Archive for Tigers

Spring-Training Divisional Outlook: American League Central

Previous editions: AL East / NL East.

Opening Day is just over the horizon, though we have to navigate the remainder of the World Baseball Classic and the entirety of March Madness first. In the meantime, let’s continue our look at the upcoming season, with the third of our six divisional previews.

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The Other Interesting, Young Tigers Starter

We still talk about the Tigers as a team headed off a cliff, and it’s no mystery why. The reasons are the same as they’ve ever been, and the longer-term outlook remains unpleasant. Yet the team might not get enough credit for what it was able to do in the middle of a down 2015. Yoenis Cespedes was turned into Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer. And David Price was turned into breakout candidate Daniel Norris and wild but hard-throwing Jairo Labourt. Oh, and Matt Boyd was a part of that, too.

Boyd was intriguing to me at the time, just because of the success he’d had at the highest levels of the minors. He was written about as a low-upside type, yet he still seemed like a major-league starter. Granted, as a major-league starter in 2015, Boyd nearly allowed a run per inning. That’s terrible! Last year’s version settled down. Boyd kept his ERA in the mid-4s, and right now he’s in there for a rotation spot.

For my taste, Boyd continues to intrigue. I’ll explain why, because that’s what we do here, and I want to say right now that Boyd, as is, isn’t anything special. But he’s close. Fulmer and Norris get the bulk of the attention, but Boyd could be ready to emerge. He has one step left to take.

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J.D. Martinez Debunks Conventional Wisdom, Thinks a Tipping Point Is Near

Editor’s Note: the following post contains spicy language.

J.D. Martinez had just concluded a chat with a Tigers beat reporter when I approached him Monday afternoon. I sensed him preparing to escape my forthcoming interview request in the Joker Marchant Stadium clubhouse as I walked in his direction. He’d just risen from the cushioned chair in front of his locker and picked up a cardboard box of personal effects as I introduced myself. His body language wasn’t suggestive of much interest in engaging in conversation with me and, to be fair, I was a stranger. We had never spoken. He had just finished playing six innings of an exhibition game and was presumably was looking forward to the rest of the day.

But then I explained why I was interested in speaking with him. He rested the box on a laundry cart, freed his hands, seemed to warm to the idea (or possibly not), and opened up.

I wanted to ask Martinez whether baseball is on the cusp of a fly-ball revolution, whether we’re about to see the sort of approach already adopted by Martinez, Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner — all of whom have experienced great personal success — become more widely adopted and accepted in the majors. Jeff Sullivan and I have written quite a bit about the potential fly-ball revolution in recent weeks as you can read here, here, here and here. But Monday offered a chance to get a key perspective from an early adopter and perhaps a significant influencer.

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Are We at the High-Water Mark for Shifting in Baseball?

Here’s the thing about bunting: it can be a good idea if the third baseman is playing too far back. The chance of a hit goes up in that case, and a successful bunt often causes the third baseman to play more shallow in future plate appearances, so future balls in play receive a benefit. That’s one of those games within a game we see all the time in baseball: once the positioning deviates from “normal” by a certain degree, the batter receives a benefit. Then the defender has to change his approach.

This tension created by the bunt illustrates how offenses and defenses react to each other’s tendencies. That same sort of balance between fielder and hitter might be playing out on an even broader scale, however, when it comes to the shift in general.

Too many shifts in the game, and the players begin to adjust. They develop more of a two-strike approach, they find a way to put the ball in play on the ground the other way, or they make sure that they lift the ball if they’re going to pull it. There’s evidence that players are already working on lifting the ball more as a group, pulling the ball in the air more often than they have in five years, and have improved on hitting opposite-field ground balls. So maybe this next table is no surprise.

The League vs. the Shift
Year Shift wOBABIP No Shift wOBABIP
2013 0.280 0.294
2014 0.288 0.294
2015 0.286 0.291
2016 0.292 0.297
wOBA = weighted on base average on balls in play

The league has improved against the shift! The shift is dead! Or, wait: the league has actually improved as a whole over this timeframe, and the difference between the two is still about the same. And every team would take a .292 wOBA against over a .297 number. Long live the shift.

