Midseason Musings

The Tigers are officially halfway through the season. they’ve managed to lead the division for the majority of the first half. They’ve seen some good pitching, some awful pitching and some much improved defense (which is helping the pitching). They’ve seen the offense roll, and then cough and sputter against pitchers that shouldn’t induce coughing and sputtering. Through it all they have a 2 game lead in the division (and 2 games in hand). Far from a commanding lead, but they also have a schedule that could prove favorable in the second half as well. Some various thoughts on what the team has done so far:

  • Playing the ‘”on pace for” game the Tigers have 3 hitters with a decent shot at 30 homers.  The Tigers have only had 2 30 homer seasons this decade and the last time 3 Tigers hit 30 in a season was 1992.
  • The Tigers have 47 of their final 81 games at home and only 1 more trip to the West Coast. They do still have to go to Fenway and Yankee Stadium and they’ve yet to play Tampa Bay yet. They do have 1 9 game roadie left going to Minnesota, Chicago, and Cleveland in late September.
  • The Tigers are on pace to improve on their walks but only slightly. The 2008 total was 644 and the 2009 projection is 612.  But intentional walks are way down (on pace for 40, 63 issued last year) as are HBP (on pace for 30, 68 last year) and wild pitches (on pace for 46, 65 last year).
  • One of the speculated reasons for the walks last year was that pitchers knew how bad the defense was and they nibbled. That can’t be an excuse this year with the Tigers having one of the best defensive teams in baseball. They are above average at every infield position and are typically in the top 5 at the position. Last year Detroit was 39 runs below average for the season, so far this year they are 26.7 wins above average.

[blank] of the Year

  • Catch of the Year: Curtis Granderson robbing Grady Sizemore of a walk-off homer and preserving a complete game shut out for Justin Verlander.
  • Surprise of the Year: I have this as a 5 way tie between Edwin Jackson’s dominance, Brandon Inge’s offensive season, Fernando Rodney being 17 of 17 on save chances, Magglio Ordonez being so awful, and Don Kelly starting a game as a clean-up hitter. Ramon Santiago’s power surge gets honorable mention.
  • Start of the Year: There are some good candidates, but I’m going to go with Edwin Jackson’s complete game effort against the Angels. Verlander has a couple of games that were better pitched, but Jackson’s came at a time when the team was scuffling a little (4 game losing streak) and he tossed a complete game fanning the heart of the Angels order to preserve a 2-1 win.
  • Comeback of the Year: When the Tigers covered up an awful Armando Galarraga start by coming back from an early 6 run deficit.
  • Worst  Walk of the Year: Joel Zumaya walking in the tying run in Houston. Just brutal.
  • Best Walk of the Year: The intentional walks to Mauer and Morneau setting up the bases loaded K of Michael Cuddyer on Friday night.
  • Best time to ignore typical platoon rules: Pinch hitting right hander Ryan Raburn for left hander Josh Anderson against right hander Ryan Dempster Kevin Gregg setting up the Best walk-off pinch hit homer of the year.
  • Best comeback story: Dontrelle Willis’ 7 innings of shut out ball against a hot hitting Rangers team.
  • Worst comeback story: Pretty much every start Willis made after that.
  • Team MVP of the year: At the risk of being labeled and Inge Fan-Boy or Inge-lover, I’m going with Inge. His offensive and defensive contributions have brought more value to the team than any other player. The Tigers were prepared to sacrifice offense for defense at many positions including third base. They didn’t plan on sacrificing it in left field and right field and DH and second base (due to Polanco’s early season struggles). And it’s not just the overall contributions, or the contributions in context of expectations and the rest of the lineup. Inge’s hits have been dramatic. The homer in Houston to grab a victory, the homer in Toronto to tie the score after Brandon Lyon surrendered the lead late. Other 2 run homers that proved to be the difference in the game (against the Brewers and against the Rockies). Inge has been a legitimate force and the Tigers would be in a world of hurt without his contributions this season.

18 Comments

  1. Craig

    July 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Inge-Lover

  2. Greg

    July 6, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Ryan Rayburn’s pich hit home run was against Kevin Gregg, not Ryan Dempster.

  3. Anson

    July 6, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Well seeing as it is the half way point do we have any players that fit the elusive ham sandwich tag since Edgar is no longer with us? I know its a hard spot to fill but there has to be someone on the Tigers you would be willing to trade for a ham sandwich.

  4. charlie

    July 6, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    i’ve been a ramon santiago fan for a while now…always hoping he would get a chance to play more often. reading your sentence above “Ramon Santiago’s power surge gets honorable mention.” makes me wonder a little…how does a ball player go from weak and anemic to powerful all of a sudden?

  5. Jerry the Tiger Fan

    July 6, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    I would nominate Adam Everett as on e of the surprises of 2009 based on his offense being pretty far above what was advertised for him. I basically expected him to hit about .209 and provide us with a steady defensive glove at SS. He has had a number of clutch hits for us and has been a pleasant surprise with the bat in his hands. I have been slightly disappointed by his glove, but he has made some poor defensive plays for a veteran SS (yesterday comes to mind), including booting a few routine groundballs.

  6. Ryan P.

    July 6, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Yay, I attended the start of the year :)

  7. Skip

    July 6, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Seriously, the Tigers as a team are pretty much a big (and pleasant) surprise. All the sports pundits quickly wrote them off after a disappointing 2008 season. People all over the baseball world thought the Tigers would have a fire sale at the trade deadline (shipping off names such as Cabrera, Maggs, Verlander, etc.). This has been an up-and-down-and all-over type of season so far, but we are in first! (and three all-stars, including Edwin Jackson, who everyone thought that was another bad move by DD)
    Go Tigers!

