves inclusion.  No pioneers or titans of business received enough votes – and Marvin Miller was dismissed, unfairly, again.  [SI et al]

Hot Stove Takes…

Ivan Rodriguez signed a two-year deal worth $6 million to help mold Washington National pitchers into championship form – and back up Jesus Flores, who could learn a thing or two from the former gold glover…  [ESPN]

Adam Everett resigned with the Tigers for $1.55 million next year – a $550,000 raise.  Everett isn’t a championship quality player anymore.  He’s a below average offensive performer and last year Detroit shortstops (as a team) were about three plays worse than the average shortstop for every 800 balls put in play.  Everett used to be a glove guy, but he’s now getting a little long in the tooth.  He’ll turn 33 before he shows up for spring training and he won’t be getting better.

Brad Penny is close to signing a one-year deal with St. Louis worth $7.5 million and incentives, valid upon passing a physical.  I love Brad Penny – works fast, throws strikes, seems like a likeable guy.  Of course, he’s dangerous in an all-you-can-eat buffet, and that worries me.  No matter, I’d always want him on my team.  And, it’s nice when the professionals agree with me (thanks, Keith Law).  [ESPN]

The Nationals acquired reliever Brian Bruney from the Yankees for a player to be named later.  To make room on the roster, Washington released Saul Rivera and his 6.10 ERA in 2009.  This is an immediate improvement.  [SI]

The big buzz is a potential deal between Arizona, New York, and Detroit that would send Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Edwin Jackson to Arizona, and Max Scherzer to Detroit (among other stuff).  If you want to read buzz recaps, click on the links below:

Sports Illustrated

FoxSports

MLB.com

Off the transaction wire, the Tigers traded Clay Rapada to Texas.  Rapada gives Texas lefty depth in the bullpen.  And, Colorado released Matt Murton – a player who deserved a bit better career.  He’s only 28 and can still hit some.

I Told You So…

Cliff Corcoran surmises that Seattle’s signing of Chone Figgins was to shore up the defense – but, if you read my post on this topic, you’ll get a different opinion.  Figgins is more dependable and a better offensive performer, but his range is not in the same league as Adrian Beltre.  [SI]

Managerial Moves…

Ryne Sandberg will manage the AAA Iowa Cubs, following a season in AA Tennessee, and two seasons managing in Peoria.  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Glove men Tim Foli (1950) and Ed Brinkman (1941) were born on this day – so put on the mitt and field a couple of grounders…

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Jimmy Austin (1879), “The Rabbi of Swat” Mose Solomon (1900), Hank Thompson (1925), Mike Mussina (1968), Reed Johnson (1976), Vernon Wells (1978).