Team Preview: Detroit Tigers

Every year, it seems like the Tigers are too old and need to rebuild. Yet every year, they refuse to do so. Why should they? Why not go for it in a weak division when they still have the horses to do so in credible fashion? While the piper will eventually have to be paid for some of the less-than-optimal contracts signed during this past off-season, for now, the Tigers are certainly in the hunt for the 2011 American League Central.


CF Austin Jackson
2B Will Rhymes*
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez^
LF Ryan Raburn
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Brandon Inge
C Alex Avila*

One might be tempted to call this a “Star and Scrubs” lineup, but closer inspection shows that isn’t the case. Obviously, Cabrera is the one of the best hitters in baseball. But although there aren’tt any other particularly frightening hitters in the lineup, there are some good ones. Victor Martinez’s bat is impressive at catcher, merely “meh” at DH, and I suspect that Detroit will regret that contract fairly soon, but in the meantime he is another decent, .350-ish wOBA bat in the lineup. Ordonez is probably at about that same level of hitter at this point in his career, but that isn’t that bad for a right fielder in the recent run environment. The Tigers are finally giving Ryan Raburn a shot to play every day; they need to resist the urge to bench him in hopes of catching another Brennan Boesch BABIP-luck-fueled hot streak if Raburn slumps again to start the season.

The other hitters are less impressive, but are acceptable stopgaps. The power Peralta showed in 2005 isn’t coming back, but his bat is good enough for shortstop. Brandon Inge isn’t in there for his bat, either. Alex Avila should hit sufficiently for a catcher. Will Rhymes, on the other hand… are the Tigers serious? It’s highly unlikely that he can repeat 2010’s major league performance, and the Tigers really should give Scott Sizemore another extended chance to show what he can do. Austin Jackson’s BABIP luck has been discussed ad nauseum, but the point remains the same: despite his speed, his contact rate doesn’t indicate that his 2010 rate of hits on balls in play is sustainable. He will need to add some walks and power to continue his offensive development.

Overall, the Tigers offense should be pretty good. It’s a right-handed group, and the switch-hitting Martinez has hit lefties slightly better than righties over his career (although his carer split is fairly neutral). Right-handed hitters generally have smaller splits than left-handed hitters, and the Tigers’ home park is much more favorable to right-handed hitters than to lefties, which probably plays a role in the Tigers thinking.

Defensively, this group is an interesting mix. Jackson and Inge are good defenders at their positions, while Peralta, Raburn, Ordonez, and Cabrera are all various flavors of below average. The Tigers probably won’t be good in the field, but they won’t be dreadful, either.


RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Rick Porcello
LHP Phil Coke
RHP Brad Penny

RHP Jose Valverde (closer)
RHP Joaquin Benoit
RHP Ryan Perry
LHP Daniel Schlereth
RHP Robbie Weinhardt
LHP Brad Thomas
RHP Enrique Gonzalez
RHP Joel Zumaya

Like the position players, the pitchers are a mix of stars and mediocrities. With Zack Greinke in Milwaukee, Verlander is probably the best pitcher in the division, a potential Cy Young candidate every season. After a rough start in 2010 after coming over from Arizona, Scherzer turned in an impressive 2010 season, and might be the third-best pitcher in the division after Verlander and Francisco Liriano. Scherzer and Verlander make a devastating one-two punch that can hang with almost any other in baseball, but after that, there is a drop-off. Rick Porcello had a nice little comeback in the second half of 2010, but it’s hard to project him as better than a league-average starter. That’s fine for a number three, but after that, there are questions. No one is expecting Phil Coke to pull a C.J. Wilson, but whether he can be more than a stopgap #4/#5 is one of the key questions for the Tigers in 2011. Brad Penny might be okay for short doses in the National League, but his health, conditioning, and past performance in the American League have leave much to be desired. This is not to say that the back of the Tigers’ rotation is especially poor compared to other teams, simply that there are a lot of questions about it. Whether or not this peculiar approach to rotation depth works out will go a long way in determining whether or not the Tigers can make a run at the playoffs.

The bullpen should be decent. Valverde isn’t a dominating closer like Rivera or Soria, but he gets the job done despite a lot of walks. The Benoit contract will probably be another one the Tigers regret down the road, but for now he shores up the ‘pen with a lot of strikeouts and provides insurance should Valverde falter. Joel Zumaya probably doesn’t have much left to offer at this point, but Schlereth and Perry have value if used properly.

