Greetings all... back with another installment, this time focusing on the suddenly riveting Detroit Tigers...
C - Alex Avila
1B - Prince Fielder
2B - Ryan Raburn/Ramon Santiago/Brandon Inge
SS - Jhonny Peralta
3B - Miguel Cabrera/Brandon Inge
LF - Delmon Young/Andy Dirks
CF - Austin Jackson
RF - Brennan Boesch
DH - Some combination of Cabrera/Raburn/Young/Boesch
What an interesting unit. The acquisition of Fielder is obviously a win offensively, in that adding a guy who posted 38 homers and a .981 OPS always helps, but the move has triggered some positional question marks that have caused the line-up to be in flux (see above). Firstly, the loss of Victor Martinez for the year to a torn ACL is a big blow (even if it was the impetus to sign Fielder in the first place), and takes away their "everyday" DH of sorts. That said, the biggest question mark is Miguel Cabrera at third base. You know Cabrera will hit (.344 avg, 1.033 OPS, 30 homers in 2011) as he's one of the best, if not the best, hitters in baseball, but the last time he played 3rd base was about 50 pounds ago, and he wasn't good then. Basically, this is the worst defensive infield in the majors by a significant margin (Peralta, Raburn, and Fielder are all bad as well), but with the lineup as it is, it may not matter. In addition to the boppers in Fielder and Cabrera, Alex Avila put up nearly a .900 OPS from the catcher spot in 2011 and is a budding star, while Brennan Boesch really came on at time last year and finished with 16 homers in just 115 games. Couple that with Ryan Raburn (14 homers in 387 ab's) providing rare pop at second base, and Peralta coming off the best season of his career at shortstop (21 homers, .299 avg, .824 OPS) and this is an impressive offense. Whether it's an elite one will likely depend on Delmon Young, who plateaued last year after a breakout of sorts in 2010, and Austin Jackson, who's speed is there, but who's average plummeted below .250 at the top of the order last year. Defense is the question mark, but the hitting is there.
1 - Justin Verlander
2 - Max Scherzer
3 - Doug Fister
4 - Rick Porcello
5 - Jacob Turner
Verlander was the best pitcher on Planet Earth in 2011. The numbers speak for themselves (251 innings, 24 wins, 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 250 Ks) but the overall impact of his consistency pretty much carried the Tigers to the playoffs last year. I don't know that the shear statistical dominance will be at this level again in 2012, but I think it's reasonable to expect a top-5 pitcher in the AL at the very least. After that, it gets a bit more dicey. Scherzer won 15 games in 2011, but struggled a bit in posting an ERA of 4.43, and while his strikeout rate was solid, it wasn't elite as most people thought it would be. There's no question the talent is there, but the consistency lacks a bit. Fister was fantastic after coming over in a deal mid-season (1.79 ERA, 0.84 WHIP in 11 starts), but both he and Rick Porcello are guys who need defense to be effective, and as you can read above, the infield defense is a near trainwreck here. I think Fister is affected less so than Porcello (who is a Derek Lowe-like groundball artist), and as such, he'll still be pretty good, but Porcello could blow up. Turner is an elite prospect with only 3 big league appearances, but it appears that he's being anointed the 5th starter, and it'll be interesting to see what he can produce in that role at just 20 years old when the season opens.
Jose Valverde! The long-time closer had the best year of his career in 2011, posting 49 saves and much better splits than normal (2.24 ERA, 1.19 WHIP). Those numbers aren't quite sustainable if you check out the peripherals, but Valverde is a solid 9th inning option still at this point. Joaquin Benoit and Al Alburquerque were both dominant a year ago, and have the stuff to continue that pace. Phil Coke joins the bullpen full-time and along with newly-signed Octavio Dotel, and young Daniel Schlereth, this is a pretty nice bullpen.
90-72, 1st in AL Central