Monday, June 30, 2014

My thoughts on the Tigers remarkable 5-4 victory over Oakland Monday

Thoughts after 7 1-2 innings A's, Tigers Monday

Cespedes, A's: Benefit from mistake
- This isn't should be much of a surprise. Both starting pitchers, Scott Kazmir for Oakland and Anibal Sanchez for the Tigers, were very good tonight. It's become a battle of the bullpens. The Tigers aren't going to win that one very often with the A's. Oakland's bullpen ranks second in the American League and fourth in MLB with a 2.87 ERA. It has a collective WHIP of 1.1. The Tigers' bullpen is 29th in MLB and next to last in the AL as well (behind only Houston) with a 4.66 ERA. The WHIP of the Tigers' bullpen is 1.40. Only two words can describe Joba Chamberlain's performance tonight: Not good. The Tigers are depending mightily on Phil Coke. Says a lot, doesn't it?
- A little bit of the luster has come off rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez. That was a terrible throwing error on the ground ball by Yoenis Cespedes in the eight. It opened the gates for the A's to take the lead. Suarez has some good things offensively, but he hasn't been tested much defensively. That was a bit of test. He didn't pass it. His dWAR (defensive wins above replacement, version) was in the minus category coming into tonight's game.

Thoughts after 5 innings A's, Tigers Monday

- Social media lit up and a huge deal is being made about Austin Jackson diving to make a catch in the fourth inning tonight. However, he likely would have made the play without diving. It was kind of like Chet Lemon from the '84 Tigers diving into first base. Fans love the show of effort, even if a strong case can be made running to the ball or, in the case of Lemon through the base, is more efficient than diving, and far less risky when it comes to the possibility of injury.
- Torii Hunter looks better tonight. He made a nice running catch and he has been on the ball during both his at bats, although he doesn't have anything to show for it in the box score.
Alan Trammell: Did the talking for '84 Tigers
- No Kirk Gibson tonight for the 30th anniversary of the '84 Tigers. The Diamondbacks are off, but I'm not surprised. It was never his style to spent much dwelling on things like this. He never played in the All-Star game. Why? Because he told Sparky Anderson to tell the manager of the AL team he'd rather have the three days off. That's just Gibby. Doesn't make it right, though.
Jack Morris, Larry Herndon, Lance Parrish and Chet Lemon, among others, were also missing. But sometimes these guys get tired of being on a consistent tour of the past. And some have better relationships with the current Tigers' organization than others. Milt Wilcox wasn't invited. He has filed a worker's compensation claim against the team based on knee suffered in fantasy camp a couple years ago, and it is being speculated why he wasn't invited.
- The A's have an excellent lineup. To do what Anibal Sanchez has through five innings is very impressive. He lacked consistency with the Marlins. Is not much of problem these days. Scott Kazmir has been just as good. What a terrific pitching duo

It's not easy to identify the Tigers needs at trade deadline, let alone the solutions

As they stand, the Tigers are a convoluted puzzle. On one hand, everything is fine. They are comfortably atop the American League Central. The uneasy feeling of a bad stretch of losing 20 of 29 games and dropping briefly out of first place has gone following a good road trip.
On the other, the Tigers remain obviously flawed.
Their bullpen is by far the biggest issue. Is closer Joe Nathan "fixed?" He is throwing better, but what if it turns out to be a mirage. Should the Tigers take a run at somebody like San Diego's Huston Street?
Can the Tigers really trust Phil Coke? He hasn't allowed a run in his last six outings, dropping is ERA more than a run in the process from 6.48 to 5.34. They have run several relievers up and down from the minor leagues. Can they expect anything from veteran Joel Hanrahan, who at last reports still had not started throwing from a mound following Tommy John surgery. Veteran relief help seems like a must, but to degree and at what cost?
It's not just the bullpen, but the outfield. The Tigers have a glut of outfielders, but only J.D Martinez has performing at a high level recently. There is virtually no left-handed presence. Lefty Andy Dirks, out since back surgery during spring training, has begun baseball-related activities, but recently had a setback. Even assuming Dirks will be healthy, will he be the Andy Dirks of 2012, who had an OPS of .857 and played such a key role for the Tigers down the stretch of a close division race, or the one who had an OPS of .686 last season and was a bench player in the postseason? Should the Tigers take a run at outfielder Seth Smith or Chase Headly of the Padres, both left-handed hitters? Headley is a third baseman, but has played 196 MLB games in LF and would be an ideal upgrade for Don Kelly.
Then again, who is going to be San Diego's general manager? The Padres recently fired Josh Byrnes and haven't named his replacement.

My column. Time hasn't been kind to '84 Tigers and it's difficult to understand why:

My column. Several more Detroit athletes are hall of fame worthy:

My column on Red Wings free agency:

On FOX Roundtable last night with Sean Baligian. Woody Woodriffe hosting" title="Fox 2 News Headlines">Fox 2 News Headlines

Friday, June 27, 2014

It's not like the Pistons passed on Trey Burke again, but...

