Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr
As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018, and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Clayton Myers takes on the Detroit Tigers. Enjoy!
by Clayton Myers
2017 Record: 64-98
2017 Payroll: $198,716,174
Projected 2018 Lineup:
All Projections for 2018 from Steamer
- LF Mikie Mahtook .257 AVG/.310 OBP/.418 SLG/0.8 WAR
- 3B Jeimer Candelario .250 AVG/.321 OBP/.416 SLG/1.4 WAR
- 1B Miguel Cabrera .289 AVG/.371 OBP/.503 SLG/2.2 WAR
- DH Victor Martinez .270 AVG/.334 OBP/.429 SLG/-0.2 WAR
- RF Nicholas Castellanos .272 AVG/.326 OBP/.481 SLG/1.0 WAR
- C James McCann .248 AVG/.302 OBP/.396 SLG/1.8 WAR
- CF Leonys Martin .242 AVG/.297 OBP/.374 SLG/0.5 WAR
- 2B Dixon Machado .261 AVG/.323 OBP/.358 SLG/0.7 WAR
- SS Jose Iglesias .273 BA/.318 OBP/.381 SLG/1.4 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Michael Fulmer 185.0 IP/4.33 ERA/1.33 WHIP/2.7 WAR
- Matt Boyd 106.0 IP/4.84 ERA/1.38 WHIP/0.7 WAR)
- Daniel Norris 167.0 IP/4.80 ERA/1.46 WHIP/1.4 WAR
- Jordan Zimmermann 150.0 IP/5.25 ERA/1.41 WHIP/0.7 WAR
- Mike Fiers 145.0 IP/5.08 ERA/1.42 WHIP/0.9 WAR
The offseason went just about how it was expected to go for the Tigers. With the Tigers choosing last season to finally break apart their aging core that led them to the playoffs quite frequently, this offseason saw the team continue down that road. Ian Kinsler’s trade to the Angels allowed the Tigers to cut salary as they go deeper into their rebuild. Pulling back two of the Angels top thirty prospects was a decent haul for the 35-year-old coming off his worst season in the majors. Deciding to decline Anibal Sanchez’s club option allowed the Tigers to save payroll while letting go of an underperforming pitcher. Recently, the Tigers signed Francisco Liriano, who should be able to eat a decent chunk of innings. If he performs well enough, he could be shipped to a contender at the deadline for even more prospects. The rest of the Tigers moves such as bringing in Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin are low risk lottery tickets, giving the Tigers cheap veterans that they could flip as well.
Out with the old, in with the new. That will be the theme that guides the Tigers season. With the AL Central becoming the Cleveland Indians’ division, and the upstart Minnesota Twins joining them at the top, the Tigers decided to tear down and rebuild. Last season’s trade of franchise icon Justin Verlander signaled the Tigers dedication to their first full rebuild in over a decade. After the season, the Tigers parted ways with Brad Ausmus and brought in veteran skipper Ron Gardenhire to lead the club. After leaving the Chicago Cubs, the highly respected Chris Bosio will take over as pitching coach in Detroit. After last season’s trades of J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, this team looks like a far cry from the World Series contender it was early in the decade. Young guys such as Michael Fulmer and Nick Castellanos will have to fill the shoes of those departed vets if the Tigers hope to return to the postseason in the next couple years.
My first thought when looking at this team is that I don’t think they are a 100 loss ballclub. The bad news for Tigers fans is that the absolute best I can see this team is around .500. The rotation will be led by young stud Michael Fulmer, who is coming off season ending elbow surgery. If Fulmer can make a recovery and continue to improve off his 2016 American League Rookie of the Year season and last years all-star campaign… watch out AL Central. I wish I could say I am as optimistic about the rest of the rotation. Daniel Norris and Jordan Zimmermann have both struggled the past few years with injuries and performance. This year both must prove that their recent struggles are not a true reflection of their pitching. I have more faith in Norris based on his youth compared to Zimmermann. Matt Boyd again will be given the chance to prove he is big league level starting pitcher. Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano will give the Tigers veteran arms who can eat innings for the club. Alex Wilson, who pitched 66 games out the bullpen last year, also looks to make his mark as a starter, even starting the Tigers spring opener.
Even with all the question marks surrounding the rotation, it is still likely in better shape than the bullpen. Shane Greene will probably start the season as closer as he finished the year in that role. Greene was one of the Tigers best arms out of the pen last season with a 2.66 ERA in 67.2 innings. If Alex Wilson fails to earn a spot in the rotation, he will be back in the pen. Last season was a disappointing one for Joe Jimenez, sporting an ERA over 12 in 24 games. Only 23, he looks to turn it around this year and pitch at a level close to his minor league dominance, where his highest ERA was 2.60 as a 19-year-old in low A.
