Home Ballpark: Comerica Park.
2014 Finish: 90-72 · 1st AL Central.
Over/Under Wins in 2015: 86.5 · Under
What We Love:
- The Man They Call Miggy: What is not to like about a guy who plays in 159 games, hits for a .313 average with 25 HR and 109 RBI, and is considered to have an “off” year? Even despite getting off to a slow start and being hobbled by an ankle injury, Miguel Cabrera enjoyed his 11th straight season driving in 100+ RBI. Entering his 32nd year, Cabrera is still one of the top players in the game today and with his move to back to 1B last season, and ability to DH, he should continue to play at a high level for the foreseeable future. And that is great news for the Tigers, who will need Cabrera to continue his MVP style of play if they have any hope of holding off the Indians and White Sox for the AL Central title. Not to mention they’ll need/want him to stay healthy and productive as they are paying him a small fortune ($240 million) over the next eight seasons.
- Best front office in the game: Owner Mike Illitch and GM Dave Dombrowski.
- Manager Brad Ausmus’ 90 win rookie campaign.
- Anibal Sanchez rebounding from a subpar 2014 season.
- Potential DP combo of Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler.
What We Hate:
- Verlander’s Arm and Velocity Woes: In 2009, Justin Verlander’s average fastball speed was 95.6 mph, the second best in MLB. In 2014, his average fastball was down to 92.6 mph, which had him outside of the top 25 qualified pitchers in MLB. It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to lose a few ticks off of his heater as he ages, but to seemingly fall apart overnight is another thing. Verlander’s 2014 was his worst statistical season since 2008, in fact, both seasons are extremely similar:
2008: 33 GS · 201 IP · 11-17 W/L · 4.84 ERA · 108 ER · 163 K · 1.40 WHIP
2014: 32 GS · 206 IP · 15-13 W/L · 4.54 ERA · 104 ER · 159 K · 1.40 WHIP
Verlander was also the American League leader in Earned Runs in 2014; finishing 2nd behind A.J Burnett for the overall MLB lead.
So what is the cause for this sudden drop off? Could it be “dead arm” (which is, hands down the most awesome, old timey name for a legitimate medical condition) aka arm fatigue? That is a pretty plausible scenario, especially given that Verlander has thrown at least 200 innings in every season since 2007. Perhaps it could be attributed to the core-muscle surgery he underwent before the 2014 season. The surgery might not be the culprit when it comes to the diminishing velocity, but it could be the reason why Verlander has started to experience arm issues. If he was unable to use his proper pitching mechanics and drive from his core and legs, that could have forced him to alter his mechanics and put more stress on his shoulder/arm. It could also be the reason why he was unable to locate and have solid command of his secondary pitches (curveball and slider).
In order for the Tigers to return to the Postseason they cannot afford to have another down year from Verlander. Even with David Price and Anibal Sanchez behind him, this is a starting rotation that will be weaker than it has been in years past. The bigger fear for the Tigers, if Verlander can’t return to his old form, is that they will be paying $28 million a season (through 2020) for an average to above average starting pitcher
*Now with all of this being said, there is ABSOLUTELY no reason NOT to believe that Justin Verlander can and will come back from this. He is still (only) 32 years old and is still one of the top tier starting pitchers in the game. Every pitcher eventually loses their fastball; even the greats. It’s what you do to re-shape your game after that happens which separate the good from the great.*
- A Less Than Watertight Bullpen: In the past four seasons, the ERA of the Tigers bullpen has had them ranked 27th, 24th, 18th and 25th respectively in the entire MLB. The bullpen was one of the key contributors to the Tigers being bounced from the playoffs by the Orioles in 2014. What’s astonishing is that while GM Dave Dombrowski made the moves to replace departed starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, he neglected to address his bullpen in any way. In fact, it is almost exactly the same bullpen returning that was to blame for that dismal 2014 campaign. 40 year old, Joe Nathan, returns as the incumbent closer, a year removed from saving 35 games while posting a 4.81 ERA. Behind Nathan, the Tigers will have a pair of experienced setup men in Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain. Soria, who was acquired from the Rangers at last season’s trade deadline, has experience closing games and could replace Nathan if he falters. Even though they didn’t add anyone in the offseason, the Tigers bullpen may get a big mid-season upgrade if and when RHP Bruce Rondon returns from Tommy John Surgery. Rondon, who was viewed as a future closer, struggled in his first MLB performance in 2013 before missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery. The Tigers will take any kind of upgrade they can get and a healthy Rondon would be an immediate upgrade to that bullpen.
- V-Mart’s knees: torn meniscus during offseason workouts could force him to miss Opening Day. Bigger concern for Tigers should be that it’s same knee that forced him to miss all of 2012.
- Attempting to replace Max Scherzer’s and Rick Porcello’s outputs with the likes of Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene.
- Jose Iglesias’ durability.
- Alex Avila’s long term health: the catcher suffered upwards of four concussions in 2014.
- That collective sick feeling that I and every Blue Jays fan will get if Anthony Gose somehow manages to put it all together.
Player to Watch: 3B Nick Castellanos. Playing in his first full MLB season in 2014, Nick Castellanos enjoyed the highs and lows of life in the big leagues. Offensively he had a pretty decent season at the plate, hitting .259/11/66 in 533 AB. However, his defensive game left something to be desired, as he ranked near the bottom of every defensive metric. The reason for him being a defensive liability could be because he has bounced around between multiple positions since being drafted. Originally drafted as a shortstop by the Tigers in the supplemental first round (44th overall) back in 2010, Castellanos was first asked to move to 3B so his bat would not be blocked by Jhonny Peralta. However, when the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to play 1B, Castellanos path to the majors became blocked by Miguel Cabrera, whom had moved across the diamond to accommodate Fielder. With Cabrera at 3B, Castellanos was then asked to ply his trade as a LF; which would only last a season. Following the 2013 season, Fielder was whipped out of the Motor City, Cabrera moved back to 1B, and Castellanos was asked (again) to switch back to 3B. While the Tigers have always known that Castellanos can hit, they’ll need him to make bigger strides defensively. Perhaps now that he has an established position, he’ll be able to fine tune his defensive skills. On the offensive side of things, it wouldn’t be outlandish to believe a 20 HR/75 RBI campaign is possible.
Top Pitching Prospect: Buck Farmer · RHP · MLB ETA: 2015
Top Positional Prospect: Steven Moya · OF · MLB ETA: 2015
Top 30 Prospects (MLB.com): http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2015?list=det
Final Prediction: 2nd AL Central.