Tigers Season Preview – 2008 Edition
After re-reading my 2007 season preview, I had to admit I was a little leery of doing another one this year. It’s all just such a crap shoot. And even after digesting the most dynamic offseason in franchise history and tracking the team’s progress over six weeks of spring training, I’m still not clear on the fortunes of this team. But without further preamble and sentences started with conjunctions – The DTW Preview.
It’s pretty clear the Tigers are poised to have an exciting offense. With everybody healthy this will be the best lineup in baseball. And the batting order is solid enough that it could even sustain a major injury and still be better than most of the competition. The 1000 run threshold has been widely discussed, but that has to be viewed as a best case scenario. I actually expect the total to be in the 925-950 range.
Last year the Tigers scored 887 runs and they did it with the help of some career years that can’t be expected to be repeated. We’ve heard about how much less productive Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, and Placido Polanco are going to be. But the Tigers also suffered from some pretty terrible production in left field, third base, and first base. Each of those areas have been addressed and improved substantially.
- Catcher: 2007 – 278/299/410 The sub 300 OBP was certainly a disappointment, but we all know that Pudge Rodriguez and taking walks are like oil and water. As his batting average waned, the OBP went right with it. However there is good news for 2008. I think Pudge Rodriguez bucks the aging trend for this season. He’s had a tremendous spring hitting .429 with 6 homers. Spring stats don’t mean a whole lot – except when there is a big uptick in slugging percentage. Pudge’s spring certainly puts him in that group of players. About 3 out of every 4 players in that group go on to exceed their career averages.
As for the backups, it will be Brandon Inge and perhaps Vance Wilson later. They should be adequate – at least relative to backup catcher production.
Position trend: UP
- First base: 2007 – 295/350/414 Sean Casey received the bulk of the at-bats and he managed a decent on base percentage, but was devoid of power. He didn’t get his first homer until interleague play in June. Carlos Guillen is a safe bet to at least match the batting average and OBP while substantially increasing the slugging percentage. Marcus Thames is really the only other bet to play at first, and he’ll hit for a lower average but with big power.
Position trend: UP
- Second Base: 2007 – 328/369/448 Placido Polanco had a great year last year hitting .341 which also lifted his other numbers. He was a wizard with the bat, rarely striking out and putting the ball in play with remarkable consistency. Some regression in his numbers is expected here, but I still expect solid production. Polanco’s 2007 was a near carbon copy of his 2005 so it can’t be deemed a fluke.
Ryan Raburn will be the primary back-up and should be solid in the role.
Positional Trend – Slight down
- Shortstop: 2007 – 280/340/462 I was actually a little surprised to see the numbers this low for the position. It turns out Guillen was more powerful and productive when manning first base than at short. This isn’t going to influence my opinion of Guillen’s upcoming season with the position switch, but it does make the gap in shortstop production going forward smaller.
Edgar Renteria had a phenomenal year in 2007 hitting 332/390/470. I don’t expect anything close to those numbers, but he is still a career 291/349/407 hitter and he’s posted an OBP north of 361 in 4 of the last 6 seasons. I expect something in between his career and 2007 numbers.
Positional Trend – Slight Down
- Third Base 2007 – 236/307/381 I’m several hundred words in and it’s the first mention of Brandon Inge. Inge was really bad last year. The Tigers replaced him with one of the elite hitters in the game in Miguel Cabrera.
Positional Trend – Big freakin’ UP
- Left Field 2007 – 240/279/384 The now departed Craig Monroe deserves most of the blame for these sorry numbers, but he wasn’t alone. Marcus Thames only hit .234/274/465 while manning left field. Ryan Raburn and Cameron Maybin struggled out there as well.
This year this bloggers hope is for a strict platoon of Marcus Thames and the newly acquired Jacque Jones. Even if neither player is particularly productive, things are bound to be better out there.
Positional Trend – UP
- Center Field: 2007 – 294/357/537 Curtis Granderson was a stud last year. He is a very diligent worker who throughout his career has been able to systematically improve on the weakest aspects of his game. That glaring weakness right now is his struggles against left handers. Complicating this is the broken bone in his hand. A speedy and full recovery is expected, but not assured. If it takes him time to gain the strength back in his hand it could mean more at-bats for back-ups Brandon Inge and Clete Thomas, or a number of at-bats at less than full strength. Either would be a detriment. Plus, it’s tough to improve on a season like he had in 2007.
