Thursday, February 28, 2013
This is the last in a series in which I preview each of the Tigers' division rivals by looking at their changes from 2012 to 2013. Going in alphabetical order, I've already looked at the White Sox, Indians and Royals.
I've spent the better part of my life hating the Minnesota Twins. After all, I thought the Tigers were going to be scooping up their second World Series trophy in four years back in 1987. But no, they lost in the ALCS to a Twins team that would have finished in fifth place in the American League East. A hatred was born and it's been stoked quite well through the years.
This year, as I look at the changes the Twins have made, I almost long for the days of the Twins being a team worthy of my hatred. I almost feel bad for their fans after having such a quality team for so long and having nothing to show for it in the 2000s. Almost. I haven't forgotten Game 163, after all. But, you know, six or seven more 70-win seasons and I'm pretty sure I could work up some genuine empathy. That said, it's going to be another rough season for the Twinkie's faithful.
Adding: Vance Worley, SP, Mike Pelfrey, SP, Kevin Correia, SP, Josh Roenicke, RP
Losing: Carl Pavano, SP
The Twins used twelve different starting pitchers last season. Nine had more than ten starts, including their Opening Day starter, Carl Pavano. Only Pavano is listed as "leaving" above (left as free agent), but that's because the Twins dumped so many of their starters on the fly last season. Francisco Liriano was traded. Jason Marquis was dumped in May. Nick Blackburn was designated for assignment. To put it simply, the Twins' 2012 rotation was racked with injuries and ineffectiveness. What better illustrates that than the fact that they had exactly one pitcher who tallied more than 100 innings as a starter?
How have they tried to address this major flaw? Well, they added two starting pitchers who ended 2012 on the disabled list. Seriously. Vance Worley, who they acquired in the Ben Revere trade with the Phillies, made his last start on August 28th last season and had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow during the offseason. Mike Pelfrey never pitched after April and had Tommy John surgery on his elbow in May.
They also signed Kevin Correia, who pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, to a two-year, $10 million deal. I haven't the faintest idea with they did that. Sign him? Sure. Two years, $10 million? Well, the past two seasons with the Pirates he struck out an average of one batter every two innings, so at least he's Twins-y. Is he good? Let's just say when the Twins' announcers try to talk him up, they'll probably say things like, "He's had double digit wins the last four years!"
Even if you assume each of those three will be good to go at the start of the season, the rest of the rotation gets a little sketchy. The Twins' best starter last year was Scott Diamond, but he had bone chips removed from his elbow in December and it's questionable whether he'll be ready for Opening Day. Even if he's not, the 2012 team leader in wins (12), starts (27), innings (173) and starter's ERA (3.54) will be a key part of the Twins' rotation in 2013.
Another hold-over from the Twins' 2012 rotation is Liam Hendriks. He had nothing like Diamond's success (5.59 ERA), but get this. He also had bone chips removed from his elbow this offseason. At least he got it out of the way early - October. So he should be ready to go Opening Day. The question for him will simply be whether he's good enough to earn the spot.
What if Hendriks stinks and Diamond (or Worley or Pelfrey) isn't ready? Well, they could get innings from Kyle Gibson, who missed most of 2012 as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. Even if they go to him right away, he's expected to be on an innings limit. More likely they'll turn to some guys who filled in for innings last season, like Cole De Vries, Brian Duensing or Anthony Swarzak. If none of those guys can step up, they could look to non-roster invitees like Rich Harden, Nick Blackburn and P.J. Walters.
That leaves the Twins with a lot of questions in their rotation, but their bullpen, for better or worse, will see a lot of the same players. Josh Roenicke (3.25 ERA in 88 IP) was picked up on waivers from the Rockies, but you're not adding a lot to your bullpen by picking up pitchers who weren't good enough for the Rockies last year. So they'll turn to familiar names like Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Alex Burnett, Casey Fien and a few of the previously mentioned swingmen like Duensing and Swarzak.
All of this is a long road to saying that while the Twins made some changes for 2013, how much they improved due to those changes is debatable. Not only that, it seems entirely possible they will have a lot of the same problems with injuries and reliability in 2013.
Adding: (Maybe) Aaron Hicks, OF (eventually?)
