Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Detroit Tiger Preview - Part 1 (An Overview)

The Tigers went into 2005 with hopes of finishing .500 or above for the first time since 1993. After winning 72 games in 2004, they added Troy Percival, Magglio Ordonez and Kyle Farnsworth and many fans had high expectations. However, most agreed that a lot of things needed to go right in order to reach .500. As it turned out, more things went wrong than right in 2006. Percival, Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Dmitri Young and Jeremy Bonderman all missed substantial time to injuries. Ivan Rodriguez and Omar Infante had disappointing seasons and Carlos Pena went into a tailspin which landed him in Toledo for more than two months. Then there were rumblings all year about team disharmony stemming partly from dissatisfaction with manager Alan Trammell.

Through it all, the Tigers still managed to flirt with .500 for much of the season thanks, in part, to surprisingly good first half pitching, the mid-season acquisition of Placido Polanco and the emergence of Chris Shelton. In fact, they were 61-62 on August 23 before the wheels fell off down the stretch and dropped them to a final record of 71-91. There were many factors in there 10-29 record from August 24 to the end of the season. There was the second half pitching collapse that got worse and worse down the stretch, a hitting slump of historic proportions at the beginning of September (they scored only 12 runs in 9 consecutive losses), more injuries and suggestions of lack of interest on the part of several players.

Many blamed the disappointing finish on Alan Trammell losing control of the team. Some say that general manager Dave Dombrowski never gave him control. Others blamed the players for lack of effort. There is probably some truth to all those theories but there are also some simpler explanations. Their pitching was not good enough and it ran out of gas in the second half. Their hitting was good but they couldn’t stay healthy and they did not have the depth to overcome the injuries.

The first order of business in the off-season was to fire Trammell and replace him with Jim Leyland. As much as I liked Trammell as a player and as much as I thought he received too much blame for the season’s failures, I think this was the right move. Trammell was an inexperienced manager with an equally untested staff and he seemed indecisive and somewhat overwhelmed at times. Leyland, on the other hand, has lots of experience with many different kinds of teams and players and I think this will help the Tigers. Now, baseball is not like basketball or football where a coach makes a world of difference. They won’t become instant contenders just because they have a new manager but I think he can help them take the next steps towards contention.

It’s the players that win and lose ball games though. To that end, they added reliever Todd Jones and replaced Jason Johnson with Kenny Rogers. A less publicized but not unimportant move was allowing Rondell White, one of their best hitters last season to become a free agent. It is hoped that an outfield of Ordonez, Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe will make White unnecessary but I suspect they’ll still miss his bat. Rogers and Jones are coming off excellent seasons and probably won’t repeat thir performances in 2006. However, Rogers should be an upgrade over Johnson and Jones should be better than anyone who pitched out of the bullpen at the end of 2005.

They also reportedly tried to obtain a left-handed hitter which is something they lacked last season but ended up making no upgrades to their offense through trades or free agency. They are now banking on the idea that full seasons from Ordonez, Guillen, Young, Polanco, Shelton and Granderson will provide enough improvement. There is also hope that Rodriguez will rebound from last season’s diasappointment. There is definitely a lot of potential for improvement but health is still a concern and, with little hitting from the left side, they could still be vulnerable against tough right-handed pitchers.

On the pitching front, they are hopeful of the development of young pitchers, most notably Jeremy Bonderman and their two prized prospects Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. Again there is a good deal of promise here but young pitchers are very unpredictable.

What can we expect from all of the key players in 2006? Do they have enough to get them to .500 or even further? Nobody knows, of course, but I’m going to give it my best shot over the next week or so. I will be giving a player by player run down of what I expect to happen in 2006 and then try to translate this into a final predicted win total.

7 comments:

  1. Tiger-Hope from DTCMarch 22, 2006

    I think Bondy will step it up a notch this season-- Robertson will win more games this year given we have a healthy line-up thru-out 2006- I mean this line-up if healthy will be one of the best in the league- Maroth will be his normal consistent and unconsistent self but I see him winning at least 14 again maybe more with our offense-- As for the 5th spot as billfer has said Verlander is the sexy choice and I also think he's the more logical choice-- The kid is a stud-- with grilli being out of options I say put Grilli in the long relief role and I also like Zumaya outa the pen for 1-2 innings as a bridge between the starter and the closer-- the kid has eye popping action-- The Tigers biggest question will definatly be the bullpen and health from our big studs maggs and guillen,but, I think we'll pass 81 for sure this season and maybe even grab 3rd or 2nd place-- Everyone else is picking us to do nothing( surpirse ,surpisre) but I'm along the lines of Dan Perry- Tigers are the darkhorse of 2006

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  2. Great preview Lee.
    Should I assume that your forecast will be in Part2?

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  3. Brent, the forecast for the offense will be in part 2. Then I'll look at the pitching and defense.

    tiger-hope, there have actually been a few positive forecasts for the Tigers this year. Rob Neyer and Baseball Prospectus also like them. My forecast is on the way.

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  4. The Tigers MUST do a better job of manufacturing runs in 2006, or they'll again struggle to win 80 games.

    For years they have been among the worst teams in the league in hitting with RISP and less than two outs.

    Less reliance on the homerun and more "National League-style" play of moving runners along and making things happen is a must.

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  5. Greg, I think improved situational hitting would help but I believe an even more serious problem is their inability to get on base. They finished dead last in walks and 12th in on base percentage despite finishing 4th in batting average. This is a problem which has been plaguing them for years. I don't disagree that they need to hit smarter in certain situations but I also think it's important for them to create more of these situations.

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  6. So true. Good stuff as usual, Lee, with the projections!

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  7. Let's hope Rogers and Jones can keep it together for at least one more year. Rogers' presence means there's less pressure on Bondo to be the "ace", but he's still going to pitch like that's a goal of his. He just needs to be consistent and healthy.

    I think guys like Robertson and Maroth are as good as they're ever going to get. It's exciting to see both Verlander and Zumaya make the team.

    I like a lot of the things Leyland has said this spring. I like how he's handled things. He's not afraid to tell it like it is. He's not going to sugar coat things or blow smoke up our asses.

    ReplyDelete

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