Tigers

The Detroit Tigers have seemingly been knocking on the door of a championship for a long time. After several good seasons and a disappointing World Series loss, they have missed the playoffs two years in a row. With an aging but star studded slugging roster do the Tigers have enough growl to stay in contention in 2017?

The Players

Nick Castellanos remains the every day third baseman for the Tigers as Miguel Cabrera is now a permanent first base fixture. Castellanos is a below average defender but has potential to be a power hitter. He hasn’t quite broken out yet but hit 18 home runs in an injury shortened season where he only saw the field in 110 games. His .212 isolated power percentage suggests that he has legit 25 home run potential in the bat and he also posted a career high 25% line drive rate which is above average. If he can slightly improve his 6% walk rate and the 25% strike out rate even by 2% he can be a legit .280 hitter with 25 home runs. I like his potential but he’s probably going to be stuck hitting 6th or 7th in the Tigers loaded slugging batting order.

At shortstop, Jose Iglesias will continue to play above average defense but leaves some power to be desired with the bat. Iglesias had a disappointing year with offensively as his batting average fell to .255 due to some bad luck with his BABIP. He is unlikely to hit .300 ever again but a return to the .280 range is realistic. He will likely hit near the bottom of the order which limits his value in almost all fantasy pool formats as he doesn’t steal enough bases to even help in that category.

Second basemen Ian Kinsler keeps trucking and has continued to defy the aging curve projections as he is set to turn 35. The all-star second baseman was the Tigers most valuable player in 2016 as he posted a WAR of 5.8. He hit for the third best power numbers of his career (28 home runs) and played above average defense once again. Part of the power surge was that he hit more fly balls than his most recent seasons and he had the mustard to put them over the fence. Over the past few seasons he was holding a decent batting average but hit a lot of ground balls. It will be interesting to see if this approach at the plate to sell out for power is going to stay as his strike out jumped up from 11% to 16% (which is still significantly below league average). It’s hard to bet that a 35 year old second baseman will continue to play at an elite level but it’s also hard to bet against Kinsler. I would suspect the power numbers dip down to the 17 to 20 home run level but the batting average should continue to hover in the .280 to .290 range. Kinsler is set to be a free agent after this year so there’s a distinct possibility that the Tigers trade him if they are out of the playoff race by the deadline.

The Tigers boast future hall of famer, Miguel Cabrera at first base. The slugger saw an uptick in power last year that was somewhat missing in 2014 and 2015 as he hit 38 baseballs over the fence. Now fully recovered from a foot injury that likely contributed to that zapped power, Cabrera is set to do what he does again. He is likely to continue being one of the best hitters of the 21st century and regularly hits over .300 and has an OBP around .400. He’s set to hit in the number three or four slot of the order so you know the run production will be there. At the age of 34 you’d hope he can remain healthy and really that’s likely the only thing that will slow him down in 2017. He’s still about as sure a thing at first base as there is in baseball.

At DH, 38 year old Victor Martinez will continue to see cuts and will play sparingly at first base in order to give Cabrera a few defensive days off. 2015 was not kind to Martinez but he bounced back to hit 27 home runs and 87 RBI’s in 2016. His batting average also returned closer to his career norms as he hit his way to a slash line of .289/.351/.476. Martinez may be one of the slowest and worst base runners in baseball and you’ll see him often be pinch ran for late in games due to his deficiency. This is likely to be his second last season as he is signed through 2018 and his time is likely coming to an end. I would expect age regression to come into play with Martinez and I would expect a decline from 2016’s production and he will be an expensive replacement level bat in 2017.

James McCann will return as the Tigers’ catcher. Although he is mainly an above average defensive catcher he has a bit of pop in the bat as he hit 13 home runs last year. He does need to cut down his strike out rate as 30% is way too much. He was closer to league average in his 2015 season so I’d guess he will strike out somewhere closer to that rate if he makes the necessary adjustments. McCann is unlikely to be much more than a replacement level hitter and the Tigers lack any major catching prospects in their system so they will cross their fingers he can at least get on base a bit more this year.

In the outfield, the Tigers will employ Justin Upton, JD Martinez and Tyler Collins. If you looked at left fielder Justin Upton’s final stat line you would think he had a great 2016 season. He hit .246/.310/.465 with 31 home runs and 86 RBI’s. However, he was pathetic for almost the entire year before he decided to rip the cover off ever baseball that came his way in September. He hit 13 of those 31 home runs in the final month of the season alone as he was essentially replacement level the rest of the year due to his ugly 28.6% strike out rate. His speed is no longer much of a factor as he only stole 9 bases in 2016 and his defensive range in the outfield has even regressed to average. Upton has always been a streaky player but he has the talent to avoid the prolonged slumps which have defined his career. He’s now 29 and is unlikely to become the superstar he was once destined to be. The Tigers sure hope he can find some consistency as he is signed until 2021, but I would expect more of the same from Upton as he will have a month or two of all-star production followed by mediocrity to below average play.