Losing: Alexi Casilla, IF, Denard Span, OF, Ben Revere, OF
The Twins' lineup situation is similarly grim in terms of offering hopes for improvement on last season. They have a very similar cast of characters and they will be replacing the players lost with internal candidates. They traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere and the only thing that came back their way was pitching. Those pitchers have talent, but that doesn't help the Twins' 2013 lineup.
Their answers? Darin Mastroianni in center field. He's fast, a plus defender and willing to draw walks. He doesn't look to have a lick of power, and probably won't be able to hit enough to be even an average outfielder. The Twins, though, hope he'll be a suitable placeholder until top prospect Aaron Hicks is ready.
In right field, the Twins hope to hand the job over to Chris Parmelee. He's not known for his defense, so the Twins are hoping he hits well enough to overcome any ugliness in the field. He finally showed the big power expected from him in Triple A last year, and has always drawn walks, but has yet to prove himself as a big-league hitter. It's expected the Twins will give him every chance to do that this year.
The only other notable change is the loss of Alexi Casilla. It's only notable because he pulled the most time at second base last year. You typically don't spend too much time crying over a guy who hit .241/.282/.321. Especially when his main replacement, Jamey Carroll, is likely as good or better. Even though Carroll's line of .268/.343/.317 won't wow anybody, combined with his infield defense, it made him the fifth most valuable position player on the team last year. Two of the guys ahead of him are now gone. The big question with Carroll is whether he can repeat that production in a starting role, and stay healthy, in his age 39 season.
It's going to be u-g-l-y for the Twins this year. To be honest, they're going to need to catch some breaks to just be bad. Awful is probably a lot more likely, as this team's ideal roster isn't impressive and that doesn't take into account the fact that nearly all of their key players are either injury prone, old or both.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Jim Leyland created a little bit of a stir when he told James Schmehl six of the Tigers' bullpen spots were basically locked up. As a fan, our natural reaction to such a statement is to figure out who the locks are. I know that was my immediate reaction as I Tweeted my guess at the six to Schmehl for confirmation.
After thinking about it for a while, though, I realized it shouldn't be difficult. If somebody is a lock for a role in the bullpen, it shouldn't be hard to guess who they might be. For example, if you're trying to figure out who the six locks are you can immediately eliminate the non-roster invitees. One of those guys might have a shot at a bullpen spot, but if you call any of them a lock you need to check your definition of the term.
That leaves us with the 40-man roster. Eliminate the four starters who are guaranteed jobs if they're healthy, and you have the remaining candidates to be one of Leyland's six "locks". I think there are three pitchers we can include in the group with certainty - Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel.
Each was used in high leverage situations last year and each was mentioned as a possible answer at the closer spot should Bruce Rondon struggle. That, of course, brings us to another name I'm going to count as a lock - Bruce Rondon. The closer job is his to lose, so unless he gets exposed or injured this spring he will be on the roster. That's four.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
This is the third installment in a series where I'll look at the changes each of the Tigers' division foes made from 2012 to 2013. I'm going alphabetically, so the first two were Chicago and Cleveland.
If you look at the 2012 and 2013 slogans for the Kansas City Royals, you could be forgiven for confusing their intentions from one year to the next. Heading into 2012, a young team brimming with young talent professed that it was "Our Time". The optimism of that idea was quickly squished by a 12-game losing streak in April. No doubt feeling the sting of last year's unfounded confidence, the Royals' marketers in 2013 have decided to go with "Come to Play".
I understand what they're trying to do with that, but it seems like the slogan of a team that is trying to divert attention from the team's true expectations. However, this is the year where they traded a boat load of young talent to get who they believe is a true ace for the front of their rotation. This was the offseason where their manner seemed to suggest they thought it was "Our Time". Were they right? For the first time since the 80s, will we see Royals blue in mid-October?
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
As we approach spring training games being played, I thought it might be fun to talk a little bit about how good the players we're watching are. Sure, as we view photos of them stretching and throwing the ball in the outfield leisurely, we might be tempted to think we wouldn't look so out of place among them.