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Last Year’s Unluckiest Changeup

In baseball, luck is a tricky concept. In some cases, it’s used to describe an event that’s within the normal distribution of outcomes but far from the mean. In other cases, what we call luck might actually be the first signs of an outlying skill for which we simply lack a sufficiently large sample to identify.

We’ve developed a new understanding on one kind of luck in recent years — namely, the sort that occurs with a batted ball. With Statcast data, we can look at the shape and size of a ball in play and try to decide what the batter “deserved” from that sort of ball in play. Then we compare it to actual outcomes. The difference between the observed and expected outcome is luck.

What if you want to look at a luck on a specific pitch type, though? How would you do it? You could look at the results on the pitch and basically use the Statcast-type process from the other side of the ball. What sorts of balls in play did that pitch produce, and what sort of results should those balls in play have produced? The problem with that approach is that you’re slicing a pitcher’s repertoire into small samples when you start talking about balls in play off a specific pitch. Even David Price, for example — who led the majors in innings last year — allowed fewer than 300 balls in play on his most frequently thrown pitch, the fastball. Secondary pitches are, almost by definition, thrown much less often. Variance isn’t the exception in such cases, but the rule.

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Ten Bold Predictions for the Coming Season

Over at the fantasy blog, they’ll be publishing their annual bold predictions soon. Those posts, as usual, will cater to the roto side of things. They’re fun to write. And, even though I’m no longer editing RotoGraphs anymore, I’d like to continue the tradition. So I’ve decided to do a version that’s aimed more at the real game.

Let’s stretch our imagination and make some predictions that are a little bit sane (they should be rooted in reality to some extent), but also a little bit insane (since the insane happens in baseball every year anyway). Back when I did this for fantasy, I hit 3-for-10 most years. Doubt I do it again, for some reason.

What follows are my 10 bold predictions for 2017.

1. Dylan Bundy will be the ace he was always supposed to be.
Once picked fourth overall and pegged as the future ace of the Orioles, Bundy had a terrible time in the minor leagues. Over five years, he managed only 111 innings between injuries. There was Tommy John, of course, but lat strains, shoulder-calcification issues and between-start bouts of elbow soreness have dogged him throughout, as well. At least he was good while he was in, with an ERA in the low twos and great rates to support those results.

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Is It Time to Worry About Ian Kinsler?

The 2016 season was a great one, statistically, for Ian Kinsler. By WAR, wRC+ and wOBA, it was (at least) one of the best three seasons of his career — a career that should garner a modicum of Hall of Fame debate when he retires. But in looking at his Steamer projection for this season, I started to wonder — is this the season we should start to worry about Ian Kinsler?

What immediately stands out in Kinsler’s Steamer projection is a drop in wOBA and WAR. Steamer forecasts him for just a .320 wOBA. It would be the second-worst mark of Kinsler’s soon-to-be 12-year career, and only by one point (he posted a .319 wOBA in 2014, his first year in Detroit). Steamer calls for Kinsler to produce 2.8 WAR. While that would represent a good year for most second basemen, it would be the second-worst mark in 10 seasons for Kinsler (who posted 2.6 WAR in 2013). Simply put, Kinsler is generally a lot better than those numbers.

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Ilitch Offered Model for Owners to Follow

As you know, late Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch died last week.

Even if you follow the sport only casually, you’re probably aware that Ilitch wanted to win as badly as his club’s fans did — to a point, even, that sometimes led to irrational decision making. When Victor Martinez hurt his knee in the winter of 2012, for example, Ilitch spent $214 million on Prince Fielder. Since 2006, the Tigers’ payroll has been higher than the major-league average every season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts via Baseball Prospectus — and higher by at least $30 million on eight occasions since that same year, including each of the last six years. As a reference point, the Detroit metro area was the 13th largest to host a major-league team last season.

Said Ilitch of winning to after signing Jordan Zimmermann to a $110-million deal:

“That’s all I think about,” Ilitch said. “It’s something that I really want. I want it bad. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we get as many of the best ballplayers out there.”

Not all owners can say that. What percentage can say that, I’m not certain.

