I thought I would take a broad-based approach to my Tigers preview this year. Why depend on only one brain, when I have at my disposal a network of hundreds if not thousands of better baseball brains to take advantage of? After plumbing the depths of my e-mail contact list, I managed to solicit a variety of different answers to a few specific, important questions regarding this year's Tiger team. Take it away, guys...
On top of that, I'm just noticing better plate discipline from Curtis Granderson. I found the Tigers seem to go the direction Granderson goes on offense. If Grandy has a good game, they're much more likely to win. If he cuts down on Ks, converts some more swings to hits, it's going to set things up that much better for Sheff, Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez. The lineup just looks pretty balanced top to bottom. It's not the top offense in the AL, maybe not even top three, but it's going to be strong enough to add a few runs to its total from last season. I'm predicting 30 HR, 90 RBI (due to his earlier spot in the lineup), .370 OBP for Sheff.
Craig Burley, Tiny Chunks of Empire & Batter's Box: I don't think that this park sets up very well for Gary Sheffield and I'd be worried that his wrist isn't quite what it used to be. Wrist injuries can be very hurtful to hitters, so even though Sheffield is a great, great player and has bounced back before, I think he'll still hit around .300 but will lose quite a lot of power. Generally, I see the Tigers as not concerned enough with getting big numbers from the corners.
Kurt Mensching: Oh, I certainly think there's reason to be concerned. The most-oft statement is Justin Verlander's increase in innings. On top of it, there's a chance he can pitch smarter and better this year and still give up runs. It's pretty hard to repeat his performance from last season. The rest of the rotation I don't necessarily consider young. Jeremy Scott Lucas: Both, I suppose, but no more a curse than having a bunch of injury-prone greybeards. Nate Robertson (not quite ‘young’ at 28) was pretty lucky last year and ought to give up another 15 runs. That plus the loss of Rogers will be tough to make up. Craig Burley: I think it hurts them in 2007, though of course it sets up wonderfully for the long run. The depth that the Tigers have, guys like Zach Miner, is very nice and allows them to take more risks with the staff. (Leveraging risk is very important when you're in heavy competition like the AL Central). There will likely be some regression by players like Zumaya as the league catches up to him though. It'll be up to him to innovate.
Kent Williams, Batter's Box Founder: I'm not sure there's a problem if everyone's healthy. The ages and injury histories of Pudge, Ordonez and Guillen, not just Sheffield, make you wonder if that will be the case. From what I've seen of Sheffield's swing this spring, he'll hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, but the team may regress slightly.
Anthony Giacalone, Baseball Think Factory: I don't think so. I picked them to win 88-92 last year based on the idea that their hitters would stay healthy and that they pitchers would breakthrough. However, I find it difficult to believe that Guillen can stay healthy two seasons in a row. I would expect slippage from Pudge, Monroe, Casey and Maggs. Their bench is not terribly deep at all and they have basically zero hitters in the high minors. Sheffield should be fine for a 38-year old superstar, however, expecting more than a 130 OPS+ would be stretch. Also, they have decided to flout the old baseball maxim about stocking up on lefty swingers, thus they are terribly vulnerable to almost 70% of the pitchers in the league. We can't discount Leyland's tendencies to "play favorites" and to waste outs. I think that both of these will hurt this offense this year.
Greg Tamer, rogue baseball enthusiast: Heck no, especially given Liriano is out for the season, and the Tigers
smacked him around plenty in his 15 and 2/3 innings against them. They have no depth, and no one even remotely projected to hit .400/.500 in OBA/SLG. I suppose Guillen comes closest, but last year was most
likely his career year.
his level of decline. His ISO should have stabilized in the 200 range, but fell to 150. I would epect that to rebound, and knowing Leyland, probably at least to 200. That means I think his line will be 285/385/485.
Question 2. The Tigers have a tremendous pitching staff, dominated by youth (especially with Kenny Rogers on the early-season DL). The old saw, made popular by Bill James, is that "young pitchers will break your heart". Is the youth of the Tiger staff a blessing or a curse?