Baseball players, after all, don't have the wow factor of an NBA or NFL player. Stand next to a power forward or a defensive lineman and you're not going to daydream about mixing it up with them in the trenches or even in the paint. It's not like that with baseball players. Have you ever seen a pro ballplayer out in public?
"I think that's so and so."
"Pitcher for the Mud Hens. I think that's him."
"Eh, I doubt it."
"No, look at this picture on my phone. That's him. That dude can throw 90."
"I wonder if I could hit him."
This is the second installment of a series in which I'm going to do a preview of each of the Tigers' division foes. This series will be focusing mainly on the changes the teams have made so Tiger fans will be aware of what each team did to try to break Detroit's string of division titles. I'm going alphabetically (click here for Chicago), so we move on to Cleveland.
When I imagine a team doing their offseason planning, I picture them going position by position. Identifying each position to determine whether it was a strength or a weakness. After that assessment is finished, I imagine them discussing what their options are to address the weaknesses. Ideally, when the offseason is over and the team is reporting to spring training, each of the weaknesses will have been addressed. I don't know the actual process for evaluating a team after the season, but broken down to its most basic parts it almost has to have those elements. Whoever is in charge of that process for the Indians, at the very least, did a good job of identifying the weaknesses from 2012.
If you look at the production the Indians got from each position in 2012, the weaknesses stand out. First base? Third base? Left field? Designated hitter? Starting pitching? These were all clear problem areas and the Indians took steps to address each.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
In this series, I'm going to take a look at each of the Tigers' Central Division foes, focusing on the major changes that have been made to their rosters. This should serve to get all of us caught up on the differences we'll see between the 2012 and 2013 rosters. I'm going to go at it alphabetically, so we're starting with the bad guys in white: Chicago.
Adding: Jeff Keppinger, 3B
Losing: A.J. Pierzynski, C, Kevin Youkilis, 3B
The White Sox of 2013 are going to look a lot like the White Sox of 2012. If you go around the field and look at the position players, they figure to have the same starters as last year in seven of nine spots. The changes figure to be at third base and catcher and they will likely come with mixed results.
The good change will come at third base. The Sox third basemen last year combined to hit .201/.286/.314, despite Kevin Youkilis coming in after a trade and pulling those numbers up by hitting .230/.335/.410. Not exactly vintage Youk, but I'm sure it was a welcome change from what their other contributors at the hot corner chipped in.
In 2013, they're hoping Jeff Keppinger will be the one to step in and solidify the position. Keppinger hit .325/.367/.439 for the Rays last season and was their main replacement for Longoria at third base. Even with those solid numbers, though, he only started 104 games. Despite this being his age 33 season, he's only had more than 100 starts in a season three times. He's also never played more than 67 games at third base, having spent more time at each of the middle infield spots. Given those facts, it will be interesting to see how he holds up in a full-time role. Outpacing the Sox third base production will be pretty easy, but expecting anything like his 2012 production would be foolish.
Behind the plate, the Sox will be trying to replace a much more familiar face - A.J. Pierzynski. He won't be missed by Tiger fans, both because he's probably one of their most hated players and because he had a very good season last year. His line of .278/.326/.501 was the best of his career and also the first time he cleared .500 for his slugging percentage. Trying to reproduce those kind of numbers will be a stretch for his replacements, but it would have been a similar stretch for Pierzynski himself. His 2012 was markedly better than any season he's had since way back in 2003.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
I learned from Twitter that today is the 58th birthday of Chet Lemon. One of my earliest baseball memories is of Chet Lemon going back on a ball, leaping, and robbing a player of what would have been a game-winning home run. I wasn't the only one who took notice of the catch. The Tigers based a 1986 promotion on the play. As a seven-year old kid, I had never seen such a play before and I was mesmerized. I think I told everybody who would listen about that play. I was so taken by it that later that year, when I saw video of Willie Mays' iconic catch and heard it referred to as the best of all time, I balked. Lemon's was better than that! Admittedly, I lacked historical context, but to me at the time there was no debate.
