Where Can the Tigers Make Themselves Better?

Coming off of their 2-0 sweep (or non-sweep, depending on how you interpret Sunday’s rainout) of the Kansas City Royals, the Detroit Tigers are closing in on American League Central-leading Cleveland. The Tigers were one of the pre-season favorites to win the Central, so despite a rough start to the season (similar to the ones from which fellow projected contenders in Chicago and Minnesota are still recovering, if they do) this is no big surprise, especially given the overall weakness of the division. While the non-Justin Verlander contingent of Detroit’s starting pitching has been far from flawless, they’ve been pretty good overall (although it would help if Brad Penny could remember how to strike hitters out). The bullpen could probably use a bit of help, but that’s true of most teams, and the difference is usually marginal (and, to be honest, boring to write about). The Tigers might be good enough to take the division as they are now, but there also seems to be a couple of areas among their position players where they might be able to improve things.

The Tigers’ infield is looking better than one might have thought it would prior to the start of the season. Despite the worry that Miguel Cabrera might be Baseball’s First Ever Alcoholic and the corresponding impact on his play, he’s putting up another typical .400+ wOBA season (yawn). While Victor Martinez (159 wRC+) and Alex Avila (133 wRC+) are both due for regression, they’ve hit well enough to alleviate any worries that the catcher/designated hitter arrangement might not work out. At second base, the Tigers have thankfully cut short the Will Rhymes experiment and gone with Scott Sizemore. Even if Rhymes does have some small advantage on Sizemore in the field, Sizemore is probably a least a league-average hitter, while Rhymes would probably do well to exceed a .300 wOBA over a full season. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has been the real pleasant surprise on the infield, smacking the ball around for a 138 wRC+. There is likely some BABIP-influenced luck here, his power will likely come down a bit, and despite a favorable small-sample UZR, his defense at short is below-average at best. Still, a .331 wOBA (as ZiPS RoS now projects) is very good from a shortstop in this run environment, and he’s an average player at worst.

The real problem in the infield as currently constructed is third baseman Brandon Inge, who has hit (and I’m using that term loosely) .198/.254/.294 (49 wRC+). He’s probably had some bad luck on balls in play (.255 BABIP), but then Inge has never done that well in that regard (.284 BABIP career). Inge’s main offensive skill has been his decent power, but that has dropped down to a .095 ISO this season. ZiPS RoS sees some return to form, but a .302 wOBA is nothing to get excited about on its own. Whether or not that is good enough depends on how good Inge’s primary calling card — his glove — remains. Around 2006 and 2007, one could make a case for Inge as one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. In more recent seasons, he’s been seen as about half a win above average. If he’s still that good, he could be an almost average player. If he’s lost his ability to play third at an above-average level, then he’s barely a 1.5 win player in terms of true talent. That might be worth “fixing” for the Tigers either by acquiring another third basemen to replace Inge or perhaps acquiring a shortstop and moving Peralta to third. The problem, of course, is that third baseman (and even moreso shortstops) are difficult to find in trade, and might cost them more than they want (or can) spend in terms of talent and money.

If the Tigers want to improve their stock of starting position players, the outfield seems like the more likely place to do so. Austin Jackson‘s BABIP chickens have come home to roost this season, and he’s striking out at a ridiculous rate, but with his defensive skill and the difficulty of finding center fielders at the right price, the Tigers probably have to stick with him for now. The corners are more interesting in this regard. Magglio Ordonez just went on the disabled list, but that may just as well, as he was showing his age both in the field and at the plate. He probably isn’t that bad yet, but the Tigers need to be ready to explore long-term alternatives without putting too much faith in a quick and productive return. Ordonez’s injury at least has postponed the Annual Burying of Ryan Raburn. Yes, Raburn has been dreadful so far this season (.214/.255/.366, 70 wRC+), and sports a strikeout rate that would make Austin Jackson blush. But the Tigers have seen this before — Raburn gets off to a slow start, gets buried and/or demoted, then brought back up as an injury replacement and crushes the ball. His ZiPS RoS of .334 isn’t thrilling for a guy who isn’t a defensive virtuoso, but it’s good enough for a corner outfielder in this run environment, even for a corner outfielder. On the other side of the outfield, brief 2010 sensation Brennan Boesch is seemingly showing that he’s a better hitter than this second-half slump indicated. That was probably the case all along, and Boesch has shown some improvement in both his walk and strikeout rates. However, he’s still living off of a higher BABIP than he’s likely to be able to sustain (.330 with only a 16.2% line-drive rate) and his power has also dropped off (.115). ZiPS RoS is quite pessimistic, seeing him as having a .308 wOBA the rest of the way.