JD Martinez will see regular playing time in right field but boy he’s better suited to be a DH as he was responsible for a -22 DFS which is the equivalent of losing 2 games for his club due to poor defense. What Martinez does do well though is hit the ball hard. Since becoming a Tiger he has hit the ball harder then almost anyone as 40% to 43% of all balls off his bat are smoked, which helps explain his career .343 BABIP. He doesn’t have any speed to speak of so he literally hits the ball through the gloves of his defenders. Martinez missed a fair amount of time last year with injury but is hoping to be back full time in 2017. If healthy he should be a lock for 30 dingers, 80 runs and 90 RBI’s.

To round out the outfield is 26 year old Tyler Collins. He is probably the weakest player on the starting roster but is the best option to play center field given the lack of viable options on the roster. He is an average at best offensive player and should hit near the bottom of the order. As a betting man I would suspect The Tigers will be looking to upgrade at centre field next off-season.

Starting Pitching

Back from the dead is Justin Verlander folks! After being pretty average for two seasons but engaged to super model, Kate Upton, Verlander put up his best season since 2013. Quite frankly Verlander should have won the Cy Young last year not Red Sox pitcher and former Tiger, Rick Porcello. Since his 2013 season Verlander’s strike out rate tumbled from 9 K/9 to an average of 7.22 K/9 innings in his 2014-2015 season. Verlander has been an absolute workhorse since entering the league and he pitched 9 consecutive seasons of 30+ games until 2015 where he finally missed some time on the DL. However everything isn’t completely rosy for Verlander. He posted the highest flyball rate of his career at 47.7% and this is a number that has risen every year since his 2014 decline began. Consequently he allowed the most home runs of his career. He no longer throws his fastball in the 95 Mph range and declined to as low as 93 Mph in 2014 to 2015. He did manage to get the heater back up to at least 93.7 Mph last year but it’s safe to say he will no longer be a flame thrower. What Verlander has done to cope with his declining fastball is instead utilize his slider more than ever and in 2016 this was his best weapon.

Verlander is now 34 years old and has thrown nearly 2400 MLB innings. His days of being an automatic Cy Young contender are likely over but he still has some above average life left. What Verlander showed us in 2016 is that he can adapt and as a future hall of famer I believe his adjustments are real. He may not strike as many batters out in 2017 as he did in 2016 but he will keep the Tigers in games and be a reliable front of the line starter.

2016’s AL Rookie of the Year winner, Michael Fulmer will look to build upon an impressive MLB debut. The hard throwing righty was acquired at the 2015 MLB trade deadline in a deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets. Fulmer already possesses three plus pitches (Fastball, Change Up and Slider) but has room to improve in terms of getting strike outs. In his 26 starts he struck out 7.47 K/9 innings but I think he can improve to 8 K/9 if he can can improve the slider. While Fulmer did benefit from a 79% strand rate in his debut, I would expect it to fall closer to 72%. He also had trouble with command in the minors and in his MLB debut posted his lowest career walk rate. This is another area where regression to his career norms is expected which will make his ERA fall from 3.06 and it will be closer to 4.00. He’s still a great young pitcher but he won’t be lights out again.

Former Nationals pitcher, Jordan Zimmerman is set to begin his second season in the AL Central and will want to forget 2016. Zimmerman had one of the worst seasons of his career in Detroit and missed almost half the season due to a variety of ailments which placed him on the DL several times. After a hot start in April the rest of his season was a downhill spiral. Zimmerman has lost 2 Mph on his fastball since 2014 and his strike out totals were an underwhelming 5.64 K/9 innings. With the declined velocity and various injuries, Zimmerman’s walk rate and home run rate also jumped up to career highs since he became a full time starter in 2011. There aren’t any other major underlying stats as to why Zimmerman ended up posting a putrid ERA of 4.87 other then his strand rate was a below average 65.7% compared to his career average of 73.9%. With a declining strike out rate that decline makes some sense but a bit of bad luck plays a role. I would expect Zimmerman to slightly improve on that ERA if he can remain healthy but I think the strike outs will continue to remain underwhelming. At the age of 30, Zimmerman is only two seasons removed from an outstanding 2014 season but he is now likely in the midst of a career decline and will be paid 92 million dollars until 2020. Best case scenario he can reinvent himself to be a better pitch to contact pitcher, but he will not be a front line ace and is now better suited as a back of the rotation arm.

Fun fact: Daniel Norris’s two biggest claims to fame are that he was traded for David Price at the 2015 deadline from the Blue Jays and he is infamous for living in his van during off-seasons even though he’s a millionaire athlete. Fun facts aside, Norris is almost 24 years old and only has 136 MLB innings to his credit, but has shown flashes of his potential in parts of two seasons. He has yet to show consistent command at any of his professional levels but after his return from the DL with a strained oblique he was pretty good. From August 9th onward he posted an ERA of 3.04 and struck out just shy of 9 K/9. A key to that strike out performance was his slider which accounted for 25% of his K’s. He still has work to put in when it comes to fastball command and his secondary off speed pitches but Norris should take a modest step forward in 2017.

To close out the rotation will either be Anibal Sanchez or Matt Boyd (also acquired from the Blue Jays for David Price). Sanchez is now long past his best before date and has been borderline replacement level for the past two seasons while giving up almost 2 HR/9 innings. Matt Boyd profiles as a similar pitcher as Sanchez but just several years younger. Either option is serviceable for a 5th starter but I’d give Sanchez the edge to getting a rotation spot due to his experience and contract. If he struggles out of the gate Boyd will be first in line to get a crack for some innings.

The Bullpen

The man affectionately known as K-Rod, Francisco Rodriguez, will return to close out games for the Tigers in 2017. Although K-Rod is longer the force he was in his early LA Angels days, he still gets the job done. While K-Rod used to pitch in the mid 90’s he no longer touches 90 Mph with his fastball. As the later part of his career has progressed he has done a nice job mixing in his change up to keep batters off balance and now throws both the heater and change up almost evenly. As always, he walks a few too many batters hence the 3.2 ERA he posted in 2016. He will get some saves but don’t bank on 44 of them again and a bit more ERA regression is coming.

After K-Rod, the pen is thin on top end talent and only has a few important names to note. Justin Wilson is a hard throwing lefty, but he has some nasty reverse splits as lefties hit over .300 off him in 2016. After striking out nearly 10 K/9 for the second year in a row he is set to resume his role as a high leverage late inning situational reliever. He might be first in line for saves if K-Rod gets injured or sucks it up.

Shane Green is now set as a reliever after failing to stick as a starter. He has always had command issues which limited his effectiveness but he does possess four average to slightly above average pitches to get batters out.

The primary loogie for the Tigers will be, Mark Lowe who will look to rebound from a poor season where he allowed over 2 HR/9. Lastly, Bruce Rondon who was once groomed to be the Tigers closer of the future will look to stick with the big club for good but has battled significant command issues but has tons of strike out potential with his 98 Mph fastball.

Outlook

The Tigers are getting old and are battling father time who catches up to everyone. The Tigers will need a lot of things to go right in order to stay in the playoff hunt. In 2016 almost everything did go right as many aging players had resurgent seasons (Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler, Martinez) and there wasn’t a ton of major injuries impacting the team. I don’t know who is bound to get hurt but I would suspect that a roster full of 30+ players will see some time on the DL. The team isn’t very athletic and there isn’t a lot of prospect help ready to come to the bigs and reinforce the team’s core. It’s also important to note that there isn’t a lot of defensive players on the team beside Kinsler and Iglesius. This alone will cost the Tigers several wins. I suspect the Tigers take a step back in 2017 and miss the playoffs with only 77 wins.

Fantasy Studs

Miguel Cabrera – The Perennial MVP can do no wrong at the plate. He is a virtual lock for 30 home runs, will hit .300 and add on 100 RBI’s. Draft with confidence and you may get a slight discount this year as younger, sexier players sneak into the first round of your drafts.

Fantasy Dud

Jordan Zimmerman – The starter’s best days are gone. With his declining fastball and now pitching in a hitter’s ballpark he will be a very average pitcher at best. Let someone else bank on a comeback as he is now an ERA of 4.00 with 6 K/9 abilities. He’s not worth rostering unless you play in a very deep league as there is almost no upside left.

Sleeper

Daniel Norris – The Tigers projected fourth starter showed some sustained success after his return from the DL in early August until season’s end. If the adjustments he made to his slider stick then it’s possible he maintains his 9 K/9 inning ratio. Worst case I’d expect the ERA to be around 3.98 but the WHIP will be a paltry 1.4 due to his walk issues. If he somehow harnesses the fastball command he has potential to be an absolute steal.