I obviously never forgot seeing that catch and back then it served to put Chet Lemon on my radar. I started seeking him out when I would watch the Tigers and I grew to love the way he would nonchalantly glide under fly balls to center and catch them one-handed, glove next to his ear. I remember our little league coaches instructing us to catch fly balls with two hands. If one of us would get cocky and field one without that second hand, the most common retribution was, "Two hands! You're not Chet Lemon out there!" A friend of my mom's said that if she could be granted one skill, she would ask to be able to run down and catch a baseball as beautifully and as effortlessly as Chet Lemon.
How much of an impression did the hustling center fielder make on a young Tiger fan? I'll just say that when I picture the Tigers' away uniforms from the 80s, the default player who's filling it isn't Gibson, Parrish, Whitaker, Trammell or Morris. It's Lemon. So happy birthday, Chester. I hope you're happy to know there are a lot of Tiger fans who will never forget you and properly appreciate your contribution to the Tigers.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Heading into spring training, there are three clear questions coming up more than any other. Who is going to be the closer? Who's going to be the fifth starter? How are they going to handle left field? In my mind, those three questions are in order of importance and I'm going to answer all three in one post. Breaking them into three separate posts might get me more hits, but I'm compressing them to signify my belief that their importance is being blown out of proportion a bit.
Who will close?
The Tigers' bullpen, assuming good health, is going to consist of Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, Bruce Rondon and a couple more pitchers who will address certain needs for the staff. The Tigers seem to like Rondon's chances of stepping in to become the team's closer. A big part of their willingness to do that is the stuff the youngster possesses. It is my belief, though, that some part of the reason behind the experiment is the fact that if Rondon is not the closer, one of these other pitchers will be.
Friday, February 8, 2013
By now, you've almost certainly heard that it's been reported Felix Hernandez is going to sign a seven year deal with the Mariners worth roughly $175 million. Any Tiger fan who hears that and knows Justin Verlander's contract situation is quickly going to wonder if that means the Tigers will soon sign Verlander to a similar extension.
After all, Felix Hernandez's contract situation was nearly identical to Verlander's before the extension. Both were two years from free agency. Both were owed nearly the same amount of money. The reason their contract situations are nearly identical is because they both came into the league at about the same time and back in 2010, they signed very similar five year extensions.
I think those deals back in 2010 were significant to viewing Verlander's current situation. When Felix and Justin signed deals within two weeks of each other, Verlander's contract was worth $2 million more. This despite the fact that Hernandez was three years younger and had by every measure other than wins and losses, outperformed Verlander to that point.
Don't believe me?
Verlander, 2005-9, 3.92 ERA, 840 IP, 80 HR, 282 BB, 746 K, 115 ERA+, 14.2 bWAR, 19.0 fWAR
Hernandez, 20059, 3.45 ERA, 905 IP, 80 HR, 287 BB, 810 K, 125 ERA+, 16.7 bWAR, 21.0 fWAR
I think there are a couple explanations for the Tigers giving Verlander more than what Hernandez had just received. I think they likely thought Verlander had not yet shown them his best work and I also think they wanted him to know nobody valued a pitcher more than the Tigers valued him.
Whatever the reasoning, the fact that they gave Verlander more when Hernandez had been better is not going to play well for them in this round of negotiations. Why? Look at their numbers since they signed their respective deals in 2010.
Verlander, 2010-12, 2.79 ERA, 713 IP, 57 HR, 188 BB, 708 K, 150 ERA+, 20.0 bWAR, 20.2 fWAR
Hernandez, 2010-12, 2.92 ERA, 715 IP, 50 HR, 193 BB, 677 K, 131 ERA+, 14.8 bWAR, 17.3 fWAR
I think it's just as clear Verlander has pitched better since the 2010 deals as it was Hernandez was better before them. So, if the Tigers gave Verlander a little more after Hernandez had been a little better, how much more are they going to give him after Verlander has been quite a bit better?
I've seen guesses like seven years, $210 million or even higher. Overall, there seems to be an over/under argument settling in at $200 million for a seven year deal. My personal feeling is that Verlander's deal is going to be a lot closer to Hernandez's than many people think. Verlander has pretty clearly been the better pitcher recently, but I don't see such a huge difference in performance that he can claim he's worth $5 million per year more.
