2020 Season Preview: Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers
By Ralph Durgham

2019 Record: 47-114 (5th in AL Central)

2019 Payroll: $114,631,137 (20th in the MLB)

(Lineup and Rotation from Rotochamp, Projected Stats from Steamer)

2020 Projected Lineup:

  1. RF Cameron Maybin, .256 AVG/.337 OBP/.394 SLG, 0.8 WAR
  2. SS Niko Goodrum, .241 AVG/ .309 OBP/.407 SLG, 1.1 WAR
  3. DH Miguel Cabrera, .277 AVG/.350 OBP/.443 SLG, 0.6 WAR
  4. 1B CJ Cron, .262 AVG/.325 OBP/.496 SLG, 1.6 WAR
  5. 2B Jonathan Schoop, .262 AVG/.306 OBP/.478 SLG, 1.6 WAR
  6. 3B Jeimer Candelario, .243 AVG/.331 OBP/.425 SLG, 1.5 WAR
  7. LF Christin Stewart, .245 AVG/.327 OBP/.434 SLG, 0.4 WAR
  8. C Austin Romine, .258 AVG/.304 OBP/.419 SLG, 1.2 WAR
  9. CF Jacoby Jones, .234 AVG/.299 OBP/.397 SLG, 0.5 WAR

2020 Projected Rotation:

  1. Matt Boyd, 173 IP/4.32 ERA/1.22 WHIP, 2.9 WAR
  2. Jordan Zimmermann, 113 IP/5.43 ERA/1.41 WHIP, 0.7 WAR
  3. Ivan Nova, 150 IP/5.45 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
  4. Daniel Norris, 138 IP/4.91 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 1.4 WAR
  5. Spencer Turnbull, 131 IP/4.63 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 1.7 WAR

Offseason Recap:

Following a dreadful 2019 campaign, the Tigers still see themselves in the midst of a rebuild. This past offseason, Detroit notably inked CJ Cron, Jonathon Schoop, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, and Cameron Maybin all to one-year deals, in hopes that they will help make the team more competitive in the upcoming season.

CJ Cron signed with the Tigers for a 1 year/$6.1 million deal to assume the responsibility as their starting first baseman, as Miguel Cabrera will now be the team’s full-time designated hitter. For Cron, the Tigers will be his 4th new team in as many years. Last year, with Minnesota, Cron proved his worth as a reliable everyday starter, with a slash line of .253/.311/.469 and a career high 78 RBI. He will likely find himself in the middle of the Tigers lineup, posing as one of the power threats on a team that finished with only 149 home runs last year. Should he be performing at an exceptional level by the trade deadline, he will certainly be a player that the Tigers will look to shop.

Jonathan Schoop signed an identical contract to Cron, 1 year/$6.1 million, with the intention of being the Tigers everyday second baseman. This was a position of which the Tigers did not have a consistent starter all of last summer. Although Schoop has regressed since his 2017 season in Baltimore, he bounced back last year from his 2018 season. Last season, Schoop finished with a batting average of .256 and 23 home runs and he’ll certainly be a core piece in the Tigers lineup this upcoming season. If Schoop gets off to a hot start in the season, expect him to be another player that Detroit may look to move.

Now onto Austin Romine, who already had a well-known name in the Tigers clubhouse, before signing a 1 year/$4.1 million deal. Not only did his brother, Andrew, play with Detroit for 4 seasons, but he was also one of the aggressorsin a brawl between the Tigers and Yankees back in 2017. Now, he finds himself in a situation to garner a lot of playing time this summer in Detroit. With the Yankees last year, Romine played in a total of 72 games, due to Gary Sanchez’s injury-plagued season. Last summer, Romine filled in nicely for Sanchez, with an exceptional slash line of .281/.310/.439 and a 0.9 WAR. In Detroit, Romine should be the primary starter, and he’ll be sharing catching duties with Grayson Greiner since Jake Rogers will likely start the season in AAA.