I think the Tigers lineup has some intriguing pieces this year. But overall there are too many holes for this team to be competitive. Coming off his worst year of his pro career at the plate, Miguel Cabrera plans to prove last season was a fluke and his low BABIP was an anomaly. I still have faith in Miggy making a rebound, although it’s unfair to believe that he will nlever come close to his peak from his 2012 triple crown season again. Hitting around .310 with 25ish home runs would be a good year for him. The good news for Cabrera is that this is likely the last year he will have to be the full time first baseman, with this looking to be the Tigers’ last year with Victor Martinez. On the topic of Martinez, he hopes to bounce back like he did in 2016 after another down year. A good year for the 39-year-old would have him bat around .290 with 20ish home runs in what will likely be his final season in the majors. Nick Castellanos may not be a good defensive outfielder, but he sure can rake. After his move to right field last season, Castellanos had a 1.058 OPS. With a full season of not having to focus on third base, I think Castellanos, the American League triples leader in 2017, will continue his surge and represent the Tigers at the All-Star game this year. Mikie Mahtook will try to improve off last year’s campaign and prove himself as an everyday outfielder. Dixon Machado and Jose Iglesias will provide the Tigers with a light hitting but defensively solid middle infield. James McCann and John Hicks will likely be the Tigers backstops this year, with controversial newcomer Derek Norris competing for a spot as well. McCann will be the starter and is solid defensively but has been a below average hitter over the course of his career.
Last season’s trades put a damper on any expectations for Tigers fans this season, but the prospect haul gives the Tigers some hope for the future. Justin Verlander’s trade to the Astros was bittersweet for that very reason. Sending away a fan-favorite superstar was clearly a heartbreaking moment for us Tigers fans, but the return of Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers bring hope for the future (and besides, Verlander was finally able to earn his first World Series title). The Tigers have a lot to be excited about with a large portion of their top prospects expecting to graduate to the major leagues in 2018 and 2019. Perez, Alex Faedo, Matt Manning, and Beau Burrows are all not far from the majors and project to join with young ace Michael Fulmer to from a nice young pitching staff. Two of the top bats in the Tigers system, outfielders Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber, are likely candidates to see their debuts in 2018. On the bright side for Tigers fans, last season was likely our low point. 2019 and beyond look promising for the club. With a little luck with their number one overall pick in June the Tigers can find their next franchise cornerstone to fill the role Justin Verlander’s trade left.
Projected Record: 72-90
Player to Watch: Miguel Cabrera
Miggy had a rough season in 2017, putting up career worst numbers at the plate en route to putting up a negative WAR for the first time in his career. With at least five more years left on his extension, the Tigers and Cabrera need a bounce back to prevent this contract from becoming worse than Albert Pujols’. The good news for the Tigers is that the underlying numbers look like 2017 was a fluke. Last year Cabrera only put up a .292 BABIP which was way off his career number. Meanwhile Cabrera was still hitting the ball hard, with a 42.5% hard hit percentage which was above his career average. Expect the BABIP to rebound and bring back a season that puts last year out of mind. If the hard-hit percent starts to drop and the BABIP doesn’t recover, start worrying that the Cabrera of old isn’t coming back. I believe Cabrera still has a few good years left in the tank, and we can expect a rebound season. The ceiling I would put on Cabrera is hitting around .320 with 35ish homers. More realistically expect around .305 with 25 homers and a return to the All-Star game.
Player to Watch: Joe Jimenez
The 23-year-old reliever out of Puerto Rico had, to put it softly, a rough rookie year. He posted a miserable 12.32 ERA in 24 appearances, walking over 4 batters per 9 innings. A look at his minor league numbers and you wonder how a guy who was so dominant at nearly every level struggled so much. Now coming into 2018 Jimenez must prove that he isn’t just another Bruce Rondon. I think that Jimenez’s campaign last year was a fluke and not representative of his career potential. Jimenez is ready to bounce back and become a reliable bullpen option for the Tigers. If this season goes to plan for Jimenez, it is possible for him to take over the Tigers’ closer role. To do so Jimenez would need to put up around my ceiling projection for him with around a 2.50 ERA. A much more likely result for Jimenez this season would be around a 3.50 ERA and showing his potential as a bullpen keystone for many years to come.
Player to Watch: Nicholas Castellanos
This will be Castellanos first year playing primarily in the outfield after spending his first couple years in the majors at third base. Castellanos wasn’t very good at the hot corner and he doesn’t look to be much better in right field. The bat has been his biggest improvement in the last couple years. After moving away from third last year Castellanos had a phenomenal 1.010 OPS in the final month of the season. Comerica Park’s gigantic alleys have proved to be a challenge in the field for Nick, but they also provide him spots to spray extra base hits. Comerica’s triples alley helped Castellanos hit an American League leading 10 triples without the advantage of being the fleetest of foot. Castellanos looks to keep up his hot streak when playing as an outfielder. I think he will continue his hot hitting and put up around a .900 OPS while making his first career All-Star Game. A good season for Castellanos would include around a .285 Batting Average and over 35 home runs with his defense dragging him down to about a 3.0 WAR.