  8. Mark in Chicago

    July 6, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Great writeup as always, billfer, but you are inviting the wrath of the Inge-haters. Completely agree he’s been pretty much the most consistent offensive player during the first half.

    • T Smith

      July 6, 2009 at 8:56 pm

      I think Inge-haters are generally misunderstood. I submit this sect of fans never “hated” Inge the person — they simply hated Inge the dismal preformer, check-swing-strike-out-king-in-clutch-at-bats, circa 2007 – 2008. Take away dismal preformance out of the equation, what is there to hate?

      We all know Billfer is Inge neutral, so no need to apologize. Further, anyone who has followed this team knows Inge is certainly a legit MVP candidate for the first half — regardless of personal sentiments. There are others players on the team who deserve mentioning as well, e.g. Jackson, Verlander, Cabrera, but to tread lightly on Inge discussions on account of alledged Inge haters (if they even exist) simply gives too much credence to what just may be an imaginary irrational bias.

      • Coleman

        July 7, 2009 at 4:38 am

        I’m worried; I was Inge-neutral last season (nice term there), but this season I’m testing Inge-positive. Do I need to see a doctor?

        (And those check swings, by the way–very athletic, oblique-ripping check swings. Sheffield’s maybe the only recent Tiger that could have handled the Inge-check-swing; and it’s always good for the fans to know when he check-swing-strikes-out, it’s quite painful…)

    • rings

      July 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm

      T Smith said it well. For positional players, Inge has to be the team MVP…his “big hits” have been more meaningful than Miggy’s, who’s actually a rather “quiet” .325, in my view. That said, I think JV and EJ have clearly been the most valuable contributors to date, with JV getting an edge, simply because he has more wins (although the lack of W’s has certainly not been EJ’s fault). While there are many other factors certainly, the strong starting pitching is the biggest reason we’ve gone from worst to first.

      • Coleman

        July 6, 2009 at 11:54 pm

        I agree–with the added note that one element of the strong starting pitching has been the strong defense, with Inge, as expected, Everett/Santiago (usually), Polanco sometimes, Laird, and Cabrera (not-so-expected perhaps) and some good outfield arms on top of that. Having a strong defense allows the pitchers to feel more comfortable throwing strikes, and I think that has a big overall effect on the pitching.

        And it has been a quiet .325…in the “Go-ahead-hits” category so far this season we have Inge-13 Granderson-9 Cabrera-8. (Although the 1-3 hitters didn’t exactly have the bases overflowing with runners for Cabrera either). And there are those 13 GIDP…

    • Ian C.

      July 7, 2009 at 7:06 am

      I invited some Inge hating of my own when I “became a fan” of Inge on Facebook. There’s still residual bruising. Sure, that happened before the season, when we had no idea that Inge was capable of this. But his team MVP performance has been very therapeutic.

      • rings

        July 7, 2009 at 9:30 am

        As an Inge critic, I’m sure I’m included among the “Inge Haters,” but my view was always one of overall value…I certainly “liked” him as well as any Tiger, but found the unrealistic devotion to him by many to be distasteful and over the top…and his public pouting after losing his job for the second time to be repugnant.
        As a player, he was spectacular at times with the glove, but also had too many brain-farts for my taste and his offense was largely abysmal. In his 9th season, he’s finally delivered a consistent, major league, offensive performance and actually become steadier defensively…which would’ve been wonderful if he’d been doing this since year three (especially once he received the big contract).
        That said, he’s still probably the 4 or 5th best offensive third baseman (Longoria, A-Rod, Young, Rolen) in the AL. Good, but not a top performer, which was one of the things keeping him from All Star honors – largely based on offense, not defense – at the moment, despite Leyland’s lobbying.
        Congrats to Brandon on a great start to the season…we all hope for more of the same and, perhaps, his first Gold Glove this season.

  9. Coleman

    July 7, 2009 at 12:28 am

    It might be worth pointing out that this is about the point last season that Cabrera started up, going on a 8 HR 31 RBI tear for July, to be followed by an August tear with 10 HR 25 RBI…so let’s hope for an encore…

    • Andre in Chi

      July 7, 2009 at 12:43 am

      I noticed those splits too, but I just chalked it up to his adjustment to the AL. his career numbers tend to favor the 1st half…

      • Coleman

        July 7, 2009 at 4:36 am

        Yeah, that crossed my mind…but since my intention was to post a positive stat, I ignored the thought for the moment (gotta balance out all my posts about how the Tigers will never score in the first inning for the rest of history; did I mention Granderson has more leadoff strikeouts than anyone in the league? Well, OK, actually he’s tied for the most with BJ Upton–see, that’s a positive addition there…)

  10. scotsw

    July 7, 2009 at 9:43 am

    This seems like as good a place as any to throw out the question: What is the greatest need for this team right now? Should Dombrowski make any moves?

    I believe their greatest need is a very good 2-way outfielder: Someone who is very good defensively, and a real threat with the bat as well. Could Guillen be that person? If he’s ever healthy, maybe. But too many of the guys in the Tigers lineup force Leyland to make trade-offs. Raburn: just an average hitter; Ordonez: Slow, no power in 09; Anderson: Fast, but only an adequate hitter; Thames: pure power, but meh defensively; Everett/Santiago: adequate hitters. Nobody has stepped up this year to claim the job definitively.

    This is why Don Kelly and/or Wilkin Ramirez are so important for the Tigers… The whole Sheffield/Larish/Joyce/Clete/Raburn/Kelly/Anderson/Guillen/Thames/Ordonez saga is the perpetual search for an outfielder who can play both sides of the ball. They’re looking for another Granderson.