Bonderman may be 24, but he's been with the team for four complete seasons heading into this year. I suspect he'll seriously be in the Cy Young conversation. Nate Robertson has pitched just about as long with the club. He's a few years older. And Mike Maroth has been with the club that long, too. They're definitely experienced. The concern with Rogers' injury is probably the unknown of how will Chad Durbin adjust. He had a shaky MLB career but claims to have put it all together while pitching for AAA Toledo. If he stumbles, Andrew Miller could step in. So far, he has no pro ball starting experience.
In the 'pen, Joel Zumaya is obviously young. But he's looked like the 'Zoomer' of old. So I'm not too concerned.
For the most part, I feel comfortable with the pitching situation. I just wish Kenny was around. He had a positive influence on the others, teaching them how to be pitchers, not talented throwers. That, I fear, could be missed the most.
Anthony Giacalone: The Tigers pitchers that matter the most (Bonderman, Maroth and Robertston) are not all that young when measured by experiences. I think they should be able to sustain their gains, and Bondo should build on his. I'm still skeptical about what we will eventually see out of Verlander and hist 96 mph straight-as-a-string fastball. But, Rogers injury puts a lot more stress on the rotation than almost anyone is conceeding. Miner, Miller, Ledezma all have tremendous stuff, but I think that most of them will struggle. Ledezma is the bet to make an impact this year, I believe, although the Tigers seem to think that he's more suited for relief. Their bullpen is very strong with Rodney and Zumaya, I think. Like with the offense, Leyland's decision making leaves something to be desired. I'm not confident in his ability to move Todd Jones out of the closer role. Likewise, he's more likely to expand Jason Grilli's role than shrink it.
Greg Tamer: Well, if you have *enough* young pitchers, collectively they might not break your heart. I hope they use Andrew Miller as a long reliever and spot starter and use Zumaya as a true fireman. They also might need to acquire one more middle reliever since I don't have much faith in Mesa and Ledezma.
Kent Williams: Long-term blessing, short-term uncertainty. Verlander doesn't seem to be the same guy this spring, and Zumaya may also have done a bit too much, a bit too soon. If they do flame out, allegations of overuse may be justified.
Question 3. What do you think of Jim Leyland? How much of the Tiger success should be credited to him?
Kurt Mensching: Oh, I certainly think there's reason to be concerned. The most-oft statement is Justin Verlander's increase in innings. On top of it, there's a chance he can pitch smarter and better this year and still give up runs. It's pretty hard to repeat his performance from last season. The rest of the rotation I don't necessarily consider young. Jeremy
Scott Lucas: Both, I suppose, but no more a curse than having a bunch of injury-prone greybeards. Nate Robertson (not quite ‘young’ at 28) was pretty lucky last year and ought to give up another 15 runs. That plus the loss of Rogers will be tough to make up.
Craig Burley: I think it hurts them in 2007, though of course it sets up wonderfully for the long run. The depth that the Tigers have, guys like Zach Miner, is very nice and allows them to take more risks with the staff. (Leveraging risk is very important when you're in heavy competition like the AL Central). There will likely be some regression by players like Zumaya as the league catches up to him though. It'll be up to him to innovate.
Oh, and Bonderman's meltdown against the Twins was glorious! He faced the minimum through 7 innings and then allowed 5 runs on pretty much all infield hits and a bases loaded balk in the 8th.
Rob Pettapiece: I'll just quote Leonard Koppett: "All the manager can do is get the right ideas; it doesn't follow that his fellas will be able to beat the other fellas in nine innings." Leyland seems to get the right ideas at times, but that can be said about anyone, possibly excepting Mike Hargrove.
Scott Lucas: After the debacle in Colorado I was surprised he even wanted to manage. But he’s still held in very high regard and the players speak well of him, so he deserves plenty of credit for guiding Detroit to 97 wins.
