Why Aren’t the Tigers Winning?

by JohnBowen

The Detroit Tigers, who won the 2011 American League Central Division by a whopping 15 games, were supposed to run away with the division again. Despite losing DH Victor Martinez, the Tigers added a big (sorry) bat in Prince Fielder, and weren’t supposed to be facing much of a competition.

Through about 1/3 of the season, the Tigers find themselves in third place at 26-32, 6 games behind first place Chicago, 5.5 behind low-budget Cleveland, and just 1 game ahead of hapless Kansas City.

So what’s wrong so far?

So far, the usual suspects have performed about as well as expected. Demi-god Miguel Cabrera, a .317 career hitter with a .556 slugging percentage is currently hitting .321 with a .557 slugging percentage – or in other words, basically the same guy. Prince Fielder is currently riding a 139 OPS+, just 4 points below his career average. Reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander has picked up right where he left off, posting a 2.67 ERA and 0.970 WHIP through his first 12 starts.

The guys we expected to do well have…done well. So why have the Tigers – a World Series pick by many – done so poorly?

I’ll offer up a couple theories, and then turn it to what DC does best – the discussion board.

1) Doug Fister’s Injury

At the trade deadline last year, the Tigers acquired Doug Fister from Seattle. The righty proceeded to go 8-1 over 10 starts with a 1.79 ERA and 0.839 WHIP as the Tigers ran away with the Central Division. Well, Fister pitched on game 2 of the season and then missed the rest of the month of April with a strained left side. And…he’s hurt again, back on the 15-day DL.

2) Fielding, fielding, fielding.

Defense counts in baseball, folks. When the Tigers acquired first baseman Prince Fielder, the assumption was that either he or Miguel Cabrera would shift to the DH spot, being as they play the same position and they both really suck at it. And surely, instead of playing any position at all, Delmon Young would be released outright, seeing as he has been worth a whopping 1.4 career WAR in his entire 7 year career and makes Jermaine Dye look like Roberto Clemente. Well, the Tigers didn’t do that. They kept Young, even letting him play the field 1/3 of the time, despite the fact that he is (and this is the technical term), a world-class jerk. Cabrera now plays a harder defensive position, with Fielder continuing a fine tradition of irony at first base.

The Tigers enter play this weekend with a league-worst -3.2 dWAR and despite ranking second in the league with a 3.82 FIP, Detroit pitchers have surrendered a league-worst .313 BABIP. If you’re not a fan of those acronyms, the implication is simply that the Tigers’ pitchers are doing their job, and the fat slugs behind them aren’t getting to baseballs.

So, Dugout Central, what do you think is the cause of Detroit’s woes (you know, besides the recession).

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43 Responses to “Why Aren’t the Tigers Winning?”

  1. Raul Says:

    How much is the defense to blame for Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello?

  2. John Says:

    Not saying that they’re superstars, but I don’t think either gentleman has an ERA over 5 on an average defensive team.

    Just a hunch though.

  3. Jim Says:

    While defense is making a major contribution to the Tigers’ futility, Scherzer & Porcello need as much blame.

  4. Cameron Says:

    Some blame, sure. However, I think their ERAs are probably in the 4s with an average defense. An ERA in the 4s is still bad, but not this bad.

  5. Raul Says:

    I’m not debating the defensive aspect of it.
    Young, Cabrera and Fielder are all below-average on the defensive side of the ball.

    Offensively it could be a bit of a mixed bag. In April the Tigers OPSed .696 as a team. In May it was considerably better at .772.

    Even their pitching was (from an ERA perspective) better in May than April: 4.27 in April and 4.13 in May.

    The odd thing is they were tied for 1st place on May 1st. Despite being better in both categories last month, they took a slip in the standings.

    I think Detroit will still win the division. Verlander is still Verlander. The other hitters on the Tigers will pick things up. Fister will return. And Scherzer is historically better in the 2nd half. If Porcello can’t figure things out, maybe he’s replaced by Jacob Turner (if Turner shows considerable improvement over the next 2 months).

  6. Raul Says:

    Barely into his career, and Mike Trout might already be the best CFer in the game.
    With all due respect to Andrew McCutchen…

  7. Cameron Says:

    You think it could also be because that roster is Miami Heat levels of top-heavy? It’s Cabrera, Fielder, Verlander, Valverde, and the Bad News Bears.

  8. Raul Says:

    What happens next year when Victor Martinez returns?

  9. Cameron Says:

    They somehow get worse defensively?

  10. JohnBowen Says:

    Speaking of good young CFers, Austin Jackson has been hurt for a couple weeks, and he’s bound to come back any day now (I think).

    Dude was crushing before the injury.