Signing a 1 year/$1.5 million deal, Ivan Nova is coming from another fellow AL Central team, the Chicago White Sox. Last season, Nova was a workhorse for the Sox, starting in 34 games, which was tied for the most starts in the MLB. Though he pitched a lot of innings, Nova did not produce ideal numbers. He finished last season with an ERA of 4.72, an H/9 of 10.8, and a FIP of 4.98. In addition, in each of the last 3 seasons, Nova has noticeably regressed. In Detroit, expect Nova to fulfill the role of eating as many innings as he can in the hopes of being flipped at the deadline.

Cameron Maybin, a very familiar face, will be making his way to Detroit for the third time in his career. Over the years, Maybin has established himself as a reliable outfielder, with a good sense of how to get on base often. In 2016 with Detroit he boasted a .383 OBP with a 3.0 oWAR. Last season with New York, his numbers slightly decreased but he still posted an OBP of .364. The addition of Maybin will surely take some of the pressure off of the younger outfielders who are still finding their place in the MLB.

Season Preview:

After finishing the season with only 47 wins, you would think the only way to go for the Tigers is up. With the new additions made in free agency and added experience for some young players, Detroit is poised to not only finish with more wins, but also become more watchable for this upcoming season.

The starting rotation is headlined by Matt Boyd, who is looking to improve after posting a 4.56 ERA and an American League leading 39 home runs allowed in 2019. However, Boyd showed lots of promise last year, especially with his strikeout rate. Boyd struck out 238 batters last year at a rate of 11.9 per nine innings, and that strikeout mark was good for 6th in the AL. If Boyd can find a way to limit the deep flyballs, he has the potential to become one of the better pitchers in the AL. Last summer, there were reports that the Tigers were shopping him, but couldn’t find the right deal. Once again, if Boyd is having a good season, his name will be popular as the trade deadline nears.

Following Boyd will be two veteran pitchers in Zimmermann and Nova. Although Zimmermann has struggled mightily since signing with Detroit back in 2016, he will continue to be a core piece in the rotation. Between 2016 and 2019 with Detroit, Zimmermann has thrown a 5.61 ERA, 4.86 FIP, and a 1.431 WHIP. The Tigers are not rolling out Zimmermann every 5 days to be an intimidating presence on the mound, but rather as an innings eater while we wait for the young pitchers down in AAA to make their way up. Nova will serve a similar role as Zimmermann, however, if Nova is pitching well early in the season you should expect the Tigers to try and move him to a contender for a prospect or two.

On the back end of the rotation, Detroit will likely turn to Daniel Norris and Spencer Turnbull. Norris, who has been with the team since 2015, is another pitcher who has struggled from inconsistency in the past few years. After spending a full offseason healthy, he will hope to take advantage of what is hopefully a new start to his hobbledcareer. Turnbull will be looking to repeat the success he found in the first half of the 2019 season. He fell off a little bit following the All-Star break and he finished with an ERA of 4.61 that hid a respectable FIP of 3.99.

Moving on to the bullpen, expect it to change regularly throughout the regular season. As of now, only Joe Jimenez and Buck Farmer have locked up their places in the bullpen. Joe Jimenez, a former All-Star, is coming off of a season where he threw a 4.37 ERA. This summer, he will assume the closing role for the team. Buck Farmer, another sure bet for the bullpen, will look to build off of a solid 2019 campaign in which he recorded a 3.72 ERA. The rest of the spots are yet to be determined, which means that whichever bullpen pitchers make the Opening Day roster likely won’t have that spot secured for the remainder of the season.

Last season, Detroit’s offense was one of the worst in the MLB, scoring a league-worst 582 runs. With the additions of Cron, Schoop, and Maybin, expect the Tigers offense to be, at the bare minimum, somewhat respectable. In addition, Miguel Cabrera has started spring training looking slimmer and like his old self at the plate. If his hot start is any indication as to how he will fare during the season, then Cabrera has the potential to regain his ability have a batting average around .300 and 25+ homeruns. Other than him, the Tigers will turn to Cron and Schoop to provide some power in the lineup.

