Marge Simpson: “Don’t worry, kids. This is a national park. We can have lots of fun!
Ranger: “Oh, I’m afraid that’s no longer true, ma’am. Budget cutbacks have forced us to eliminate anything the least bit entertaining.
If you’re a fan of offense, games featuring the Detroit Tigers might not be your cup of tea. Everyone knew that Detroit was in for a rough year, but they’ve been in the midst of some kind of power outage. They’ve hit just seven home runs on the season. Two of them were hit by Gordon Beckham. Three of them were hit by “Christin Stewart“. The typical power suspects in the lineup, the quartet of Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos, Niko Goodrum, and Jeimer Candelario, have combined for just a single dinger. That’s a recipe for the lowest-scoring offense in the American League.
The issues have started at the top of the lineup with the newly acquired Josh Harrison, whose OPS+ is stuck in the single digits. Castellanos, typically the best hitter in the Detroit lineup, has been fine outside of his power outage, but there’s not much else around him. Cabrera’s decline has continued in his age-36 season, as he’s striking out more than he ever has and only has logged one extra-base hit (a double) thus far. Candelario has actually batted cleanup a few times this season, a ridiculous notion given his .198/.290/.324 line over the last four months or so of 2018 and his equally-bad line this season.
If there’s been any bright spots among the Tigers’ regulars, they’ve been the aforementioned Goodrum and Stewart. Goodrum’s been legitimately awesome thus far by hitting the ball very hard, showing very good strike zone command, and playing all over the diamond for Ron Gardenhire. Stewart may be an unfamiliar name, as his performance as a prospect has generally surpassed his hype. He held his own in the majors last September and while the batting average hasn’t been there thus far, his power has been a welcome addition.
The remainder of the lineup has been fairly catastrophic. Mikie Mahtook is envious of Daniel Palka‘s start to the season; the putrid performance got him jettisoned and he’s been replaced by Detroit’s version of Adam Engel, JaCoby Jones. Jordy Mercer was chugging along, doing his typical second-division starter thing until he fell victim to a quadriceps strain, which should vault Beckham into regular playing time for this series and potentially beyond (though he’ll be competing with the recently promoted Ronny Rodriguez, who has done well so far). Grayson Greiner is a mountain of a man who actually finds a way to play catcher at his stature. He theoretically has power, but currently he’s trying to stave off joining Harrison in the single-digit OPS+ club. John Hicks is a backup catcher and platoon righty who’s been miscast as a regular at first base of late, which is particularly problematic given that Detroit has yet to face a left-handed starter. He’s one of six Tigers with an average below .200 this year.
So, how exactly has this team’s won-loss record turned out okay? Somehow, their starting pitching has been among the best of all teams in baseball. No one would have predicted that in February. Even fewer people (so, a negative amount of people?) would have done so after their best starter, Michael Fulmer, succumbed to Tommy John surgery in March. The biggest cause for surprise is Matt Boyd, who over the past four years has gone from a generic groover of 90 mph fastballs, to a cromulent mid-rotation starter, to flirting with the major league lead in FIP in the early going. Now that he’s turned into Matt Boyd: Strikeout Artist Extraordinaire!, Sung Min Kim wrote up a nice feature on the Tigers’ lefty in which he explains how Boyd lowered his arm slot, greatly raised his spin rate, ditched his sinker, and has been able to disguise his slider effectively through consistent pitch tunneling.
Righty Spencer Turnbull has been something of an enigma so far, as his breaking stuff has helped him generate a lot of strikeouts, but hitters haven’t had too much trouble getting on base against him. A lesser prospect, most expect Turnbull to be a back-end starter long-term, but if he continues to post a K-rate close to 30 percent, there might be something more here. Jordan Zimmerman‘s velocity has continuously eroded since he donned a Tiger uniform in 2016, and he’s generally been sitting under 91 mph. The velocity drop has naturally been accompanied by a reduced ability to miss bats, which made him one of the worst pitchers in the game as recently as 2016. Since then, he’s been working on a second act as a breaking-ball-heavy control artist, with some modest success.
Tyson Ross is a journeyman righty who slings a great deal of sliders to compensate for the fact that he doesn’t throw very hard. He profiles as a back-end starter, but has run hotter than that so far in 2019. Matt Moore has been a punching bag for a couple years now, but was off to a torrid start in 2019 prior to succumbing to a surgery-triggering knee injury in his last start. He’ll be replaced by a familiar face in Daniel Norris, who has struggled badly the last two seasons when he’s been able to pitch. He’s generally been relegated to the bullpen, where he hasn’t been able to regain his former velocity even in short spurts. The White Sox will have their crack at him on Saturday.
From 2012-2017, the Tigers posted a top-five payroll in baseball each season and not coincidentally, they experienced a great deal of success during the early portion of that window. This year, they rank 20th and have their lowest opening day payroll since 2007 (when they were still 9th in all of baseball). That might be par for the course for a rebuilding team, but they started this rebuild with absolutely nothing on their farm, and the system hasn’t yet recovered to the league median. The Tigers are fresh off of two 64-win seasons and don’t have much on their roster to provide excitement. Followers of the 2018 White Sox are familiar with the portion of a rebuild that isn’t even the least bit entertaining. The Tigers will likely be stuck in that phase even longer.
Probable Starting Pitchers
- Thursday, April 18: Ivan Nova vs. Tyson Ross
- Friday, April 19: Carlos Rodon vs. Jordan Zimmerman
- Saturday, April 20: Ervin Santana vs. Daniel Norris
- Sunday, April 21: Reynaldo Lopez vs. Matt Boyd
- Josh Harrison – 2B
- Nicholas Castellanos – RF
- Miguel Cabrera – DH
- Niko Goodrum – CF
- Christin Stewart – LF
- Jeimer Candelario – 3B
- John Hicks – 1B
- Gordon Beckham – SS
- Grayson Greiner – C