  11. Victor Mason Says:

    Everyone should compare Verlander’s stats with those of all other AL and NL starters. Verlander should be at least 8-2. Why isn’t he? Because the Tigers can’t score. That’s been true all seven years he’s been with the team. They don’t manufacture runs like all other teams. Why do you think he has only one 20-win season? They couldn’t score in August and September 2006 when they lost the AL Central division title on the last day of the season, and they couldn’t score in the embarrassing 2006 World Series. Last year wasn’t the norm. It was a fluke because they had the AL’s best DH, closer and set-up pitcher — and still couldn’t win the AL pennant. To win, you have to “play the game the way it should be played,” as TV announcers never tire of saying. Just go back and look at the all the days this season that Detroit scores fewer runs than NL teams — which have pitchers batting. The Tigers CAN hit. But someone then has to use all the traditional strategies to move runners along and avoid double plays. It ain’t rocket science. The problem is obvious but no one here wants to say it. It’s been obvious since the 2006 World Series and has been obvious ever since. Tony LaRussa probably was hoping for a rematch with Detroit last fall, but he knew that Texas in the Series was much better for enjoyable and competitive baseball.

  12. Jim Says:

    With Victor, they only get worse defensively if he catches. He’s a better first baseman than Fielder.

  13. Mike Felber Says:

    What are the #s on what their stats predict their W-L record should be? Have they to any degree been unlucky?

  14. Raul Says:

    Pythagorean w/l is 1 game better than their current record.
    But the idea of even considering their pythagorean record is meaningless.

    Every year teams come above or below the prediction and it doesn’t mean anything.
    All that matters is how many games you did win. Nobody cares about how many you should have.

  15. Cameron Says:

    @11 Yes, but it permanently forces Fielder, Young, and Cabrera into the field.

  16. Mike Felber Says:

    It means something if, like babip, you can predict that they will not keep defying the odds. But even this early 1 game is not significant.

  17. John Says:

    I mean, if the Tigers had a pythag record of 38-20 or something, I would expect them to regress and end up with 95 wins.

    But, they’ve sucked about as much as their run differential would suggest.

  18. Bob Says:

    John, thasnks for this. I also think alot of people underrated Cleveland going into the season. I had them at 78 wins in Kerry’s contest. I got way too exited after Fielder signed, read in many places that Detroit was going to runaway with the division, and that every other team sucked. Cleveland is a decent team.
    Have no idea how Chicago is doing this well. Suppose I should research that.

  19. Bob Says:

    Jorge Solar is the Cubs property. 9 years.

  20. Raul Says:

    It’s a bit crazy.
    Soler is 19 or 20 years old. He gets 30 million? I understand it’s 9 years, but jeez.

    Is his ceiling that much higher than a Bryce Harper or Mike Trout? Guys who signed for considerably less money?

    I think if I was a stud American prospect, I’d move overseas when I got to be 15 or something to sign on the international market for more money. I don’t know if that even works or if that is possible, but I’d try it. Haha.

  21. Raul Says:

    This article was written June 9th. On that date, the Tigers were 27-32, in 3rd place, six games out of 1st.

    Today (before any games are played, obviously), the Tigers sit at 34-35, 2.5 games out of 1st.

    But the Tigers are facing 10 games against the Pirates (3), Rangers (3) and Rays (4). It will be interesting to see if they rise to their potential, or take a few steps back.

  22. Raul Says:

    Livan Hernandez joined the Brewers.

  23. Cameron Says:

    Soler’s been the talk of the international prospect market for like, 3 years now. Getting him for less than 4 million a year for the better part of a decade? Not bad.

  24. Raul Says:

    I see no reason why Soler should be valued at 30 million dollars.

    The Cubs offered him that money, and yes, apparently the bids where high enough that 30 million is where the market was taking him.

    If this kid turns out to be Mike Trout, then sure, this is going to be a steal.
    But if he ends up Colby Rasmus…that is…showing flashes of great raw ability interspersed with long periods of futility, then I have to wonder if those dollars would have been better spent elsewhere.

    Yes, the Cubs have money. But this team has A LOT of other needs. For 30 million, they could sign a lot of top international pitching prospects…considering those guys sign for 1 to 4 million and are under team control through at least their mid-20s.

  25. Chuck Says:

    He obviously doesn’t care about winning…otherwise why sign with the Cubs?

  26. Chuck Says:

    Think about it…

    Chapman to Cincinnati…Cespedes to Oakland…Soler to the Cubs.

    I think the consistently good teams realize these guys are massively overrated and paying big bucks for guy who in all likelihood has busto written all over him isn’t wise.

    For all his attention with his fastball, the Reds are paying $30 million for a reliever.

  27. Raul Says:

    I agree, Chuck.

    I’m not saying Soler, Chapman and Cespedes should necessarily be avoided. There is ability in those guys.