FanGraphs’ own Nathaniel Grow wondered in December of 2015 if Ilitch had accidentally suggested the possibility of collusion when asked if he’d go over the luxury threshold:

“I’m supposed to be a good boy and not go over it,” Ilitch said, “but if I think there are certain players that could help us a lot, I’ll go over it. Oops, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Even those of us who aren’t Michigan natives – but care about the game – have some familiarity with his interest and passion for the Detroit community. While, as the Detroit Free Press has recently reported, his relationship with the city was complicated at times, he rehabilitated parts of downtown Detroit when few others were willing to make an investment in the depressed central business district. He was a philanthropist. He paid Rosa Parks’ rent.

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Daniel Norris Is Mid-Breakout

I talk about James Paxton a lot. I talk about him a lot because I like him a lot. I’m probably the biggest Paxton fan on staff. I might be the biggest Paxton fan on the continent. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn I have more confidence in 2017 James Paxton than James Paxton does. Why am I losing my mind over a 28-year-old with less than 300 big-league innings? This is basically why:

That plot shows every starter who threw at least 50 innings in each of the last two years. I’ve highlighted the Paxton dot in blue. This one is easy to eyeball. By strike rate, Paxton had the biggest year-to-year improvement. And by average fastball speed, Paxton also had the biggest year-to-year improvement. That’s a hell of a one-two punch, and it makes you wonder about the Paxton breakout. More specifically, does this make Paxton a breakout candidate, or did the breakout already happen? “Mid-breakout” might be the best way to describe him. He’s on the way, but he could be more consistent.

In the plot above, Paxton stands way out from the crowd. Yet that doesn’t make him the only pitcher of interest. Who else gained both strikes and speed? Spoiler alert: Read this post’s headline.

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Where the Tigers Have Been Just an Absolute Mess

Earlier today, ESPN published the latest Sam Miller article. The article was in part about the nature of modern-day statistical records, but it was also in large part about Victor Martinez. Specifically, it was in large part about how Victor Martinez has been a dreadful baserunner. Excellent hitter! Dreadful baserunner. Pick your metric, and it’ll agree. Martinez has supplied his teams runs by getting on base, but once he’s gotten that far, he’s been an easy net negative.

Miller is right about all the variables that go into baserunning stats. Stats can’t know all the conditions under which a baserunning event takes place, so sometimes the numbers are misleading. If you’re a runner who stops at third on a double, maybe the outfielder just has a cannon for an arm. If, instead, you score, maybe the outfielder is Khris Davis. No two plays are exactly alike, so, as with any stat, you prefer a sample as big as you can get.

Let’s talk about a big sample, then. A six-year sample, covering not an individual player, but an entire team. This is certainly related to Victor Martinez. When it’s come to baserunning, the Tigers have been a disaster.

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2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: AL Right Fielders

We’re beginning to count down the days to spring training as we enter the latter stages of our position-by-position look at 2016 hitter contact quality. In the last installment, we looked at NL center fielders. Today, our review of regular right fielders gets underway in the American League. As a reminder, we are using granular exit-speed and launch-angle data to determine how 2016 regulars “should have” performed.

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The Adjustments that Made the Hall of Famers

The truth about a Hall of Fame career is that there’s no single magic moment that makes it happen. There’s no way you can put together the sort of resume that ends in Cooperstown unless you make many changes along the way. Baseball is that demanding.

When it’s all over, though, there’s time for looking back and for giving thanks. Because in order to make all those adjustments, the players had to receive advice from truth-peddling coaches and players along the way. For every adjustment, there was a trusted source that helped at just the right time.

So, along with the help of Alyson Footer of, Bill Ladson of, and others, I asked our newest Hall of Fame trio about their path to the big leagues.


Jeff Bagwell

On Power: “I think my hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo and I – you know, when I was in the minor leagues and all that kind of stuff, I used to hit a lot of balls with back, excuse me, topspin. And then I kind of learned how to change my hands a little bit and get a little bit of backspin and all that kind of stuff, and that carried the ball…

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Justin Wilson on His Reverse Splits and Motown Role

Justin Wilson is all about getting outs, and he’s done a laudable job of getting them. Over four full seasons, and a fraction of a fifth — two-plus with the Pirates and one each with the Yankees and Tigers — the 29-year-old southpaw has a 3.28 ERA and a 3.21 FIP. Armed with a 95-mph heater and a cutter/slider, he’s allowed 7.6 hits per nine over 258 innings of work.

