Every year, about this time, I am asked about my thoughts on the Tigers going into the new season. I typically say they are going to win the World Series because I am the ultimate optimist and I have Tiger blood running through my veins! Well this year is a little different because I now have been asked to truly give my opinion on the upcoming season and to share this opinion with our clients. So here it goes:
WOW! Enough said! This could be an unbelievable season because of the potentially stellar starting pitching and the tremendous hitters that the Tigers will have throughout their lineup, and the bull pen will be very strong. These three pieces could produce a World Championship season! Typically, we are trained to utilize our analytic skills to determine what could go wrong and then weigh those results against what could go right and then decide what our opinion is. I have shared what looks awesome on paper, so now let’s take a look at what could go wrong.
Team speed. This is a major concern. The only legitimate base stealer that they have is Austin Jackson and up until this year, I would argue that he is an average base stealer. I know that he has been focusing on improving this part of his game, but it still remains to be seen if he will succeed. After Austin, they have a few guys that can run, but no one who can change the game with their speed.
Starting pitching is a key strength. The experts are saying that they cannot win it all with only right handed starters. However, I would like to remind these experts that in 1984 the Tigers were in first place from the first day of the season until the final out of the World Series- with nothing but right handed starting pitching! Of course, it would it be nice for one of their young pitchers to step up, grab the fifth starter position and be a lefty.
Defense has also been a question mark by many of the experts. By doing some basic math, I may be able to best explain their defense. If Miguel Cabrera is playing third base, and he makes an error that allows a run to score but during the course of the game he drives in three runs, the math says that Cabrera is a plus 2. The experts will say that poor defense will create an unwelcomed outcome at the end of the season. My response is that I am willing to take my chances with this team’s ability to hit and score runs!
Many of us read the sports section and we read every word that the experts write about our beloved Tigers. Yes, there is excitement. But remember it is their job to create dialogue and sell papers (or downloads). The press is going to write some negative articles about our team. I certainly do not fault them for this. And when it is all said and done, this Tiger team could be the best I have seen since the 1984 World Championship team! I firmly believe that these so-called weaknesses will be overshadowed by their strengths!
Now, on to what could go right:
The defense makes routine plays day in and day out. Jim Leyland uses his bench to maximize the team’s strengths later in the game by utilizing Brandon Inge and Don Kelly as defensive replacements to take an average defense for the first seven innings to a very solid defense for the last two innings. This strategy will work if the bull pen (another strength) does their job by holding the lead. If the bullpen is unable to hold the lead late in the game, this strategy will back fire on Jim Leyland because he will be losing one or two of his big hitters late in the game. The press will have a field day writing about the mistake of taking out Cabrera and replacing him with Inge. By the way, I am a huge Brandon Inge fan and I believe that he can be one of the best utility-type players that has ever played the game. His talents allow him to not only play many positions, but play them at a very high level.
The fifth starting pitcher will be surrounded by a very dynamic and very talented starting four pitchers. This group is led by Justin Verlander as the number one guy. After Verlander the Tigers staff consists of Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and then Rick Porcello. I mention these talents because one could argue that the fifth starter for this team really is expected to give the Tigers a chance to win (where the other four starters are expected to win). This could allow one of the young pitchers, who makes this team out of spring training, to maybe relax a little bit and as a result pitch better than anyone would expect.
Lastly, I have always looked at the bench or the players who don’t play every game. I have developed a mindset that I don’t care how good your everyday guys are if you don’t have a good support staff (bench players), you can’t win. The Tigers will have a very strong group of players that can support the big guys. It is still uncertain who this team within a team will be, but I can certainly share my thoughts on a few of them. I already shared my admiration for Brandon Inge. Ryan Raburn is a man without a position and in my opinion, this really isn’t his fault. He has been asked to play a position and then when he starts feeling comfortable he is asked to play another position. If he could concentrate on maybe one or two positions, he could excel! The one thing that I do know is that he can HIT!! Before you second guess my analysis of his hitting, let me share with you that he played the first half of last season with a broken finger! Hopefully this comment might keep a few of you from saying that he can’t put together a full season. I do not believe that he is only a second half player. Don Kelly is another player who is not a household name here in Detroit but he is very well respected with his teammates. He is an extremely talented player who can play every position on the field and play it well. Another bench player will be the backup catcher, Gerald Laird, who has many years of experience and can be a huge mentor to Alex Avila. Gerald is known throughout baseball as a pitchers catcher. What does that mean? That means that he can catch and throw and he can call a game. He takes some of the thinking away from the pitcher. They get the ball, he gives them a signal of what he wants them to throw and they throw that pitch without reservation! It is a nice piece of the puzzle for your bench catcher to have that type of respect from his pitchers.
Let’s not forget a fan favorite, Ramon Santiago. A true pro that shows up every day and is ready to do whatever is necessary for the team. I would also argue that he can flat play the game. He doesn’t do anything flashy, he just gets it done day in and day out. Lastly, we have a couple of young outfielders who will be fighting for that last bench position. Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas. This decision is too close to call, but if I had to pick one today, I believe I would have to pick Dirks. I like the fact that he has a shorter swing, yet he has power. This type of swing, in my opinion, has a higher probability of making good contact even if the player doesn’t have the luxury of playing every day. I also like that he has no fear on the bases! I just feel that his talents are better served for what the Tigers need from one of their bench players. In summary, this is a very talented team of bench players!
The 2012 season is right around the corner and there is already an expectation that the Tigers will be heading to the World Series. I find myself falling into thismindset as well, because WOW, what a team!
Have a great spring and summer,