I also think the three year's difference in age is more significant this time around. Think of this. Verlander is going into this season at 30 years old. Hernandez is basically going into this season at 27 years old (he turns 27 on April 8th). That means if both players sign seven year deals, each player's contract will include his age 30-33 seasons. The difference between the two is Hernandez's deal will also cover his age 27-29 seasons while Verlander's deal would cover his age 34-36 seasons. Which chunk would you rather have? I think the answer is clear for most and the difference in Hernandez's favor might eat up a lot of the perceived difference in their current values.
Look, I'm not pretending to have some privileged insight into this situation. Verlander might tell Dombrowski "I'd get $30 million per year in free agency and if you don't sign me for that now, I'll prove it in two years." The Tigers might flinch. I have no idea. But people seem to be looking at Verlander as this vastly superior pitcher to Hernandez who's going to blow Felix's deal out of the water. I'm just saying don't be so sure, and I think I've shown a decent argument for why.
I'll close with two guesses. My first guess is Verlander will have an extension done before he throws the season's first pitch. My second guess is his contract will be something like seven years, $190 million.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
As we rub our eyes, adjusting to the shine of the dewy new season of baseball, it's tempting to try to tackle all the decisions the team will be facing in spring training. Handle the closer this way! Put this guy in the fifth spot of the rotation! Let him platoon in left! But let's slow our roll a bit. There will be plenty of time to chat about these minor (ahem, overplayed) issues. Today, I'm going to think about a simpler question.
I was speaking to somebody at work yesterday and they asked me about the coming baseball season because they know I'm a big fan. I kind of skimmed over a couple thoughts before they hit me with a question I realized I haven't really given much thought in a while. "Who's your favorite player?"
I had no answer. I knew there were guys I liked more than others, but every time I'd hit on one player as a candidate, I'd remember another. As my co-worker looked at me askew as I fumbled over such a simple question, I knew this required more thought than I could give it while chatting at the copier. To the internet!
I pulled up the Tigers' 40-man roster and got down to the business of tackling this dilemma. The names before me quickly separated themselves into groups in my mind, and what follows are some words on each of the groups.
Darin Downs, Kyle Lobstein, Luis Marte, Melvin Mercedes, Jose Ortega, Luke Putkonen, Ramon Cabrera, Bryan Holaday, Brayan Pena, Jeff Kobernus, Dixon Machado and Hernan Perez
These guys are literally nobody's favorite players. Melvin Mercedes' mom could come to a game and she'd be wearing a Verlander jersey. I have nothing against any of these guys (yet), but they have to put in some time to get into conversations like this.
Duane Below, Casey Crosby, Drew Smyly, Danny Worth, Andy Dirks and Brayan Villarreal
This group of guys are players I watched come through the Tigers' system when I was writing about the farm system. I've had email conversations with Below and Crosby's brothers. I've made arguments that Smyly and Dirks might play higher than their tools suggest. I got excited about Worth's defense when I noticed the Tigers sent him to Lakeland straight from the draft (a rarity). I've asked people not to overlook Villarreal among all the Porcello or Turner hubbub. I tried to be objective when I covered the minors, but I found myself pulling for each of these guys for various reasons.
Ramon Santiago and Brennan Boesch
These are the guys on the roster who I'd prefer not to see on the roster. I have nothing against Sneaky Power. I just think he's a bit redundant at this point. Boesch? I'm afraid that if he sticks around, he will gravitate toward a meaningful role on the team. If that happens, balls struck toward left field will cause opponents to gravitate toward second base.
Get behind me
I've never seen Rondon throw a single pitch, but I can already see myself defending him from unfair criticisms. So I'll just say I'm ready to like him.
Octavio Dotel and Torii Hunter
Each of these players will have key roles with the team in the coming year. But when their careers are over, nobody will think of them as Tigers and that makes it tough to throw a "favorite" endorsement behind them. I will say Hunter knows his way around a fanfest, though. Now about the homophobia and throwing teammates under the bus...
Knowing their place
Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta
These guys don't venture particularly close to my inner circle of favorites, but over the course of the season people will overstate the harm they're causing the team. I will point out that while they are not stars, they are solid contributors. They're like the movie that's not great, but has enough good parts that you don't mind having it on TNT while you goof around on Twitter. Omar Infante is National Treasure. Peralta is Crimson Tide.