Positional Trend – DOWN
- Right Field: 2007 – 363/434/615 MVP caliber seasons are hard to come by. Expecting the same production isn’t realistic for fair to Magglio Ordonez. He should still be good, but the position will most likely be less productive.
Positional Trend – DOWN
- Designated Hitter: 2007 – 259/364/458 Gary Sheffield was very productive when healthy. I expect him to be very productive when healthy once again in 2008. However, like in 2007 I don’t expect him to remain healthy. He’s several years removed from his last full season, and expecting increased health at his age is counterintuitive to say the least.
Positional Trend – FLAT
Remember in the spring of 2007 when people were raving about the Tigers pitchers? They had a great rotation, a solid bullpen, and they were backed with strong defense. One year later everyone is worried.
- Starting Rotation: Four-fifths of the starting rotation that was so good in 2006 is intact, and yet it is now full of question marks. I think the concerns are overblown. I have no worries about Justin Verlander being good to great again in 2008. I of course have concerns about his health, but I’m just paranoid like that. Nate Robertson has proven to be a remarkably consistent pitcher with steady strikeout, walk, and homer rates over the last 3 years while pitching at least 177 innings.
Where the question marks come into play are Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers. Rogers is rightly a concern due to his age and it is a real concern if he can make it through a full season. Jeremy Bonderman is less of a concern to me. When he’s healthy he does pitch like an ace. I’m not worried about the first inning problems. I don’t think he’s mentally weak or more susceptible to the big inning. I’m not even worried about his 3rd pitch. Locate the fastball, which he can do when his elbow isn’t barking, and everything is fine. I fully admit to having a blind spot with Bonderman, but I think he’ll be fine.
And then there is Dontrelle Willis. His numbers were bad last year, but the Tigers scouts indicated he had found his groove at the end of the year. I felt better about the deal when the Tigers thought enough of the scouts reports to give him a long term deal. In Dave I trust. But his control problems this spring are troubling to say the least. He can’t get the ball over the plate, and when he does it’s up and getting hammered.
What makes this more of an issue is the Tigers are thin if they need a sixth starter. Yorman Bazardo and Virgil Vasquez would figure to be the guys to most likely fill that role.
- Bullpen: Bullpens are historically hard to predict. That becomes even more difficult when there are limited track records to draw from. Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, the linchpins of the pen, shouldn’t even be counted on for this year. Rodney is having a hard time staying healthy, and I imagine that even when he does come back it will be a matter of weeks until he is back on the DL. With Joel Zumaya there’s no way to know what will happen.
Todd Jones had arm strength issues early in the spring, and I find this to be a huge concern. Jones isn’t as bad as many make him out to be, but if the arm is dead, the arm is dead.
Denny Bautista may be that special find that the pen needs. He won favor with Leyland and that should garner him quite a few chances. If he can throw strikes, his stuff is good enough that he could be dominant.
After that it’s a matter of quantity. Bobby Seay is looking like the second coming of Jamie Walker, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Zach Miner has a great sinker, but he needs to keep the ball down for it to be effective. Jason Grilli enters the season as the whipping boy, based largely on his struggles in April and May of last year. Plus, when he blows up he really blows up.
The Tigers have to hope that Francisco Cruceta can get in country and that Yorman Bazardo and Aquilino Lopez can be good enough.
- Defense: The Tigers look to help out their pitchers with a pretty strong defense. Jacque Jones is an upgrade in left field from a range perspective. Edgar Renteria – while no longer a plus defensive player – is an upgrade over Carlos Guillen. And Guillen should have significantly more range than Sean Casey did at first base. Of course there was one big downgrade and that was with Miguel Cabrera taking Brandon Inge’s spot at third. Third base defense does figure to be a weakness, and one that is magnified with 3 left handed pitchers.
Where I look like a fool and put it all together. I see this team winning about 92 wins. Whether or not that is good enough to take the division, I’m not sure. I have a hard enough time predicting my teams performance, let alone every other team. It should have them right in the mix with Cleveland. I also think it should be enough to get them in the playoffs. After that who knows what happens in a short series.