Key Player

It’s tempting to say that the key player for the Tigers is Miguel Cabrera’s sponsor/watchdog/whatever, but that would be a cheap joke. But I will also admit that I’m taking the boring, easy way out in naming Miguel Cabrera as the Tigers’ key player. It isn’t so much his recent, um, “troubles.” I know this is going to shock and dismay many readers, but “if” Miguel Cabrera has a drinking problem, it won’t be the only one in baseball. Remember back in 2009, when his season ended with an ugly “incident? ” Yeah, he had a .402 wOBA that season. Remember Mickey Mantle? You get the idea. On a human level, that may be callous, but on a baseball level, it’s the truth.

Cabrera is probably the best hitter in the American League. The gap between him and everyone else on the Tigers might be the biggest between any great hitter and his “sidekick(s)” in baseball. Albert Pujols has Matt Holliday. Joey Votto has Jay Bruce. Adrian Gonzalez has Kevin Youkilis (or Youkilis might have Gonzalez)… and Cabrera has… Magglio Ordonez? Victor Martinez? With Cabrera, the Tigers’ starting nine are above-average offensively. Without him, they’re barely average. While the effects of injuries to great players are often exaggerated, in this case, if Cabrera misses just a month and is replaced in the offense by Carlos Guillen (for example), that could still cost the Tigers a win, which, given that the Tigers are currently projected by one system to be in a virtual dead heat with the Twins and White Sox, is quite significant.


The Tigers are walking a bit of a tightrope due to a lack of depth. But their stars — Cabrera and Verlander — have been remarkably durable and are among the best in their league. While some of the role players are aging and/or overpaid, Detroit has put together enough talent that barring a major injury to one of their top players they should be in the race for the divisional title with the other flawed contenders for the 2011 American League Central crown.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

43 Responses to “Team Preview: Detroit Tigers”

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  1. Telo says:



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  2. byron says:

    Couple questions: Why would Martinez be a “.350-ish wOBA” when he’s been above .360 5 of the last 6 years, the exception being an injury-shortened 2008? And who said Rhymes was hitting 2nd? I thought Raburn was, and just paid $11 for him in an ottoneu league because of it.

    PS: While the first is half criticism and half genuine question, the second is 100% question. I really want to know!

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    • Eric Cioe says:

      No one said Rhymes is batting second. They haven’t even decided on who their second baseman will be, yet. Leyland says lots of guys are in the mix: Rhymes and Sizemore mostly but also Guillen if healthy, Worth, maybe Santiago.

      There has also been nothing conclusive said about batting order yet but Raburn has hit 2nd in a few ST games and if I had to bet I’d guess that’d be the guy.

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      • byron says:

        The article above said that Rhymes is batting second. I was hoping the author would explain why he put him there. Thanks though.

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      • Eric Cioe says:

        You asked who said it, and I told you: nobody. Sure, the author here did, but no one else has.

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      • RPS says:

        I’d bet that if Rhymes wins the job, he bats second. If Sizemore wins the job, Raburn will bat second. Leyland is a guy who is convinced that batting second must be the domain of the fabled guy-who-can-move-runners-over-grittily-and the right-way. This right is to be given to a scrappy slap-hitter with no power if at all possible. If one is not available, he’s going to go with the older guy.

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  3. Vadim says:

    Miguel Cabrera has a serious alcohol problem and I don’t think that the Tigers are properly handling this issue.

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  4. Drew says:

    I have issues with the characterization of 2B here. The AL Central avg 2B (O-Cab, Aviles, Beckham, Getz) is projected to hit .267/.321/.372 by Bill James, while Rhymes is projected at .276/.326/.356. Granted, the central is not deep at 2B, but it feels pretty plausible that Rhymes, one of the best contact hitters in the league (93% Contact rate in 2010) could be a division average hitter with average fielding – that doesn’t feel like ‘are you kidding me??!?!?!” material…

    Additionally, it is likely that Rhymes is the worst hitter that will play 2B for the Tigers this year, as Guillen and, yes, Sizemore are likely to get ABs as well. They’d do nothing but push the Tigers production from this position further above average imho.

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  5. brett says:

    I hate to say it but Leyland will give Brennan Boesch every chance to start over Rayburn. I think we’re looking at a platoon in left and maybe another season of 400 PAs for Raburn. Please convince me that I’m wrong.

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  6. durf81 says:

    It will be interesting to see what percent V-Mart plays C vs. DH/1B. His value mostly comes if he’s playing C.

    To me, Scherzer is the key player for the Tigers in 2011. If he can put in a full good year, that puts a lot less pressure on 3, 4, 5 guys.

    If everyone can stay healthy, I see the Tigers being a huge presence for the AL Central crown. Health was the downfall for the 2010 Tigers though.

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  7. Cloud Computer says:

    Good write up – not sure about the opening though… I wouldn’t say it seems like the tigers are old every year. Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Coke are all relatively young. Jackson, Avila and Sizemore (the actual 2b) are all very young. Cabrera is in his prime. Thats half the team under 30.