ZiPS isn’t perfect, of course, and one might dismiss it in favor of current-season performance (although I wouldn’t recommend it), saying that Raburn is indeed this horrible and Boesch this adequte. In either case, however, the Tigers still need another corner outfielder (and that’s assuming that can stick with Jackson in center). The recently called-up Andy Dirks has shown some promise in Triple-A this season and last, but it seems a stretch to suggest that he’s a solution as a full-timer in the outfield just yet.

What I’ve left unsaid is who might be available in trade, what the Tigers have to offer, and whether it would be enough. That’s for another post or for the comments here. I simply wanted to see where Detroit might make themselves better as they try to move into the divisional lead. Corner outfielders are generally easier to obtain than infielders, and so finding one to replace Ordonez alongside either Raburn or Boesch (or a Raburn/Boesch platoon) seems likely to be the one place where the Tigers can improve their group of starting position players the most.

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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.

38 Responses to “Where Can the Tigers Make Themselves Better?”

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  1. Chuck says:

    I think the bullpen could use a few pieces. Brad Thomas? Benoit has been awful too.

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  2. SC2GG says:

    Wait a second here, something’s wrong. This article isn’t about Bautista! :P

    As for the Tigers, they’re already doing a really good job of making themselves better. They’re letting the right people leave, and bringing the right people in. They seem to have somewhat of a lack of the normal lack of common sense that’s been recently employed by the Yankees for example.

    There isn’t much more you can do in their situation, by seasons end I fully expect them to be in the playoffs, and deservedly so.

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    • Yeah, I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m ripping the Tigers or anything, I was just curious and so I “looked around.” Inge and the outfield seem like the most likely places they could or would want to make a change.

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      • Lloyd mclendon says:

        Trade for reyes and move peralta to thirds… That’s a solid left side

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      • Preston says:

        And if Reyes is to expensive get Beltran. An all-star veteran switch hitter batting in front of and behind Miguel Cabrera would be pretty scary.

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  3. Sean O'Neill says:

    Casper Wells probably deserves a shot at more regular ABs at some point. If nothing else he might be able to provide a 1st half Boesch style shot in the arm.

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  4. melvin emmanuel says:

    Peralta’s periph’s look pretty good to me. BB rate up, K rate down, LD% up, and while babip is a tad high, doesn’t seem outrageous.

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  5. Ory says:

    Beltran to the Tigers? The Mets can’t expect much in return. A couple C prospects and salary relief?

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  6. Bobby Russon says:

    I’m a big supporter of advanced stats, but some times you have to pull back and look at the raw numbers.

    Brandon Inge averages 70 rbi and 17 hr over 162 games for his career while playing better than average (at times elite) defense. I know most feel that rbi’s are more about luck and he shouldn’t have that many, but we’re talking about a decade of data. I’ll take that from a 9-hole hitter at 6mil a year any day.

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    • slamcactus says:

      “I know most feel that rbi’s are more about luck and he shouldn’t have that many, but we’re talking about a decade of data.”

      Hey, wanna buy this pile of dogshit for $5? I know it’s dogshit and all, but c’mon man, there’s like 1000 pounds of it!

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      Inge doesn’t seem to have the same kind of defensive range he once had. He’s had a bad string of injuries the past couple of years. Without superior defense, he’s definitely subpar.