Looking at the back end of the lineup, it is a glaring weak spot. Christin Stewart will be entering his sophomore year in the MLB, and following his last season he will be looking to prove that he belongs in the majors after a disappointing rookie year. Last year, Stewart only batted .233/.305/.388 and finished with a -0.4 WAR after playing in 104 games. Romine, who is probably the most reliable batter of the last 4, has largely been inconsistent in a backup role his entire career. Now as the starting catcher, Romine will have to show that he is capable of keeping up a batting average as high he did last season over an entire year. Jacoby Jones, who will likely man center field, is another player on the roster who has struggled at the plate in his short career. Last season he only finished with an average of .235, yet that was his highest average yet in the MLB.

Overall, although this Tiger team is certainly improved from last year, but it still is not enough to win many more than 60 games. Most of their issues stem from their pitching; however, this will be fixed within a year or two with talents such as Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal on the rise. As of now, though, the Tigers pitching simply is not good enough. Looking at the offense, it should certainly progress due to the additions of Cron and Schoop, however there are just too many questions on the reliability of more than half of the lineup for it to be considered a strong presence.I expect this season to be another one filled with many more losses than wins, but if the Tigers top pitching prospects meet or exceed their expectations this year in AAA—or even the majors—then expect the rebuild to be wrapping up sooner rather than later. Also, the Tigers will be sure to shop around several of their players to help expedite the rebuild. Specifically, teams will keep a close eye on Boyd, Cron, Schoop, Maybin, and Nova. Following this season and another high draft pick, the Tigers should be beginning to turn the team around with aggressive signings in free agency.

Predicted Record: 61-101

Player to Watch: SP Daniel Norris

It’s hard to think of many pitchers in the MLB who have been through as much as Daniel Norris in his tenure with Detroit. Since 2015, Norris has battled back injuries, elbow problems, and hip issues. In addition to all of this, Norris fought thyroid cancer in 2015 and 2016. Brought over from the Blue Jays, Norris was projected to be at least a #2 starter in the rotation for the future. Since the trade, Norris has endured nothing but bad luck. The Tigers wanted to shut him down for the rest of the season last September, but Norris wrote a letter pleading to remain in the rotation and left it on Ron Gardenhire’s desk. There’s no denying that Norris has much determination as anybody else in the league. In what was his first full season from injuries, Norris finished with a 4.49 ERA and a WHIP of 1.33. Although those are not amazing numbers, there is still a lot of room for improvement for the 26-year-old. This season, Norris will be looking to show that after all he has been through, he can regain his potential to be a reliable, top of the rotation starter.

Player to Watch: CL Joe Jimenez 

Although Jimenez was elected as an All-Star in 2018, he has endured some difficulties since then. Jimenez will start this season as the primary closer, a spot that he has especially struggled with in the past. Last season, Jimenez finished with a mediocre 4.37 ERA and 4.66 FIP. The concerning part with Jimenez comes with his history of being a closer. In the majors, Jimenez has only succeeded in closing 12 games out of 22 opportunities. However, it is important to note that Jimenez is still only 25 years old, with an elite ability to strike batters out (he had a K/9 of 12.4 last season). Watch out for how Joe Jimenez embraces this important role that he has had trouble with in the past.

Player to Watch: CF Jacoby Jones

After another disappointing season in the MLB, time is running out for the 27-year-old to prove that he is worthy of a starting position. Throughout his career, Jacoby has always established himself as a plus defender, posting a 2.3 dWAR in 2018 and a career 0.991 fielding percentage. The problem with Jones has never been due to his defense, but instead due to his production at the plate. Coming into his fifth year in the MLB, he only has a career batting average of .211 and an OBP of .235. On the occasion he does get on base, however, Jacoby is always a threat to steal a base. If Jacoby Jones does not show any signs of improvement this season, the Tigers may have to look elsewhere for a reliable outfielder.

Categories: 2020 Season Preview, Articles

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