Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010 Team Analysis: Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers:

2009 Record: 86-77

General Manager: Dave Dombrowski

Manager: Jim Leyland

Organizational Philosophy: Since 2002 the Dave Dombrowski era could be defined as a time when acquiring free agents (Magglio Ordonez), trading for young arbitration eligible players (Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Jackson, Dontrelle Willis) and drafting high-upside and expensive talent via the amatuer draft (Justin Verlander, Cale Iorg, Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner).  All these components have been greeted with relative success as Ordonez and Verlander played a key part in transforming Detroit from losing 113 games to appearing in the World Series within three years while Cabrera, Verlander, Porcello, and (hopefully) Turner are looking to play intragral parts as this team looks to contend now and in the future.

Entering the 2009 offseason, the Detroit Tigers Weblog does a good job of breaking down the teams financial situation.  Obviously some money has to come off the books and recently the team has been quite active in ways not expected a year ago.  The recent economic decline in Detroit and the current and future effects it had on attendance has made cutting payroll a top priority.  Players due for hefty raises were sent off for promising MLB ready prospects in an effort to remain both competitive as well as confront the current situation involving Justin Verlander and keeping him as a long-term fixture (as of this writing Verlander was signed to a 5 year deal worth $80 million).

The recent additions of Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Jose Valverde did effectively shave off about $7.6 million dollars in 2010 (based on the $7 million dollars coming off the books with the departure of relievers Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney via free agency and the $5.5 million Curtis Granderson was set to receive and the arbitration raise of $4.6 million due to Edwin Jackson next season).  For the foreseeable future, the Tigers will be in constant flux finding and trying to maintain young quality players at a reasonable price while waiting for expensive options like Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman to exit after their contracts expire in the 2010 offseason.  This will give Dombrowski and his front office some leverage but how it eventually plays out is anyone's guess.

2010 Commitments:

Starting Rotation:

Justin Verlander ($6.8M)
Rick Porcello ($1.9M)
Max Scherzer ($1.5M)
Justin Bonderman ($12.5M)
Armando Galarraga ($435K)
Nate Robertson ($10M)
Dontrelle Willis ($12M)

At the top of the rotation, Justin Verlander posted a solid 2009 season registering strong peripheral stats while showing no signs luck (his BABIP was a rather high at .328 and his strand rate came in at a normal line of 72.7%).  Verlander does live and die by his fastball and now seems to predominantly throw that pitch along with a very occasional curve.

Rick Porcello was solid last season as a 20 year old rookie.  His excellent control and sinker does leave him dependant on having a solid defense behind him in 2010, but his age and ability does suggest more room for growth.

Rounding out the top, Max Scherzer is another young starter ready to tackle his second full season.  Before he signed with the Diamondbacks as a first-round pick in 2006, Scherzer caught the tag as an injury-risk due to his violent delivery and health issues at college. Scherzer has always had an excellent fastball/slider combination and since developing his changeup he seems poised to become one of the better starters but until he matures, health will always be a concern.

After this, the rest of the rotation is full of high-priced question marks.  Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis once projected as future frontline starters and for a few seasons seemed to live up to their promise.  Bonderman has been battling shoulder issues that have seemingly sapped his velocity and Willis' overusage has sent his BB rate shooting upwards to the point where he has become incapable of being an MLB pitcher.  The Tiger camp does hope and expect for both to bounceback in 2010 but either haven't put together serviceable seasons since '07.

Some hope may come from Nate Robertson and his ability to bounceback a bit after last mid-season's surgery.  If Robertson can get his control back to inducing groundballs and keeping his BB rate around 3.0 he should be fine as a #4 or #5.


Jose Valverde ($7M)
Joel Zumaya ($900K)
Bobby Seay ($2.4M)
Ryan Perry ($400K)
Phil Coke ($400K)
Zach Miner ($950K)
Fu-Te Ni ($400K)
Daniel Schlereth ($400K)
Alfredo Figaro ($400K)
Casey Fien ($400K)

Jose Valverde is expected to regress in 2010 since his BABIP was low at .267 and his BB and K rates fell in unfavorable directions but he is still a solid closer and he will be the much needed insurance at the top of the bullpen until Joel Zumaya shows he can be consistently healthy.

Bobby Seay will hover around the top of the bullpen chart until the Tigers can find better options.  His age (32) and weight (235 lbs) suggests that last season's semi-collapse is only the beginning.

The rest of the bullpen shows some promise: Ryan Perry has closer potential but until he harnesses his control (5.55 BB/9 in 61 MLB innings) he's still a raw project.  Phil Coke has been mentioned as a possible starter in 2010 (but I suspect that depends on the spring showings of Bonderman and Willis) but his abilities do suggest bullpen material.  Coke's high flyball rate should play better in Detroit.

Zach Miner is a long reliever who has promise as a rotation fill-in based on his groundball rates and promising changeup.  Miner won't miss a lot of bats but on this team he may prove to be somewhat useful.