      Inge’s clutch scores over his career fluctuate around but are above average. Not reason to assume that he has a run-knocking-in ability that doesn’t show up in context-neutral statistics. Looking at HR and RBI frankly just confuses things — HR is already in wRC+ or SLG or whatever more comprehensive stat you want to use and RBI doesn’t tell us much without knowing where the runners were and how many there were when he come up. Besides, you omitted his runs scored, so even if you want to look at those stats, you may be cherrypicking to support your pre-conceived notions.

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  7. slamcactus says:

    They have a bit of an embarrassment of riches in pitching prospects in the high minors. Furbush and Oliver are probably major league ready today, and Jacob Turner isn’t far behind. I could easily see a package centered around either lefty to bring back Beltran (though they shouldn’t count on him as a replacement in center at this point).

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  8. Dash says:

    Luke Scott?

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  9. Andrew says:

    Jackson’s season hasn’t been at a single consistent level. For the first half of games so far he hit very little and when he did they were outs, but since then he has been doing pretty decently- for what he does.

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  10. G says:

    offer Oliver, Schlereth, Rayburn, and Fields to Mets for JOSE REYES. Pay him. Reyes would be a great fit on this team. Reyes and Jackson at the top of the order and on the bases ahead of Cabrerea and Martinez would be fun to watch.Move Coke to the pen. He is such a valuable asset shutting down lefties three days a week from the pen. Coke + Alburquerque in the 7th.Bring up Furbush to start. Jhonny P to 3rd. Pick spots with Inge and Santiago to spell the starters. Pray Maggs or Guillen can come back healthy for the last month to provide some pop from the bench / once a week.

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    • IHateJoeBuck says:

      I’d say do that deal in a heartbeat. I’d love to see him in Detroit, and it’ll be interesting what type of return he’d fetch if they make Reyes available. I’d offer up most of the farm to get him. Elite SS aren’t available everyday.

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    • Stringer Bell says:

      Is it really that hard to spell Raburn? Come on. I am a really big fan of Oliver, but I wouldn’t be opposed to that deal as long as Reyes is re-signed and Turner is not included in any manner.

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  11. Detroit Michael says:

    It seems to me that the minor league system after Turner and Oliver doesn’t have many assets and the major league roster lacks depth.

    Hence, the key to trades will be whether the Tigers want to take on salary or useful but underperforming players in order to bench guys like Inge or Ordonez who already are being paid a lot on contracts signed just this past winter. That seems a bit unlikely given that their payroll already seems high for a mid-market city with a poor economy, not that any of us has a good idea of the profit margin that they are running.

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    • ToddM says:

      Inge signed a two year deal averaging 5.75 mil this off-season, so that’s not ridiculously hard to eat.

      Ordonez signed a one year deal worth about 10 mil, assuming no incentives are reached.

      Neither of those contracts should prevent Illitch from adding payroll if a title is in reach.

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  12. bluejaysstatsgeek says:

    Dang! I miss the 401 rivalry: Detroit-Toronto. I always liked Detroit. There should be a Great Lakes division in MLB with Detroit, Minnesota, Cleveland, Chicago WS and Toronto. I’d be interested in watching every one of these rivals more than our current division rivals.

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  13. Jross says:

    Willison Betemite?

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  14. ToddM says:

    Klaassen probably has this right, although landing Reyes would be sweet for the Tigers. Magglio looks really terrible, and this DL stint may be more of a “make up a reason to bench him and bring someone up” move.

    Boesch seems like a solid player this year. Raburn does not, but he gets a longer leash for his previous performance. Wells is nothing special, and I doubt Dirks will be, either.

    One middle of the rotation starter, one good LH reliever, and one more above league-average bat (SS or corner OF) and I’ll be satisfied the Tigers have done what they can for this year.

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  15. RPS says:

    Inge’s defensive range has noticeably shrunk over the last two seasons. Without otherworldly range, he is not an MLB player. Period. At this point, trading for and starting Aaron Miles would make the team a win better. And I think I actually mean that.

