Friday, February 25, 2011

Detroit Tigers Poised to Win the Central

The 2011 Tigers are built to score runs.  Led at the top of the order by dynamic CF Austion Jackson and a middle of the order that includes Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Magglio Ordonez, Ryan Raburn, and Johnny Peralta.  The starting rotation has a true Ace and a vey promising one-two punch with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.  On paper, the Tigers rotation is the Achilles heel for the Tigers.  Rick Porcello, Phil Coke, and Brad Penny provide as many questions as answers.  The Tigers are prepared for some short outings by their starters and have assembled a very high octane bullpen that includes Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Perry, and a hopefully healthy Joel Zumaya.  If the Tigers can avoid the injury bug and overcome the defensive liabilities at several positions on the field they should be in position to win their first AL Central Title.

Some of the questions I have about the Tigers are:
  • Will Magglio Ordonez show any ill effects from his 2010 ankle injury.  Will he put up another +.800 OPS season.
  • Which Brennan Boesch is the real one?  The first half or the second half?  Will he break camp with the big league club?
  • Will Rick Porcello be able to pitch to contact successfully or will the defensive lapses behind him affect him more than others.
  • Will Phil Coke be able to effortlessly transition from reliever to starter and provide sufficient innings?
  • Will Brad Penny be able to stay healthy and like Porcello, pitch to contact successfully.
  • Will Miguel Cabrera be able to stay on the straight and narrow for the duration of the 2011 season (it seems to me that being around basebll family may be great support).
  • Will Carlos Guillen return from microfracture surgery and be able to play 2b?
  • Will Will Rhymes/Scott Sizemore be able to provide enough offense and defense at 2b until Guillen is ready to return?
  • Will we see Andy Oliver or Jacob Turner in the rotation in 2011?
  • WIll we see Alex Ortega or Chance Ruffin skyrocket through the system and appear in the Tigers bullpen in 2011?

The Detroit Tigers have been on an up and down ride since representing the American League in the 2006 World Series.  They have had a winning percentage of .506 (329-320) over the last four years finishing in second place twice (2007, 2009), fifth place once (2008), and third place once (2010).  Ownership has provided the team with all the necessary funds to acquire premium talent as the Tigers payroll  ranked sixth in the AL in 2007, second in 2008, and third in 2009 and 2010.  Despite several high dollar contracts coming off the books, the Tigers will enter 2011 with a payroll north of 100 million dollars.  

Addition By Subtraction
The Tigers went into the offseason with over 60 million dollars coming off the books including some  very poor contracts (salaries from :
  • Jeremy Bonderman - 12.5 million
  • Dontrelle Willis - 12 million
  • Nate Robertson - 10 million
  • Johnny Damon - 8 million
  • Gerald Laird - 3.95 million
  • Magglio Ordonez - 15 million (option failed to vest)
The Tigers shopping list includes (payroll data from Cot's):
  • Victor Martinez - 4-year, 50-million
  • Joaquin Benoit - 3-year, 16.5 million
  • Johnny Peralta - 2-year, 11.25 million
  • Brandon Inge - 2-year, 11.5 million
  • Magglio Ordonez - 1-year, 10 million
  • Brad Penny - 1-year 3 million
The Tigers finished 2011 scoring 751 runs and have done nothing to hurt the offense as we look toward 2011.  The Projected Lineup ( is:

CF Austin Jackson
2b Will Rhymes
RF Magglio Ordonez
1b Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
LF Ryan Raburn
SS Johnny Peralta
3b Brandon Inge
C Alex Avila

Unsettled Position Battles:

Brennan Boesch got off to a blistering start in 2010.  Through June 30th he had an impressive slash line of .387/.397/.680 (1.077 OPS). From July until the end of the season, Boesch cooled off and put up a dismal slash line of  .194/.272/.261 (.533 OPS).   Boesch will have to fight for playing time as Ryan Rayburn was very productive in 410 PA in 2010 compiling a .280/.340/.474 (.814 OPS) with 15 HR.  Clete Thomas coming back from microfracutre surgery on his knee and Casper Wells look to fight with Boesch for the 4th and 5th outfielder spot.

Second Base/Utility Infielder
August 16, 2010
On August 16th, Carlos Guillen had his left knee bent back when Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees slid late into him trying to break up a double play (video link here).   Guillen had microfracture on his knee in September and isn't expected back by opening day.  The Tigers will turn to Will Rhymes or Scott Sizemore to fill the position to begin 2011.  Sizemore was handed the job out of spring training last season but struggled and was sent to Toledo on May 15th and wasn't all that impressive after his recalls in July or September.  Meanwhile, Rhymes came on to put up a slash line of .304/.350/.414 (OPS .763).  Others in competition for 2b/utility role are Danny Worth and Don Kelly.

The Tigers enter spring training with a starting five of:

Justin Verlander
Max Scherzer
Rick Porcello
Brad Penny
Phil Coke

In Justin Verlander, the Tigers have a true ACE.  He gave the Tigers 224.1 IP while posting a record of 18-9 and an ERA of 3.37 (xFIP of 3.68).  He had a K/9 of 8.79 and a BB/9 of 2.85.

Max Scherzer was very shaky in the first half of his season.  After being sent to Toledo in May after posting a 1-4 record with a 7.29 ERA, Scherzer came back and finished strong.  After his recall, Scherzer went 11-7 with a 2.45 ERA and he would strike out 158 in 153.1 innings pitched while only walking 54.

Rick Porcello, while not as dominant as Scherzer, also saw his fortunes change after a trip to Toledo.  From his recall in July, Porcello posted a record of 6-5 with an ERA of 4.00.  His control was much improved as he struck out 51 in 92.1 innings pitched and only walked 16.

Brad Penny was signed as a free agent to add depth to the Tigers rotation.  He was off to a decent start in St. Louis in 2010 where he was 3-4 with a a 3.23 ERA after 9 starts.   The Tigers hope that Penny can remain healthy for the entire season, eat innings, and allow their young arms time to develop in the minors.

The Tigers are looking for Phil Coke to have a CJ Wilson type transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation, giving them a much needed left handed starter.  Coke made 77 starts in the NY Yankee farm system prior to going to the bullpen.

Players To Watch:
The Tigers have two young pitchers that have the tools to pitch at the major league level, but the Tigers would prefer more seasoning in the minors.

Andy Oliver made his major league debut in Detroit in 2010 (drafted 2nd round 2009) and was touched up pretty good by major league hitters as he went 0-4 with a 7.76 ERA. 

Jacob Turner was the Tigers first round draft pick in 2009 and will most likely start the season in High A Lakeland but may be pushed to AA quickly.

The Tigers have what could be called a high octane bullpen:
Jose Valverde
Joaquin Benoit
Ryan Perry
Joel Zumaya
Daniel Schlereth

Brad Thomas, Enrique Gonzalez, Al Alburquerque, Robbie Weinhardt, and Charlie Furbush may all battle for the final bullpen spot. 

Players To Watch:
Keep an eye on two youngsters from the Tigers system that may be fast tracked through the Tigers system, Alex Ortega and Chance Ruffin.


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