Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 Detroit Tigers Preview

Last year's American League champions made very few changes to their regular lineup, but there were two gigantic improvements made.  Delmon Young and his negative everything (except for the occasional power) are gone to Philadelphia, where Ruben Amaro can deal with the anti-Semitic remarks and total lack of plate discipline (and I mean that in more ways than one).  He was replaced on the payroll by free agent Torii Hunter, who is many things that Young is not: in shape, a quality hitter and defender, and a good citizen.  The other big change is that Victor Martinez, signed prior to last season, returns after missing 2012 with a torn ACL.  Those two moves mean that Detroit gets to remove two offensive black holes from their lineup; Young and the mostly regrettable cast of characters, chiefly Brennan Boesch, who manned left field for them last year.  Here is how it should look:

CF   Austin Jackson (R): .293/.363/.442, 12 HR, 17 SB, 5.3 WAR
RF   Torii Hunter (R): .271/.336/.428, 19 HR, 2.5 WAR
3B   Miguel Cabrera (R): .331/.413/.595, 38 HR, 7.3 WAR
1B   Prince Fielder (L): .299/.413/.548, 37 HR, 5.4 WAR
DH  Victor Martinez (S): .303/.369/.457, 16 HR, 1.9 WAR
SS   Jhonny Peralta (R): .264/.329/.423, 16 HR, 2.5 WAR
C     Alex Avila (L): .269/.373/.446, 15 HR, 3.8 WAR
LF   Andy Dirks (L): .283/.335/.438, 14 HR, 10 SB, 1.4 WAR
2B   Omar Infante (R): .282/.320/.400, 9 HR, 11 SB, 2.0 WAR

Martinez adds significant thump to what is the best one-two power-hitting combination in all of baseball, and he has potentially more power than those projections suggest.  Cabrera, of course, is the most feared right-handed hitter in the game; he's piled up 321 career home runs, a career .318/.395/.561 line, and by the way, doesn't turn 30 until mid-April.  His partner-in-crime Fielder, one year younger, has proven to be exceptionally durable for such a big guy, missing only thirteen games in seven full seasons while clubbing 260 home runs with a .287/.393/.538 line.  Those three sluggers have an ideal table-setter in Jackson, who broke out in a big way last year, cutting down on his strikeouts and bumping his on-base percentage by sixty points.  As a reliable (if declining) hitter, Hunter will probably follow Jackson, although he is unlikely to replicate the .313/.365/.451 line of 2012 at the age of 37.  Towards the back of the lineup, Peralta and Avila offer good positional value with their bats, while Dirks and Infante are competent if not outstanding with the bat.  Boesch, Avisail Garcia, and Ramon Santiago will likely be the top bats off of the bench.  If everyone (particularly the fragile Martinez) stays healthy, this team should rake.

Defense is another story.  Three of their four infielders range from "pudgy" (Peralta) to "enormous" (Fielder), and the porous infield defense is a big reason why 2007 top pick Rick Porcello has seen his value fall over the past couple of years, given that he is a ground-ball pitcher.  Infante has a pretty good glove, and in close/late situations there are a pair of stellar and versatile gloves on the bench in Santiago and Danny Worth (whom I am rooting for to get more playing time this season).  The outfield is significantly better, with Jackson in particular rating as one of the best center fielders in baseball.  Hunter may no longer be Spider-Man from his Minnesota days, but he is an upgrade in right field over the potpourri of Boesch, Quintin Berry, and Garcia.  Dirks will only be asked to be competent in left, which is certainly more than Young was on those instances when he wore a glove and posed as an outfielder.

RHP   Justin Verlander: 231.0 IP, 220 K, 58 BB, 3.00 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 6.0 WAR
RHP   Max Scherzer: 191.0 IP, 198 K, 60 BB, 3.72 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 3.9 WAR
RHP   Anibal Sanchez: 201.0 IP, 175 K, 56 BB, 3.72 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 3.8 WAR
RHP   Doug Fister: 212.0 IP, 147 K, 43 BB, 3.69 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 4.2 WAR
RHP   Rick Porcello: 178.0 IP, 102 K, 45 BB, 4.50 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 2.7 WAR

As we all know, Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball, a horse who has led the league in both innings pitched and strikeouts three of the past four years, and who apart from a 2008 blip related to some control issues and bad luck has been universally excellent since his debut in 2005.  Despite throwing all those innings (953.2 in the last four years alone), he paces himself extraordinarily well, often saving his best 100-mph heat for the eighth and ninth innings.  Scherzer made a significant leap last year, finishing second to Verlander in strikeouts; he does have a bit of a funky delivery that bears watching as an injury risk.  Sanchez is a very good third starter; he'll give up a lot of hits, but doesn't walk too many batters and racks up his share of strikeouts; re-signing him at 29 was a solid move by Tigers management.  Fister is probably the best fourth starter in the league, another groundball artist who somehow has experienced more success with that style than Porcello.  In case of injury, Drew Smyly can step in as perhaps the best sixth starter in baseball.  If there is a concern about this rotation, it's that it is too right-handed, which is why rumors to trade Porcello and install the southpaw Smyly in his place make some sense.

Behind that excellent rotation is a quality bullpen with no sure closer as yet (although it's probably a good thing that Papa Grande's heartburn-inducing ninth innings are a thing of the past).  Phil Coke, Al Albuquerque, and Joaquin Benoit will pitch in front of (for now) Bruce Rondon, as well as the ageless and oft-traded Octavio Dotel (the Tigers are his thirteenth team).  Last year's Tigers rode three superstars (Verlander, Cabrera, and Fielder), two breakout seasons (Jackson and Scherzer), and quality pitching to a World Series appearance.  This team is built to win now, and the few changes that they have made to the roster should ensure that the Tigers win the division for a third consecutive year.