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  16. Will says:

    The tigers solution was carl Crawford. That ship has sailed

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  17. The Nicker says:

    To me it’s really a hold-tight situation, with the secondary option being to get the Mets on Line 1 for a bit of a blockbuster.

    They seem to have the payroll flexibility (pending the attendance coming back up to form when the weather warms), so the question is are they willing to give up Oliver or Turner to get Reyes or Beltran?

    In this division, I’m not sure they need to make that deal to make the playoffs.

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    • Vince says:

      Surely, you don’t think that either Turner or Oliver would be tradeable for Beltran. It is tempting to lump them together becase they play for the same sinking ship of a team, but reyes is a star with star value. Beltran’s value is that he isn’t Magglio – yet.

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      • The Nicker says:

        I guess I was thinking Oliver for Beltran or Turner for Reyes. There would probably have to be some money kicked in on those deals.

        In either case I would not make that move if I was the Tigers right now.

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    • Cloud Computer says:

      Nicker I think you are overvaluing half a season of Reyes… Oliver would be an overpay

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  18. G says:

    I doubt they would deal Turner. They believe he has Verlander type stuff. Its hard to trade a guy like him, even for a proven veteran. If they stand pat I think they will still have a good chance to get into the playoffs and will still have a chance to win a series against any team with the 1/2 combo of JV and Max.

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  19. Ian says:

    Why on earth would we trade either of our best two prospects, given our brutal farm system, for a rental player in Reyes or Beltran? I never understand the “if we are able to sign them to a new contract, then I’d make that trade”…that just means that we’re paying fair market value for the player! Reyes isn’t going to say “sure, I’m worth $17M/season, but I’ll sign for $13M/season because the Tigers gave up Turner to get me”. If the Mets want to receive anything of value, other than draft picks, for Beltran or Reyes, they need to move them ASAP. If the Mets want talent back, like an Oliver, Turner, Fields or Castellanos, then they can take Guillen back in the deal.
    Mets can do much better than to deal with the Tigers…they need to find an organization that has talent to spare.

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    • G says:

      your point of view lacks merit and logical thinking. you should return to espn. no one in this thread wrote anything about renting Reyes or Reyes accepting less than market value for any reason. there is also no way DD would give up a top pitching prospect for a rental player but i am sure DD would seriously consider the option and ask Mr. Illitch for the bread it would take to retain Reyes for a few years, especially with Guillen and Magglio coming off the books later this year. i am sure they would consider spending $16+/season on a player such as Reyes.

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  20. David in DC says:

    Raburn for Beltran, or Boesch for Beltran might work.

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    • ToddM says:

      How about Oliver and Raburn and some salary relief (Guillen, perhaps) for Beltran and a B-prospect (someone worse than Oliver)?

      Seems like something the Tigers could live with and the Mets could benefit from. Boesch probably is no better than Raburn long term, but he’s cheaper for the Tigers in the immediate future. Oliver’s the real value.

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  21. TigersGFY says:

    Sizemore is averaging an error a week… and will be batting under .221 in two week’s time… Rhymes is now batting .320 in Toledo… and his career MLB average was .282… I just luve you Tigers fans… a guy has a bad month, and you overlook his career stats to proclaim his career dead. Fair enough, trade Will Rhymes. You guys deserve Sizemore… he can be your second baseman as you pull up a chair and watch the playoffs on TV.

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    • ToddM says:

      Career stats, for inexperienced players, need to include minor league numbers. You’re just being ornery for no reason.

      Rhymes’ awesome .282 is in about half a season of plate appearances, and comes with no power, no walks, and average defense.

      Sizemore walks and has hit for power in the minors. He’s clearly a better hitter than Rhymes, even if he hasn’t shown it yet. His defense is below average.

      Leyland should sit Sizemore (and play Santiago) against tough lefties and when Porcello pitches. Rhymes is filler that came with an early hot streak in the majors.

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