For years I would write up season previews where I would almost automatically pick the team for 4th place. I didn’t know if they were a legitimate 4th place team, but I’d inject a little homerism to avoid last place. And then 2006 happened. The team was good. Real good. Picking them first or second in the division didn’t seem homer-ish, it seemed prudent after their World Series run. And an 88 win finish in 2007 and a blockbuster trade in the subsequent offseason further solidified those predictions. Then 2008 happened. I’m not ready to go back to picking the team in the bottom half even though that is the prevailing wisdom. I have them at 84 wins and a second place finish this year. And here’s why.
Back in January I took a look at the Tigers hitters and pitchers through the eyes of win values. It was an exercise in forecasting the Tigers season as objectively as possible. I used other people’s projections (mostly found at Fangraphs) to see how the Tigers would perform. At the time I concluded that the Tigers were an 84 win team. Of course, some things have changed since then:
In the process the Tigers got a lot younger. The Tigers boasted 3 of the oldest players in the league in the form of Todd Jones/Kenny Rogers/Gary Sheffield. Now the offense is a mix of veterans and emerging stars and the rotation are veritable babies. The oldest pitcher in the season opening rotation is Armando Galarraga at the ripe old age of 27.
With the above mentioned roster changes in mind I updated the projections. The hitters are first, and then the pitchers:
I tried to stay objectives with the new roster additions, but admittedly there is limited data to work with. Anderson and Larish don’t have a ton of history to project offense, let alone defense. Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry only have PECOTA projections which have them posting ERAs north of 6.50. I took some liberties in these cases. Porcello I have as a below average starter throwing 160 innings (the limit laid out by Dombrowski). If he is as bad as PECOTA projects he won’t throw that many innings and I figured they would be filled by someone of about that quality. With Perry I pegged him as a replacement level reliever, following similar logic to Porcello. I actually think both will perform better than that, but I wanted to stay conservative.
In the end I have the team 41 wins above replacement and a replacement AL team would win about 43 games. So voila, 84 wins. (for more on the methodology check the links from the earlier articles)
As for second place? The Tigers are commonly cited for having many question marks, but look around the division. The Royals have an offensive black hole playing first base and an experiment at second base. The White Sox offense beyond Carlos Quentin and Alexi Ramirez is reliant on aging players like Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and AJ Pierzynski. The Twins offense capitalized with RISP last season at a rate that is largely unattainable and Joe Mauer’s health is a concern. And the Indians have a Cy Young winner at the top of the rotation, but look at the rest of it.
My projected order of finish for the division is:
I also see this division probably separated by no more than 12 to 14 games meaning that nearly everyone is in contention, and likely could be throughout the season. This could make things exciting when it comes to battling for a division crown. It could also make things dicey as sub .500 teams don’t view themselves as sellers at the trade deadline.