    But take it with a grain of salt.

    You sign these kids to 20, 30 million dollars and they’re expected to be ML ready within a few months. Give them some money, but let them prove they belong by dominating the Minors, like everyone else.

  28. Cameron Says:

    I don’t think Soler’s expected to be ML ready. Otherwise that 30 million would’ve been over five or six years like Chapman and Cespedes. Soler’s over nine to soften the blow in case they fuck up. They bought time.

  29. Bob Says:

    Solar is 20 years old, if you are to believe his birth certificate. Cubs fans should anticiapte post-ASB 2014 as the earliest as a realistic date for the majors. Personally, I think 2015 is more realistic.

  30. Chuck Says:

    It’s hard to fake age anymore with the new restrictions..just look at how long it took for MLB to grant him free agency after he defected.

    I believe Cespedes really is 26.

    Chapman? If he’s 23 I’m the Easter Bunny.

  31. Cameron Says:

    Soler could be realisticaly as old as… What, 22? 23? At the oldest, he’d be a 25 year old rookie. That ain’t too bad. Not great, but not terrible.

  32. John Says:

    9 years, 30 million?

    Seems like an okay gamble for a team like the Cubs.

    5 years, 30 million for a RELIEVER, when you KNOW THAT HE’S GOING TO SPEND 30% of that time in the minors, is kinda dumb.

  33. John Says:

    So, I missed the first 9 innings of today’s Brewers game.

    Zack Greinke pitched a masterpiece…9 innings, 3 hits and a walk.

    He’s sitting at 100 pitches, and my gut would be to let him start the 10th.

    But maybe that’s just because John Axford has sucked something nasty this past week.

  34. Cameron Says:

    Well, I officially broke down. I’m so desperate for a job that I’m gonna stoop to a level I said I never would…

    Assembly line.

  35. JohnBowen Says:

    No shame in that buddy, just keep your head high and better options will come along in time.

  36. Cameron Says:

    Least it pays well…

  37. JohnBowen Says:

    Roy Oswalt won his Rangers Debut tonight, just 1 run in 6.2 IP

  38. Raul Says:

    Jordan Zimmermann is 3-6 with a 2.89 ERA.


  39. Mike Felber Says:

    That is fine Cameron. The status conscious thing masquerades as maturity. And being able to deal with boring or unpleasant situations without becoming nimbed & keeping a live spirit is a virtue. At least it is not slaughtering animals or cleaning out sewer lines…

    And Raul, I am glad you are losing weight. At the risk of being a redundant old man, keeping it off while active is the challenge. Very few do better than yo-yoing in weight, which may be worse than never losing weight. I am happy with 10% overweight when strong. If you end up at 225-230 at 6′ 4″ & stay there, instead of a little over 200 but do regular exercise, that will be better than getting to 205 or so, but then the weight constantly creeps back, you end up most years north of 250 & do not stick to exercise…

    Anyway, as the ultimate bachelor gone to seed, I went ~ exactly 4 months before doing a laundry, & jus’ carrying that up & down the stairs was a slight workout! And hoisting the PA system & rolling it through the streets of Midtown the last cople of daaaze. I had Hell’s Kitchen park as 1 of over 1000 concerts on the summer solstice as part of MakeMusicNY.org.

    Generators cost almost a small fortune-luckily I found 1 cheap place & made an arrangement in trade (inc. free ad in magazine) to get it free.

  40. Mike Felber Says:

    Jerry Sandusky will now be in prison for life. The whole thing is so sordid & deeply sad. You want to take a shower,-& then think of him in the shower. Nothing can make up for his crimes. But I do think that it is best to stay with the sadness rather than indulge the easy protective impulse of (quite understandable) rage).

  41. Cameron Says:

    Don’t make me think of Jerry Sandusky naked, Mike. I value my eyes, I don’t want to claw them out.

  42. Mike Felber Says:

    What that old man looks like naked is not the disgusting thing, it was his actions. I really wonder if abuse is more common currently, or just more exposed. And the damage to societal trust is great too-yes, predators gravitate towards kids, but some (like me) just adore them, & few things bother me, but the thought that any might worry about my motives-that does hurt.

    Went to see “Brave” tonight, an ex GF cinema-holic only rarely gets me to go, but the trailer showed excellent animation, good mythos, & panning aerial shots. So I joined her before a local art show. Cute ‘lil kids in front of me, black, like my ex., & I used this old line of mine…

    With enough enthusiasm to get the family’s attention, I say “Now I remember what I forgot to do Cathy! * pause for dramatic effect). I forgot to have (broken high pitched voice) kiiiiids!

    It always gets a smile & or laugh.

  43. JohnBowen Says:

    So, the Tigers are winning.

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