Thursday, March 26, 2009

Batter up: Detroit Tigers

It's that mystical, wonderful time of year where you commit to a team which you know fully well won't win. This season, in honour of an popular Internet meme, we'll present 25 things about each team. At bat: The Detroit Tigers.
  1. The upside of the Tigers losing a reported 45% of their season-ticket base (from 27,000 to 15,000) is they still have more season-ticket holders than they did in 2005 or '06.

    Granted, the worse might be yet to come for the Michigan economy. It could end up being one hell of a toboggan ride, but keep in mind owner Mike Ilitch has never shied from sinking his personal wealth into his sports properties. After all, he signed off on his hockey club building a Stanley Cup-winning team around a bunch of Swedes, even though no one wants to watch that [/Grapesed].
  2. The Tigers can't keep going on with a $130-million payroll, but perish the thought that the franchise is in trouble.
  3. They are this season's gotta-win-now team. Their starting pitching is comparable with the division favourite, Cleveland, when everyone's healthy. Four of their everyday players are 33 or older, including 40-year-old DH Gary Sheffield. The AL Central is wide open, sighed the Jays fan, and any team could take it, up to and including Kansas City.
  4. Rightfielder Magglio Ordóñez is in the same scenario Frank Thomas was in last season with the Jays. Ordóñez's $18-million salary for 2010 is guaranteed if he starts 126 games or bats 457 times this season. His vesting option is based on playing time over the past two seasons. That could create some drama for an organization which already has more than $81 million committed to eight other players for next season.
  5. It turns out this site was half-right about something: The '07 Tigers preview, written when they were coming off a World Series trip and had just added Sheffield, noted, "The Tigers didn't need another bat. They needed more pitching, even though they did lead the AL in earned-run average." The staff ERA has jumped from 3.84 during that dream season to 4.57 in '07 to 4.91 last summer.

    The reason it was half-right was that the Tigers haven't been any great shakes at providing their pitchers with good fielding. Opponents were gifted with a lot of four-out innings last season.
  6. Sheffield is one home run away from 500 for his career, but you knew that already.
  7. Rick Porcello struggled in his last spring training outing, but he absolutely must develop into a superstar, for Blue Jays-bludgeoning purposes. He serves as a reminder of Rogers Jays' refusal to go over slot for draft picks.

  8. Hiring Rick Knapp as pitching coach in mid-October rated little attention at the time. It was the middle of the playoffs, who was paying attention to the Tigers? Knapp was the minor-league pitching coordinator for the Twins, who have a regular assembly line of pitchers who just throw strikes.

    Meantime, the Tigers have seen the top two starters off their 2006 pennant-winning team, Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman, battle injuries and inconsistency. Dontrelle Willis is this era's Steve Blass and Joel Zumaya, who was automatic in the seventh and eighth innings for the '06 team, has arm problems. It's not sexy, but the Tigers needed a pitching guru who's good at preventative maintenance.
  9. Former Jays assistant GM Bart Given, commenting on the Rays sending phenom David Price to Triple-A, theorized it was done in anticipation of a long post-season run.

    It's germane to the Tigers. Jeremy Bonderman, at age 23, threw 234 1/3 innings in 2006, counting the regular season and playoffs. He hasn't recovered the form since.

  10. As of this writing, presumptive closer Brandon Lyon and eighth-inning reliever Fernando Rodney have given up 19 runs and 28 hits in 17 Grapefruit League innings.
  11. The Edwin Jackson-for-Matt Joyce trade with the Tampans could go down as being very, very bad. Jackson is more of a thrower than a pitcher, and frankly, the Rays' judgement is to be trusted.
  12. First baseman Miguel Cabrera, who already has 175 career homers, will still be 25 years old when the Tigers open the season vs. the Jays on April 6.

    Cabrera's comps, through age 25: Ken Griffey Jr., Henry Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson, Hal Trosky, Mickey Mantle and Vlady Guerrero.

    "Wow," you just said. "Hal Trosky!"

  13. Four Tigers regulars, leadoff man Curtis Granderson, Ordóñez, Cabrera and leftfielder-but-for-how-long Carlos Guillen, played in the World Baseball Classic. Between the four of them, they got only 100 at-bats in three weeks (Gordon Edes, Yahoo! Sports).

    There's some debate about how the WBC affects a hitter's readiness for the regular season. Granderson, for what it's worth, homered and doubled last night.
  14. The projected bottom third of the order is Inge, catcher Gerald Laird and shortstop Adam Everett. Expect a lot of 1-2-3 innings; each of them is there for defence.
  15. Slate did a fun feature a few years on NBA players who evoke pickup basketball players you see at the YMCA. Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge (top picture) evokes one of those 20-somethings who plays softball fanatically. He'll dive for balls, get his uniform dirty, is dedicated to playing the the game right. He'll play wherever, whenever — catcher, third base, shortstop, centrefield. Is he that good? No, not really, but who has the heart to tell him?
  16. Manager Jim Leyland used 110 lineup combinations last season, the most in the majors. You would expect something different from someone who once worked with Tony La Russa.
  17. One fun fact about Tigers Hall of Fame third baseman George Kell, who died earlier this week, is that he used a 30-ounce bat, back when most players were using some real clubs, 38, 40 ounces. Decades later most players realized a lighter bat made it easier to make solid contact.
  18. There is an uproar over the Tigers home opener being on the afternoon of Good Friday, which is completely baffling to this non-church goer. That whole "he who is without sin" thing probably proscribes the Catholic Church from complaining about the start time of a baseball game.
  19. Max St. Pierre, who was Canada's backup catcher at the World Baseball Classic, is beginning his 13th season in pro ball. Almost all of it, except for 10 games in 2007, has been spent in the Tigers' chain. Can't they see fit to let him make his major-league debut this season?
  20. It always feel like Granderson should be a switch-hitter (he bats left, throws right). He's the type of player — a speedy up-the-middle player — who 25-30 years ago, probably would been encouraged to try swinging right-handed. Judging by his splits (.900 OPS vs. righties, .739 vs. lefties), maybe he should be (not really).
  21. Observers are split over shortstop Cale Iorg, the son of former Jays infielder Garth Iorg. He's 23 and has played less than 100 games in the minors after taking two years off from the sport to go on his Mormon mission. He also hit .251 and struck out 111 times in Single-A last season, which doesn't inspire great confidence he'll be able to hit enough to play in the majors.
  22. Former Tiger Bobby Higginson still has a special rung of the inferno reserved for breaking up Roy Halladay's no-hit bid on the last day of the 1998 season.
  23. One secret shame is keeping tabs on Toledo Mud Hens slugger Mike Hessman can be counted upon to put up every summer. He's the quintessential Quadruple-A slugger: Thirty-four homers last season, 31 in 2007, 117 in all across the last four seasons, but he doesn't have whatever major-league teams are seeking in a third baseman.
  24. Sadly, the 25th-anniversary celebrations of the Tigers' 1984 World Series title will be sanitized and not capture what it was really like:

  25. Please keep in mind there's a dubious tradition in Detroit of winning teams which don't last. They won the World Series in 1984 and five years later, had a 100-loss season . They won it in all in '68 and had a 100-loss season within seven years. The same pattern repeated itself after they won the World Series in 1945; they went 50-104 in 1952.

    If you can establish a cause-and-effect between that and the volatily of the auto industry, you've got a thesis going.

1 comment:

louis said...

Detroit Tigers should be more patient & competitive enough to keep pace with the others. I really like them; they’ve always been my favourite teams in MLB. Just read about them here: