StrategyMarch 17, 2009

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Detroit Tigers

By AquaMan2342

Coming into last season, expectations were especially high in Detroit. The acquisitions of Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Edgar Renteria along with the return of a strong nucleus led many experts to choose them to represent the AL in the World Series for the second time in three seasons. Fans in Detroit were dreaming of their first championship since 1984.

However, things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to. The same offense that Peter Gammons predicted would score over 1,000 runs was annoyingly inconsistent, scoring 10 or more runs in 13 games while being shut out nearly as many times (12). Injuries constantly left the lineup at less than full speed. The rotation was a mess: Jeremy Bonderman was lost for the season in early June with a blood clot in his throwing shoulder, the Dontrelle Willis experiment turned quickly into a nightmare, and Justin Verlander struggled early on. Overall, eight different starters took the mound for Detroit last season, with only minor-league journeyman Armando Galarraga posting an ERA below 4.20.

Turning things around in 2009 will not be easy. The economic climate has hit particularly hard in Detroit, forcing them into standing pat for the most part. Despite the weak spots, the lineup should become more consistent now that it’s fully healthy and has a comfortable MVP-caliber player in Cabrera anchoring the middle. It’s also encouraging to note that the rotation and bullpen can’t do much worse than it did in 2008. However, both of these units are mostly the same and are still surrounded by the same questions they were last season. Detroit’s success depends on whether or not the pitching can answer those questions.

For a closer look at the Detroit Tigers and the rest of the AL Central, be sure to check out the The Can of Corn AL Central Preview Podcast.

Offensive Starters

C Gerald Laird.276.329.398546412344 
1B Miguel Cabrera.292.349.53785371271616 
2B Placido Polanco.307.350.417906587580 
3B Brandon Inge.205.303.3694111514347 
SS Adam Everett.213.278.323192200127w/Min
LF Carlos Guillen.286.376.4366810549420 
CF Curtis Granderson.280.364.494112226612553 
RF Magglio Ordonez.317.376.49472211031561 
DH Gary Sheffield.225.326.4005219579418 

Unsettled: Third base and designated hitter. If Inge’s endless slump from last year continues, look for Guillen to move back to third, bringing back the Thames/Sheffield left-field/DH platoon yet again. Thames has been a decent fantasy contributor when given consistent playing time. However, history tells us that Leyland will sit him at the first sign of a slump. Despite that, I’d recommend taking a chance on him if he starts to step up offensively from the bench. His power streaks can win you a category or two per week in a H2H match-up. I’d also keep an eye on Sheffield early on as he is capable of putting together one more decent season despite his age. If he comes out of the gates running, he could approach 30 homers.

Target: Curtis Granderson. At, Granderson’s current ADP equates to a fifth round pick and also to rewards abound. I am fully confident he will outperform this draft position. He is a legitimate .300/120/25/20 candidate with the ceiling for even more. His walk and strikeout rates have both improved drastically and his .258 mark against lefties last season was easily his highest. His total contact percentage has increased by seven points over the last three years and he has improved his pitch selection to a respectable level. Granderson is a supreme offensive talent who has a Pedroia-like work ethic. Best of all, you’ll be getting him at a reasonable price this season.

The Rotation

Justin Verlander (R)11-174.841.4016387201 
Jeremy Bonderman (R)3-44.291.56443671 
Armando Galarraga (R)13-73.731.1912661178.2 
Nate Robertson (L)7-116.351.6610862168.2 
Edwin Jackson (R)14-114.421.5110877183.1w/TB

Unsettled: No one. But there are plenty of questions surrounding the entire rotation. Despite Galarraga’s success last season, there’s plenty of evidence he won’t approach those numbers again. He had the majors’ highest FIP ERA (4.88) relative to his actual ERA (3.73) along with an unsustainable .247 BABIP. I’d stay away from him this season. Bonderman is potentially roster-worthy after sustained rest on his arm following a non-throwing related injury in the early part of last year. If he is able to find his pre-injury velocity, I would probably take a look at him in deeper leagues. Robertson and Jackson should not be looked at as options at any point this season due to their inconsistencies.

Target: Justin Verlander. I realize I am out of rotation options after tearing apart slots two through five, but in my defense I feel Verlander is a legitimate rebound candidate. His K rate gradually rose as last season wore on as he was striking out 8.45 batters every nine innings, a number bettering his career average. Second, his decrease in fastball velocity combined with an increase in off-speed pitch velocities allowed hitters to time his pitches. New pitching coach Rick Knapp has made it a priority to slow his off-speed stuff, forcing hitters to guess more. If successful, this should have a dramatic impact on Verlander’s performance. Lastly, he should be surrounded by a better defense in 2009. Detroit made 113 errors last year and 23 of them were with Verlander on the mound. His FIP (4.18) was significantly lower than his real ERA (4.84) and his strand rate was well below average (65% compared to the league average of 72%). The Adam Everett/Ramon Santiago combination will be a huge improvement over Edgar Renteria and Brandon Inge playing full-time at third will fare better than last year’s Cabrera/Guillen platoon. Right now, Verlander is approximately the thirtieth pitcher being taken off the board. I think he can end the year within the top twenty. He is a great pitcher to target this season.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Brandon Lyon (R)264.701.48441359.1w/Ari
Joel Zumaya (R)13.471.97222223.1 
Fernando Rodney(R)134.911.59493040.1 

Chasing Saves: I fully expect Lyon to be given the first shot at closing as he left Arizona to sign a one-year, five million dollar deal. One thing he has going for him relative to the rest of the bullpen is his control. His K/BB ratio from last season would have easily been the pen’s best. However, he has had injury problems in the past and was replaced as the Diamondbacks’ closer in the latter half of last season due to inconsistencies of his own. Looking at Rodney’s inconsistency along with Zumaya’s addiction to Guitar Hero, there will be a lot of pressure on Lyon to perform. If he falters, Rodney and Zumaya are likely the only other options to close. History is not on Detroit’s side if this is the case, as both incumbents have struggled mightily in the closer’s role.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of value in Detroit’s offensive lineup this season. Some look at Ordonez’s numbers and don’t equate them to a late-fifth round pick. I’d disagree, as he is one of baseball’s most consistent hitters in one of its best lineups and is capable of a .320/25/100/100 line. Cabrera ended up leading the American League in homers last year despite struggling early to adjust to American League pitching. Now that he feels good at the plate, a MVP trophy and top five fantasy performance could be on the horizon. The rotation is tentative at best with Verlander being the only real option coming into the season. Bonderman could potentially help your team down the road, however. If you are daring enough to draft Lyon, you must do so knowing that you have to constantly keep an eye on the closing situation as it could become sticky if he has difficulties.

Yesterday we previewed the Cleveland Indians. Check back tomorrow for the Kansas City Royals in the next installment of “30 Teams in 30 Days!”

Steven Lorenz enjoys Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. He posts under the name of AquaMan2342.
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