Fu-Te Ni has established himself as one of the better LOOGY's (.113/.208/.258 vs. lefties last season) in baseball and should step into Bobby Seay's role early next season.  Daniel Schlereth, Alfredo Figaro and Casey Fien all show promise but seem very raw.  Schlereth has the ability to be a top-notch closer but control is a major problem.  Figaro and Fien were orginally envisioned as starters but age (both will be 26) and body build (Figaro has trouble keeping weight on) all suggest they may be serviceable out of the pen.  Of course, the health and effectiveness of Robertson, Bonderman, and Willis may give them another chance.

On the field:

C: Gerald Laird ($3.9M)
C: Alex Avila ($400K)
1B: Miggy Cabrera ($20M)
2B: Scott Sizemore ($400K)
SS: Adam Everett ($1.5M)
2B/SS: Ramon Santiago ($1.25M)
3B: Brandon Inge ($6.6M)
LF: Carlos Guillen ($13M)
CF: Ryan Raburn ($410K)
CF: Austin Jackson ($400K)
RF: Maglio Ordonez ($18M)
RF: Clete Thomas ($400K)

Gerald Laird's power is evaporating but his defense and price tag should keep him as the team's starting catcher until 2011.

Last season Miguel Cabrera hit .324/.396/.547 and played solid defense at 1B.  He will be entering his age 27 season in 2010 and is under team control at about $20 million per year until 2015. With the new economy taking its toll on Detroit and the necessity for this team to find ways to operate under a reduced payroll, Cabera will be mentioned as a possible trading piece next offseason. 

The departure of Placido Polanco seems to have left 2B open for Scott Sizemore next season.  Sizemore doesn't project as a superstar but he did make excellent strides in both AA and AAA in '09 and could develop more power (had an ISO of .168 in over 200 AAA at bats last season) as he matures. 

Don't expect Brandon Inge to build upon or even replicate last season's HR totals.  In 2009 he hit 27 HR's despite only slugging .406.  Inge was hampered last season by two bothersome knees which sapped his second half line (.189/.242/.300 in 297 at bats in '09) and even with surgery a success, Inge was very lucky in terms of having a HR/FB of 15% (compared to his average of 10.7%).  Inge's flyball percentage have decreased over the past few seasons and with a regression in HR's likely in 2010 I would expect Inge to post a line similar to overall average of .236/.305/.394.

Carlos Guillen will try to put together a healthy season after two consecutive years of missed time on the DL (sore shoulder was his nemisis last season).  Guillen would better serve as a DH but until the Tigers find another LF option, he'll have to suffice.

As of this writing CF will be in contention between Ryan Raburn and Austin Jackson.  Raburn did see some action last season in Detroit hitting .291/.359/.533 in 261 MLB at bats. He's average defensively and his age (29) suggests he's probably done developing but can we expect 30+ HR's if Raburn is given 500+ at bats next season?  Last season we saw a spike in his flyball percentage (compared to his long minor league career) as he lifted 47% compared to his usual rate of 39%.  Raburn did benefit from a high BABIP (.323) but that number isn't really out of line given his speed but his low contact rate (hasn't surpassed 80% in his career) and tendencies to swing outside the strikezone (26.3% last season) does suggest he's more of a .260 hitter but the Tigers should think of moving him to LF if Austin Jackson shows he is ready for CF.  Raburn's power (or suggestion of it) is too valuable especially for a team sorely lacking in the HR department.

With a full season of AAA under his belt, 23 year old Austin Jackson seems to be ready to step up.  Last season Jackson hit .300/.354/.405 in 504 AAA at bats, of course his batting average received a big boost from his .383 BABIP and doesn't look too promising especially when you take into account his slugging and isolated power numbers have been decreasing for the past three years (.476/.175 in '07; .419/.135 in '08; .405/.105 in '09).  Jackson does project as an average to slightly above average CF longterm but don't expect him to ever replicate Curtis Granderson's power anytime soon, if ever.

At RF Magglio Ordonez is another player with his best years behind him.  The days of hitting .363/.435/.595 are long gone.  Now at 36 years of age, the best we can hope for is a season hitting .290/.360/.450.  These are solid numbers but definitely not worth the heavy pricetage he commands.

Next Season's Forecast: This is definitely a team in transition.  After this season they have a considerable amount of money coming off their books and if the Twins or White Sox take a considerable lead early next season, the Tigers should be major sellers.  I'm not as optimistic on either Jeremy Bonderman or Dontrelle Willis returning to form but if Nate Robertson can pitch with any decency this rotation should be okay. 

On offense they could use a little more depth in the OF if Austin Jackson doesn't prove to be ready but I think giving him a shot and moving Ryan Raburn to LF should give them a quality, cost-effective solution but with a variety of unknowns and some expected regression I don't see the Tigers as being serious contenders in 2010.

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