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  8. Sox27 says:

    As an outside observer that doesn’t see this team everyday, I have serious questions about this team defensively. The prospect of Ordonez in RF, Perralta at SS, Cabrera at 1B, and potentially Guillen seeing time in the OF or 2B would be a little too much for my taste. They do have a strong mix of strikeout pitchers, but my gut tells me the team defense will haunt them in the end.

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    • Sox27 says:

      With all that being said, I still expect a 3 team dogfight until August.

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    • Chris says:

      Detroit’s defense is certainly a question mark, but I think it is a little overblown. Peralta doesn’t have great range, but he has a solid glove and a pretty accurate arm. Ordonez offers a similar profile in RF: limited range, but he gets good reads and he gets to more balls that you’d expect. And Cabrera is actually a decent 1B, but he’s still learning the position and is prone to range too far or make bad decisions throwing the ball.

      I’m actually more worried about Raburn in Left, and whomever they end up playing at 2B – Rhymes and Sizemore are below-average defenders, and Guillen is brutal.

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    • RPS says:

      As a Tigers fan, I can say with some certainty that Ordonez and Cabrera are better defensively than the numbers would have you believe. Neither is great, but neither is hurting you.

      Raburn in left is a bad fielder with a ton of upside. He has all the speed he needs, and a great arm, but he’s prone to making ridiculous reads and flat-out dropping the ball. If they actually give him left to solely focus on, he may well be good.

      Sizemore and Peralta, on the other hand, are going to make Rick Porcello regret his choice of career.

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  9. Oakland Dan says:

    This is a .500 team. Not sure why everyone seems to think it’s a contender. It’s optimistic to expect Porcello to be a league average pitcher, let alone a star. He can’t put hitters away. Sure, he might be league average, but I’d bet against it, especially with this defense, which is another thing being overrated here. Cabrera, Ordonez, Raburn, and Peralta are bad, Inge, though still good, is getting worse, and Avila is only okay. Rhymes is also just okay, but Sizemore and Guillen are both below average second basemen.

    Scherzer looks good, but he hasn’t been pitching well enough long enough to assume it’s all going to work out fine for all of 2011. He tends to be inefficient. Coke? Who knows. Penny? Meh.

    A couple of injuries, say to two of Benoit, Valverde, Ordonez, Avila, Jackson, would just bury this team, and there probably will be at least an injury or two, not counting Zumaya’s annual wincing, arm-clutching walk back to the dugout. Too many things have to go right in order to vault this team to 90 wins. Not gonna happen.

    It’s the White Sox division to lose.

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    • Vegemitch says:

      Given that the team was .500 last season, can expect progression from several players (though the actual outcome with A. Jackson will probably wash with his expected luck regression) and regression from only a few – Ordonez who only played half a season in ’10, Guillen who is basically irrelevant, Inge whose level of production isn’t high enough for a slight age related regression to be impactful – plus the addition of another credible bat to the lineup in VMart, who although more valuable at C, still greatly elevates the terrible production the Tigers got from the DH spot, and it’s hard to see the team not improving on the 81 wins it posted in ’10. You might also not know that Porcello is so young that even if he doesn’t become a dominant SP it is hard to think he’s at his ceiling.
      There’s a ton that would have to go wrong for this team to be out of the mix and only a minor break or two in their favor to take the Central.

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  10. Cecil Fielder Jr. says:

    I’ve been a Tigers fan for 25 years, but they are relatively terrible. Generally thin drafts, reckless free agent spending, and an under-reliance on advanced metrics. What’s more, Nobody accumulates more so-so relievers than the Tigs.

    2012 may be their best hope, pitching wise. I hope I live to see this:


    This isn’t a bad starting five, but I feel like we are always going to have problems at 2nd base, short-stop, 3rd base, left field, and right field.


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    • dskirsa says:

      The “generally thin draft” you refer to is exactly the reason why you look forward to the potential 2012 starting five. The Tigers drafted every one of those guys except for Scherzer.

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      • Cecil Fielder Jr. says:

        Good point. But the thinness comes into play when you consider that they only really get one respectable player a draft. And it’s almost always their first pick. After that it’s pure dreck.

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    • Nick says:

      If you think they’re “always going to have a problem at 3B,” then you really aren’t paying any attention to their system.

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    • Godd Till says:

      “Good point. But the thinness comes into play when you consider that they only really get one respectable player a draft. And it’s almost always their first pick. After that it’s pure dreck.”

      Nonsense. Since Dombrowski took over in 2002:

      02 – Scott Moore (bust) but Brent Clevlen and Curtis Granderson in later rounds.