We had a moment
Al Alburquerque, Anibal Sanchez, Quintin Berry, Rick Porcello, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Avisail Garcia
These guys have all done things that have raised my appreciation for them. You know what I'm talking about. Kiss a baseball. Let loose a scream. Show the love. Tackle an asshole. Wear goofy smirks and ridiculous wound dressings. Kill the Yankees and spike a glove. Ease my fear of fly balls to right. I appreciate all these things and more about these guys. It's just not enough to take them into the upper echelon of my esteem.
Doug Fister, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder
I love these guys. If you plucked any of them from this team and placed them in various other points in Tiger history, I could see any of them stepping up as my favorite. Fister's vexing stuff and apparent unassuming nature? Martinez's clutch hits and Little Victor? Prince hopping while he waited for the series ending out against the Yankees? This stuff is gold! It's just not quite enough to make the final cut.
The Made Men
Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson
These are my boys. You speak ill of these guys and you and me? We got a problem. I had originally intended to talk about each individually in a countdown to my favorite. That was before I realized I could not rank them. It's like looking at my two dogs and two cats and trying to pick which of the four I like more. Well, it would be like that if I liked my cats anywhere near as much as I do my dogs. What can I say? I like my pets to welcome me home. My cats greet me like I'm their employee showing up for work a minute early.
Pet politics aside, to get to this rarefied air you have to mix performance and personality. You have to rise up to be among the best at what you do and then ice the cake by behaving in a way that makes us like you even more. If you were to be traded, I'd be mad that you're no longer taking the field for the Tigers. But I'd also miss the cuts to your goofy antics in the dugout. When faced with the question of "Who's My Tiger?" This is as close as I can get to an answer.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Hi, I'm Matt Wallace. You might remember me from such baseball blogs as Take 75 North or Bless You Boys. I've been out of the blogging game for the better part of a year now, and lately I've found myself with an itch to write. Actually, there is a quote from an old screenwriter, Michael Kanin, in which he said, "I don't like to write, but I love to have written." I saw that a few months ago and realized it applied to me, so here I am with a shiny new blog. I briefly considered going in to a big introduction and giving some thoughts about what I want to do in this space. Since I've been blogging, though, I've always had a rule against metablogging and I've already come dangerously close to breaking it. So let's just jump right in.
It's difficult if you follow baseball at all to not know that pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training next week. I know my Twitter feed is littered with people counting down the days. I've never been one to get excited about a third of the roster showing up to play catch, but I understand the point. It is a scheduled baseball event. Many view it as the official start of the baseball season.
As the season starts, whenever you consider that to be, our thoughts naturally turn to expectations. Those have changed a lot for Tiger fans in ten years. Our preseason arguments have switched from "Are the Tigers the worst team in baseball?" to "Are the Tigers the favorite to make it to the World Series?" I don't think you'll find too many people who preferred taking part in the former argument. The latter, however, does not come without its pitfalls.
The Tigers have now won two straight division titles. They have made two straight trips to the American League Championship Series. Twice in seven years they have been to the World Series. As they've achieved these team goals, they've fielded consecutive MVP winners and many would argue they should have a two-time Cy Young. In other words, unless you are pulling for the Tigers to be listed as Baseball America's choice for the top farm system, it's pretty clear there's only one thing left on the checklist for most Tiger fans.
We should be careful viewing the season through such a narrow lens. Right now, we're not excited about the season starting because we're envisioning a dogpile on the field at the end of October. Sure, the possibility of that makes the season more exciting, but what we're excited about right now is watching a beautiful diamond where baseball is being played.
Now, before the hype starts in earnest, is the time to remember we're not baseball fans because of the World Series flags flying on the rim of the stadium. We're fans because of random Saturday games when a non-prospect named Billy McMillon hit two homers in his Tiger debut. We're fans because Curtis Granderson running down a fly ball to center looked as good in a disappointing 2008 as it did in the magical 2006.
We're all excited that the Tigers might have the best team in the American League. We're definitely excited that might lead to the first championship in nearly thirty years. But after four months of cold weather and no called third strikes, we should take care to remember every season is worth getting excited about.