Detroit acquired the Fresno State product prior to last season — Luis Cessa and Chad Green went to Gotham in the swap — and it remains to be seen how long he remains in Motown. Despite the solid relief work on his resume, Wilson has been the subject of trade speculation since the completion of the 2016 campaign. While the rumors have died down, there remains a chance he will be toeing the rubber in a new city come Opening Day.

If he does change addresses — and even if doesn’t — Wilson could find himself in a new role. His 276 big-league appearances have all been out of the bullpen, but some think he’s better suited to starting. Reverse splits are a reason. Last year, the lefty logged a .667 OPS-against versus righties, while same-sided hitters put up a .772 OPS. Over his career, lefties have been .043 better against his deliveries than have right-handers.

Wilson talked about his game when the Tigers visited Fenway Park last summer.


Wilson on aggression and location: “All I care about is outs. I don’t try to ever get ground balls — even if I have a runner on first. I don’t feel I have enough conviction behind the pitch if I’m trying to throw a ground-ball pitch. I’m trying to be aggressive. In a sense, I’m trying to strike everybody out. If he hits it on the ground, great. If he swings and misses, great. My thought process is more about making a good pitch than getting a specific result.

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Top 19 Prospects: Detroit Tigers

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Detroit Tigers farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on thes 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. -Eric Longenhagen

The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections. -Chris Mitchell

Other Lists
NL Central (CHC, CIN, PIT, MIL, StL)

Tigers Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Matt Manning 18 R RHP 2020 55
2 Christin Stewart 23 AA OF 2018 50
3 Beau Burrows 20 A RHP 2020 45
4 Tyler Alexander 22 AA LHP 2018 45
5 Michael Gerber 24 AA OF 2018 45
6 Joe Jimenez 21 AAA RHP 2017 45
7 Dixon Machado 24 MLB SS 2017 45
8 Derek Hill 20 A OF 2021 40
9 Jose Azocar 20 A OF 2020 40
10 Kyle Funkhouser 22 A- RHP 2019 40
11 Jacoby Jones 24 MLB OF 2017 40
12 Adam Ravenelle 24 AA RHP 2017 40
13 Gerson Moreno 21 A+ RHP 2019 40
14 Sandy Baez 23 A RHP 2019 40
15 Hector Martinez 20 R SS 2021 40
16 Arvicent Perez 22 A C 2020 40
17 Kevin Ziomek 24 A+ LHP 2018 40
18 Spencer Turnbull 24 A+ RHP 2018 40
19 A.J. Simcox 22 A+ SS 2018 40

55 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Sheldon HS (CA)
Age 19 Height 6’6 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
60/70 50/60 40/50 30/50

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Has recorded 46 recorded in 29 pro innings.

Scouting Report
Manning is the prototypical prep righty. He has tremendous size, throws hard, is a terrific athlete (he was committed to Loyola Marymount to play baseball and basketball) with great bloodlines (his father played in the NBA) and has exhibited a nascent feel for a potentially dominant curveball. Any high-school pitcher cooking with that list of ingredients is a slam-dunk first-round pick, and Manning was clearly the second-best high-school righty in the 2016 draft.

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2017 ZiPS Projections – Detroit Tigers

After having typically appeared in the very famous pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past few years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Detroit Tigers. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Chicago NL / Houston / San Diego / Toronto / Washington.

Since 2009, only three different players have led Detroit batters by WAR: Miguel Cabrera (2009-13), Ian Kinsler (2014, -16), and J.D. Martinez (2015). According to Dan Szymborski’s computer, here are the probable top-three Tigers batters by WAR in 2017: Miguel Cabrera (583 PA, 4.0 zWAR), Ian Kinsler (631, 3.9), and J.D. Martinez (590, 3.1). That is, one finds, the precise same collection of players.

What does that say about a club generally? About this club specifically? Nothing definitive. That said, Detroit has developed a reputation in recent years for placing the majority of their eggs into expensive, aging baskets, and then the remainder of the eggs into whatever baskets happen to be lying around. The construction of the current roster — which pairs some well-compensated veterans like Cabrera and Kinsler with a replacement-level center-field platoon of Tyler Collins (463, 0.0) and JaCoby Jones (458, -0.1) — would appear to carry on that tradition.

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The Justin Verlander Issue

In a stunning development, the results of a BBWAA awards vote have generated massive controversy in the baseball world. Who could have seen that coming? A shocker to be sure!

