Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #4: Detroit Tigers

Greetings! It's Miggy time...

Projected Starters - Alex Avila (C), Prince Fielder (1B), Omar Infante (2B), Jhonny Peralta (SS), Miguel Cabrera (3B), Andy Dirks/Brennan Boesch (LF), Austin Jackson (CF), Torii Hunter (RF), Victor Martinez (DH)

There are very few (if any) safer bets than Miguel Cabrera and Price Fielder. Cabrera is the best hitter on the planet, winning the AL Triple Crown last season (even if RBI's are meaningless) with a .330/.393/.606 slash line with 205 hits, 44 home runs, and 109 runs scored. He's 35-40 homers with a .320-.340 average in the bank, and his career lows in batting average (.292) and home runs (26) would represent big-time production. The only question with Miggy is his defense, but he wasn't quite as bad as I thought he'd be at 3rd base (still bad) last year. Fielder has played in 157+ games in 7 straight seasons (which is insane, btw) and has two separate 45+ homer seasons on his resume. He's given a bit of his power back in favor of batting average (and walks) in recent years, but last year he finished with 30 homers and a .412 OBP, which makes him elite. The "big two" are flanked by three more solid, second-tier guys in Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, and Victor Martinez. Jackson is one of my favorites, as a big-time defensive player with 20-homer power and 20-steal upside, plus a good OBP (.377 last year). They also added Hunter in the off-season, and while he probably won't replicate his 2012 (.313/.365/.451), he'll play great defense in right and provide a solid, mid-order bat. Martinez is the big question mark because of health, but he's not playing catcher anymore (at least not regularly at all), and he has a career .303 average with 25-homer potential from the DH spot. The rest of the lineup isn't terribly impressive, but there are no gaping holes, either. Avila had a down year in 2012, but was tremendous in 2011 and if he can split the difference, he's got value, while Peralta and Infante range from average to slightly-below-average, which is fine given what is around them. The Tigers offense has a very high floor, as Cabrera and Fielder are almost sure-things, and there's great safety in that.

Projected - Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello

This is where Detroit made the leap last year, and they added even more help for 2013. Verlander is one of the top-5 pitchers in the league, and he's a 6-7 win player nearly every season. He's thrown 225+ innings in 4 straight years, never finishing with an ERA over 3.50 (with sub-3.00 each of the last 2 seasons) and he'll challenge for the league lead in K's. I greatly enjoy the work of Doug Fister, who has a sub-3.50 ERA in the AL each of the last 2 seasons, and while he doesn't strike anyone out (6.08 K/9 career), he's incredibly solid, and that ballpark plays well for him. Scherzer is the enigma in the rotation, but he also possesses the upside of a Cy Young candidate. With a ridiculously great 2nd half to last year (2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), Scherzer vaulted into a different level, and he struck out over 11 batters per 9 innings as a starter last year, which is truly insane. He's never been the most consistent guy, but if he's right, he's a top-20 type of pitcher. Anibal Sanchez was brought in mid-season, and he's a very solid pitcher as well. I expect an ERA between 3.50 and 3.80 with a K-rate around 8 per 9, and 190 innings. That's a great 3rd/4th starter in the AL. Porcello is a former uber-prospect who has reportedly been outstanding in Spring, but he's never done it with any real success (career 4.55 ERA) at the MLB level. However, he did produce a 3.91 FIP last season, and if he can match that up with an ERA around 4.00, that's above-average for the 5th spot.

Projected - Bruce Rondon (closer), Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villareal

Here's the big issue! Bruce Rondon was anointed the closer before throwing a single MLB pitch, and he's struggled a bit in spring. He's a guy with huge strikeout potential (and a 100-MPH fastball), but he has no idea where the ball is going, and that's an issue. Behind him, they have a bunch of solid set-up men, but none of them has succeeded in the 9th inning and Jim Leyland is an old-school guy. Phil Coke is a big-time LOOGY, Benoit is a huge K/9 per guy, and Alburquerque has a career 1.59 ERA but he can't stay on the mound. The closer spot is the focus, but if Rondon is decent-ish, they'll be fine.


If the Tigers had a settled bullpen situation, I'd have them as the best team in the American League. With their big bats and a deep, talented rotation, they are set up for a 100-win season, and if Rondon emerges as even a solid closer, they'll win more than 95 games in that terrible division. You have to build in some skepticism at the back-end, and because of that, they land here with a comfortable division-winning record.


95-67, 1st in AL Central

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