Yeah, The Tigers are Better. But…
As of this writing (the morning of July 13th), the Detroit Tigers are 40-51 and clinging to third place in the American League's Central Division (just ahead of the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals).
The Tigers are clearly better than they were two years ago (when they were a league-worst 47-114). And I think they're better than last year's shortened 58 game season (23-35).
And while Tigers' fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the rest of the season, there are other reasons where alarms should go off in your head. Let's start with the starting pitching staff.
Casey Mize has shown why the Tigers took him number 1 overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. His 5-5 record with a 3.59 ERA isn't great. But if you look at the "eye" test, he has ace level stuff. He just needs more time to grow. Why the Tigers are limiting his innings in July is beyond me. If you want to limit innings, wait until September to do it when they're officially out of the race!
Tarik Skubal shows some promise as a number two starter. He struggled earlier in the season, but has regrouped and pitched well for the most part. His 5-8 record and a 4.36 ERA is a bit misleading, again if you use the "eye" test.
Matt Boyd and Spencer Turnbull have battled injuries this year, and are still currently on the injured list. Boyd seems to be closer to returning than Turnbull is. They'll need the se guys if they want to finish .500 this year. But Wily Peralta has filled in nicely for the injured starters.
After a nice start to the year, Jose Urena has struggled to go even five innings. It doesn't look like he''ll be with the team next year.
A mixed bag here. Derek Holland just came back from injury and promptly lost the game this past Sunday to Minnesota. He's not in the long-term plans, and could get cut very soon. Tyler Alexander and Daniel Norris aren't consistent enough to get out left-handed hitters (both Alexander and Norris are left-handed). Neither is Joe Jimenez, but the team seems to be seduced (like Joel Zumaya more than a decade ago) with his power arm. He's not nearly as good as people think, IMO. Kyle Funkhouser has been good for the most part, he's a part of the future. The back end of the pen has had a few issues, but Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, and Michael Fulmer have been good. Fulmer's ongoing injury problems cloud his future, however.
Jonathan Schoop has been their best position player this season. His .277 average is best on the team. And with him hiring Scott Boras as his agent, he's looking for a big payday this offseason. He's the only real candidate with trade value for the Tigers before the July 31st trade deadline.
Jeimer Candelario has gone from nearly out of the organization a year ago, to one of the best players on the team. He's a bonafide major league player. Solid hitter and a solid, but not great fielder. Barring injury, he's their third baseman next year.
The Tigers middle infield sucks out loud!!! Willi Castro can't play shortstop, and can barely play second base. He's not a good hitter, either (.214 average). Why A.J. Hinch keeps putting him out there is beyond me. Zach Short is playing shortstop until they a get real one (hopefully) this off-season.
The outfield is a mixed bag, too. Akil Baddoo has been the most pleasant surprise. He's a part of their future. Robby Grossman has been solid as well. But I don't think Nomar Mazara is very good. I expect Derek Hill or Victor Reyes to be back with the team soon. Niko Goodrum isn't a good hitter, but he can play multiple positions in the field. That's probably why he's still on the team.
Eric Haase and Jake Rogers have solidified the catching position. Rogers has improved defensively. But it's the combined hitting for both of them that have sent Grayson Greiner to Toledo and allowed them to release free agent signing Wilson Ramos.
MANAGER A.J. HINCH
(He's pictured above) Hinch is an upgrade from Ron Gardenhire, if for no other reason in that losing is not nearly as tolerable as it was before. He has sent guys down who haven't been producing (Jacoby Jones, anyone?). But his overreliance on the bullpen is maddening. Who do you trust in the 7th inning, Casey Mize or Daniel Norris? I trust Mize, but Hinch apparently trusts Norris and others instead. It's frustrating. And he 's too SABR-metricky for me. There's a place for SABR-metrics in baseball. But the overreliance on it is hurting the game, IMO (Do you hear me, Kevin Cash??). And I think it's ridiculous to have 14 pitchers on the 26-man roster. You need 11 or 12, IMO.
There's room for optimism for the Tigers. Especially when Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene arrive in the next year or two. But an inconsistent bullpen, poor defense, and some spotty hitting are why they're 40-51 and not 51-40.
And folks, Miguel Cabrera isn't going anywhere!!! After an awful start (.097 after the first month), he's improved to .241. And he's six home runs from 500 career homers, as well as 73 hits from 3,000 career knocks. The team wants him to hit those milestones in a Tiger uniform. He is the least of their problems, IMO.
What do you folks think? You can check out the Tigers stats here.