      03-05 is where your characterization of the draft is accurate. However, one of those years they drafted Verlander. The next they drafted Maybin, the centrepiece of the Cabrera trade.

      06- Andrew Miller in 1st, Boesch and Sizemore in later rounds
      07-Porcello, Charlie Furbush and Casey Crosby in later rounds.
      08-Got Alex Avila in the 5th round.

      Furthermore, the Tigers willingness to go over slot, even after the first round, is netting them talent in later rounds. See Castellanos and Danny Fields.

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      • Cecil Fielder Jr. Jr. says:

        I’ve brought this on myself because I used the term ‘respectable,’ but I also believe we simply have vastly different systems for adjudicating
        Tiger players. We should keep in mind, however, that the Tigers prospects were detailed on Fangraphs way back in mid-November, and the countdown is still on-going: this team is definitely among the absolute worst at accumulating talent.

        With respect, all your exceptions to the rule over the past nine years scream unactualized mediocrity. Not Granderson, though, he’s pretty awesome. I stand by my argument that the Tigs are really only able to draft strong players so long as they are relatively apparent in the early rounds. There’s not a lot of real innovate research being done here by our scouts. Diamonds in the rough remain in the rough.

        Don’t get me wrong, I love the Tigers, but I have definitely come to expect mediocrity as the new normal with each passing year.

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      • johan says:

        Cecil is right. The Tigers have their fanbase fooled pretty well, spend huge on a first rounder and bring them to the majors fast, and everyone fails to realize the rest of their drafts are chock full of blah…and mediocrity.

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  11. Mike says:

    Raburn isn’t below average in LF. He’s actually pretty good there most of the time. His issue is that he’s made some blunders there that have come at horrible times in the last several years that make people who watch him play think less of him. Part of the reason his UZR numbers are down overall is that it gets dragged down by his numbers in little playing time at 2b and other positions. He’s also seemed to play LF much better than RF the last several years (the eye and small sample stats suggest the same).

    The infield defense concerns me. Cabrera’s issue is mainly lapses in concentration and laziness defensively more than talent. He’s not a pylon or anything over there. It’s more an issue of making mistakes from time to time than talent. The middle spots scare me a ton, though. Peralta has no range, and Guillen at 2b is a disaster waiting to happen until his next injury.

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  12. Dwight Schrute says:

    The infield defense doesn’t scare me as much as it does some people because for starters for the most part the Tigers staff consists of high K and or flyball pitchers with the exception of Porcello and to a lesser extent Penny. On top of that they have solid middle infield defenders on the bench in Santiago and Worth who Leyland isn’t afraid of starting, so he may go with one or both of them in games Porcello starts.

    The thing that concerns me the most though about the Tigers is their lack of depth. If any key player gets injured(outside of relievers) they are basically screwed, it’s not like how the Twins were where they were able to get past the Morneau injury because they had somebody like Thome. I think that will be the biggest thing for them. If they do stay healthy throughout the year I think they should win around 85 games and compete for the division but if they do sustain a major injury or two then they’re looking at a for sure 3rd place finish and possibly worse.

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  13. Cecil Fielder Jr. Jr. says:

    I agree that Castellanos has lots of promise, but he does on have 29 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast league. I sure hope he actualizes this potential. I don’t have high hopes for Gaynor, but I certainly could be wrong.

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    • johan says:

      Gaynor is an also ran. Backup at best, and its likely he doesn’t even stick at 3rd. He will most likely join the plethora of 4A outfielders the Tigers have.

      Fransisco Martinez on the other hand might stick at 3rd and has some potential. Further down the road, maybe Javier Azcona, but thats so far off, thats hardly something you can count on.

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  14. Jack LeLaine says:

    Good team in 2011…my AL sleeper….Cabrera and Verlander ftw…their pitching is underrated a little while the A’s might be a little overrated.

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  15. ToddM says:

    Big key player for the Tigs this year is Alex Avila.

    If he can hit (say, 750+ OPS), Leyland will have no qualms about running him out there against all RHSP, letting Victor DH the majority of the time. Martinez certainly isn’t a “great” DH, but if Avila falters and V-Mart is back behind the plate a majority of the time, the Tigers’ other candidates to DH pretty much suck. Add in that Avila is likely a better defensive catcher than Victor at this point in his career, and they’d lose on both fronts.

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  16. The first sentence of the article is the reason why it seems like every year the last sentence of the article gets written.

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  17. Tim says:

    Just wow….

    Analysis of:

    V-Mart Wrong
    Peralta Wrong
    Boesch Wrong
    Raburn Wrong

    Keep up the mediocre work…..

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  18. Cloud Computer says:

    Peralta got his power back in your face Klaassen!

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