Anthony Giacalone: Leyland does an excellent job at the most important facet of a manager's job -- handling the team, getting them ready to play, showing confidence in them. He gives away too many outs for my taste and he tends to stick with "his guys" over others that can help him more, in my opinion. Leyland should be credited for some of Detroit's gains last year (although normal skills growth and staying healthy helped the most), but everyone seems to forget that the Tigers were not a really bad team when they canned Trammell. Trammell was dreadful at handling the team and media, but he had them playing about .500 ball until the horrible September collapse (8-22).
Kent Williams: Leyland deserves all the accolades he's received, not just in Detroit. He's capable of giving 25 players individual attention in 25 different ways and making them all feel integral to the ballclub. He repeats memorable phrases that become part of his team's culture. Perhaps there was mistrust in the clubhouse about Trammell's readiness for the job and anyone would have been a breath of fresh air, but Leyland was the perfect hire.
Kurt Mensching: I totally credit Leyland. And I'm familiar with the maxim, "Talented teams make a talented manager." I don't doubt Leyland would be a losing manager with Detroit if he didn't have such good talent, both young and experienced. And I don't doubt that Leyland had more to work with than the previous manager, Alan Trammell. But I always felt like Trammell's teams were leaving something in the clubhouse. And I always come back to the memory of Trammell giving up in a game against Oakland near the trade deadline in 2005 and Brandon Inge saying, essentially, "The team still felt like we were in it."
So what I keep coming back to, as well, is Leyland's famous speech from last April, the "Stunk Speech" I like to call it. He just seems to be able to draw every ounce of energy and talent out of his ballplayers. And in a close game, close pennant race, whatever, that can make the difference.
Question 4. How do you see the Tigers doing this year?
Anthony Giacalone: 86-76. The Tigers balloon is due for a quick deflation. All the same sportswriters that are now saying that Detroit is the best team in the league are the same ones who said that they were a fluke before the playoff series because they last the last three regular season games to the Royals. The same ones who tell us how great the pitching is are the same ones who couldn't pick Verlander or Robertson out of a lineup last year. It always amazes me that a good 10 days of baseball in October can influence so many opinions so quickly.
Kurt Mensching: That's a heck of a question tonight. A few days ago, I may have answered it easier. But the loss of Rogers leaves a question mark. It may not necessarily be a big loss. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA kind of expected it anyway, not to mention it assigned him the worst ERA of the starters. But we'll have to see if the Tigers' pitching is as deep as we all like to talk about. We didn't want to have to test the hypothesis. And like I said, the loss in leadership is bothersome.
Still, I just have faith in Leyland's leadership and the team's ability to hold things together. I think they may not get off to as
great a first three months as last season, but they won't end with as poor a final two months either. I'm going to say 89 wins. That may be enough to win the Central. It may not. It really depends how much the teams beat each other up. Each team has its problems, so it's certainly going to be an interesting season to watch.
Kent Williams: They're good enough to stay in the divisional race, but I doubt they will dominate. If they do win the Central and are relatively injury-free, they can surprise anyone in a short series.
Chris Dial: 88-90 wins - in a vacuum. I'm not sure how much the Twins/ChiSox may have improved. Slightly fewer RS, quite a bit more RA.
Rob Pettapiece: In contention until Labour Day, but ultimately a close third place.
Craig Burley: I see the Tigers, Twins, White Sox and Indians as all 83-88 win teams this season (85-90 normally, but a -2 win discount for being in a very tough division). The team that comes out of there the best will probably be the one to exceed their Pythagorean projection the best - the one that gets the best luck. Leyland's skills give Detroit the best chance of any to do that, probably (if not Ozzie Guillen in Chicago), so I am leaning to the Tigers by the narrowest of margins over the slightly more talented Twins and Indians.
Will Carroll: Mid-pack in a very tough division. Better than 500 but not by much, though there's not a big deviation in the whole league. Would it surprise anyone if we didn't have a 95 game winner this year? 92?
Greg Tamer: It all depends on Cleveland. I doubt the Wild Card comes from the Central, so the Tigers better hope the Indians continue to be a disappointment.
["Buddha" from Baseball Think Factory also contributed some thoughts which I will have up shortly].