Despite failing to receive the most first-place votes, Rick Porcello has edged out Justin Verlander to win the American League Cy Young Award. The full results of the balloting can be found here. Porcello beat Verlander by just five points, 137 to 132. That’s as tight a race as you’re going to see. It was largely due to the fact that while Verlander got 14 of the 30 possible first-place votes, Porcello received 18 second-place votes, and Verlander was left entirely off of two ballots.

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Why I Voted for Michael Fulmer

These days, some people are hard at work trying to understand one another. As votes rolled in and results were released, segments of the population were taken aback. In certain corners, the mood has been celebratory, triumphant. Elsewhere there has been fear, disappointment, and, more than anything else, confusion. “How could anyone make that choice?” many have wailed. “How could so many people overlook all the evidence?” I won’t pretend to be more than I am. I know that I am but a single man in a rising, roiling ocean of souls. But I can try to defend at least my own decision. For 2016 American League Rookie of the Year, I voted for Michael Fulmer ahead of Gary Sanchez.

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Ian Kinsler’s Historically Great Season at Second Base

In baseball, it may not be possible to have too much of a good thing when it comes to quantity of elite-level players. The sport is, almost by definition, at its best when great players face off against one another. If there’s a problem with a strong collection of elite talent, though, it’s that truly great players can get overlooked. It’s hard to distinguish oneself when surrounded by an array of other distinguished performances.

A look at the WAR leaderboard from the American League this past season reveals that four second basemen finished among the top 11 overall performers in the league by this metric.

We know MVP finalist Jose Altuve was outstanding and we know Robinson Cano had an absolutely tremendous season in Seattle. Slightly less heralded was the overall performance of the Twins’ Brian Dozier, although his 28 homers in the second half still garnered him plenty of attention. But what about the fourth second baseman on the list? Did we pay enough attention to Ian Kinsler this year?

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Gauging the Trade Value of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander

The Detroit Tigers find themselves at a crossroads as this offseason begins. With players like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander — stars who can still contribute but who are on the wrong side of 30 — the Tigers’ window for contention with this group is closing. Ian Kinsler is another player who’s bound to experience age-related decline. Meanwhile, outfielder J.D. Martinez — one of the best hitters in the game over the past three years — is a free agent after 2017. All in all, it’s difficult to see this team contending beyond next year without an overhaul. Given those constraints, it makes a lot of sense to go all in next year. The aging core’s decline, along with the addition of some new free-agent signings, should make the team decent once again; a little more help would make them contenders.

However, Detroit’s practice of running with the big markets in terms of payroll and addressing weaknesses through free agency might be coming to an end. Based on what Buster Olney wrote last month, it appears as though, while everyone is technically available, that the Tigers aren’t prepared for a full rebuild. Here are some of Olney’s comments as they relate to Verlander:

But remember, the Tigers don’t want a full-blown teardown. They want to try to win next season, and Verlander was their best pitcher in 2016. (And yes, he can block any trade, and the future Hall of Famer could ask any interested team to guarantee his $22 million vesting option for 2020.)

The Tigers aren’t likely to make the playoffs next year by only half-committing to their roster, and they already have around $175 million in contract obligations. Moving Ian Kinsler or J.D. Martinez makes them worse in 2017, and if a larger and larger percentage of their payroll is allocated to declining players like Miguel Cabrera, the club isn’t any more likely to contend in 2018 and beyond. If they aren’t going all in next year — and it appears they aren’t — the quickest route to the playoffs is to tear it all down. To do that, the team needs to move Miguel Cabrera, and that might best be done by packaging him with Justin Verlander.

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Scouting New Tigers Prospect Victor Alcantara

Detroit acquired RHP prospect Victor Alcantara (video from Fall League here) from Anaheim last night in exchange for OF Cameron Maybin. Alcantara has been pitching for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, and I’ve seen him a few times over the past several weeks.

Alcantara has mostly been 91-95 with sinking arm-side movement. His fastball command is well below average, a 30 on the 20-80 scale for me, and his delivery is full of effort and violent moving parts. His mid-80s slider is consistently above average and features more length than is usual for a slider that hard. I’ve seen some changeups as well, mostly in the 86-87 mph range, but the best one I’ve seen has been a 40 on the scale.

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