Meet the new Pistons, same as the old Pistons...
Ah, not really, but it does bring bad memories for Pistons' fans they passed on Michigan's Glenn Robinson III with their second-round draft pick, their only selection in the 2014 NBA Draft, Thursday. Instead, they picked Spencer Dinwiddie, a 6-6 combo guard at No.38 overall. Robinson went two picks later to Minnesota.
Spencer Dinwiddie: Seems to have an upside
Is this another case of the Pistons passing on Trey Burke to choose Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last year, which was widely panned, and helped lead to the end of the Joe Dumars' era?
Burke was the national college player of the year and brilliant. GR III constantly disappeared for the Wolverines. He didn't have a bad college career, but he wasn't nearly the star he was projected to be when he arrived in Ann Arbor.
I think the draft overall Thursday pointed out the increased value on height for backcourt players and small forwards by the league.
GR III: Slip understandable
Michigan's Nik Stauskas is 6-6 and long; he was taken eighth overall by Sacramento. Michigan State's Adreian Payne has a lot of length and the versatility to play on the perimeter as a big man, so he went 15th overall. Coming into this draft, you could make a very strong case Gary Harris was the best player from this state. He lasted until 19th overall (drafted by Chicago and traded to Denver).
Mitch McGary has size. He went 21st overall to Oklahoma City, a perfect fit for McGary. Robinson doesn't, so he fell. He is kind of basketball's version of a football draft pick you're not sure of if he is a linebacker or a defensive end, the classic 'tweener. He seems to be too small to play three in the NBA, but doesn't have the guard skills to play two.
We have to see on Dinwiddie, and if Stan Van Gundy has better evaluation skills than Dumars. Dinwiddie was off the radar of most basketball fans in this state, but he does have slashing skills and took Colorado to places it hadn't been in a long time. He has the proper size for his position as it stands in 2014.. There are some injury concerns, but maybe that is why he was available. Time will tell, of course, but it is doubtful passing on GR III will come back to haunt the Pistons like doing the same with Burke did.

My column on the Red Wings off season and pending free agency:

My column on the Pistons leading up to the NBA Draft.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My thoughts on the Tigers starting rotation and Rick Porcello after Thursday's victory at Texas

Thoughts after 3 innings Tigers, Rangers Thursday

- It's difficult to believe the Rangers are the same team that beat up the Tigers so badly just a couple weeks ago at Comerica Park. The Tigers have certainly turned the tables in this series.
Torii Hunter
- It was wise of manager Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to hit Torii Hunter in the second spot in the order tonight. He is going to see a lot of fastballs hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera, the mediocre kind served up regularly by the depleted and, frankly, awful Rangers' staff, the latest being starter Nick Martinez. Five walks and no strikeouts? Awful? Hunter may have hit into a double play, but he hit that ball right on the screws vs. reliever Scott Baker, who has a 6.48 ERA.
- I've often defended Austin Jackson, but will be the first to admit he just hasn't gotten it done since the opening weeks of the season. Perhaps his two-run single in the third tonight will break him loose.
- Alex Avila has an on-base percentage of .354. Why the complaints?

My thoughts on the Tigers 8-6 victory over Texas Wednesday

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thoughts after 5 innings Tigers, Rangers

- Let the hype machine begin about J.D. Martinez, but this time it might be justified. He does have an upside. He doesn't have to center the ball perfectly to drive it for extra base hits, including home runs. In this day and age of power dearth, it makes him very valuable.
J.D. Martinez: We've seen this visual a lot
- Two things set Anibal Sanchez apart from other MLB pitchers. He throws what looks like a two-seam fastball with the velocity of a four-seam fastball. Even though he's only listed at 6-1 (generously), he still has a lot of tilt on his fastball, and it consistently tails away from left-handed hitters. Left-handed hitters were hitting just .160 with a .444 OPS against Sanchez entering tonight. The Rangers got a couple runs off him, but he is definitely the better starting pitcher tonight.
- I have not seen "stuff" like that presented by Rangers' starters Colby Lewis and Joe Saunders the last two nights since I was a young baseball beat writer and I had the privilege of watching Dick Tracewski and the late, great Vada Pinson throw batting practice each night. Now that's some bad starting pitching, and it does make you appreciate how good the Tigers' starters are.

My thoughts on the Tigers 8-2 win at Texas Tuesday night

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thoughts after 6 1-2 innings Tigers, Rangers

Drew Smyly
- The baseball reference version has Torii Hunter listed at 1,085 among 1,088 in WAR. J.D. Martinez is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. It doesn't make any sense for Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to pull Martinez out of the lineup for Hunter. Maybe you could work Rajai Davis in center field for awhile. He has made his most MLB appearances in center, but has mostly been a corner OF in recent years and it is a stretch. This tests Ausmus in a certain way. But even if Hunter is healthy right now, the Tigers best lineup currently doesn't include him. It is Davis in left, Austin Jackson in center and J.D. Martinez in right.
- Drew Smyly gets more impressive by the start. His gun reading doesn't mean as much as the tilt he has on his fastball. More than ever, it is on steep downward plan. That tilt is also what makes his breaking ball so impressive.
- I thought it was impressive how Eugenio Suarez hung in there against submarine-style right-hander.

Thoughts after 4 innings Tigers, Rangers

Colby Lewis
- The Tigers should be winning this game on two fronts. The first is Victor Martinez should never have been sent home by third base coach Dave Clark. He might as well have been Gene Lamont or Tom Brookens on that play. It's OK to push it once in awhile, but come on, Victor Martinez is a station-to-station runner. And there is no need for him to risk getting injured. Also, the Tigers are getting themselves out against Colby Lewis. He is expanding the strike zone, and they are fishing early in the count. The Tigers are at their worst when they do that.
- It's great Carlos Pena is in MLB again. Great guy. But come on, if that isn't sign the Rangers are struggling, what is? What a disaster the Prince Fielder trade has been for that franchise.
- Good for Ian Kinsler. He is a really good player, who cares about the game intensely. He has played as if he has something to prove to the Rangers for trading him. He did with that home run.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The case for Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez being the real deal

There has been a tendency for Tigers' fans to get ahead of themselves with players new to the team, who get off to fast starts.
The three classic examples are Chris Shelton in 2006, Brennan Boesch in 2010 and Quintin Berry in 2012.
Now J.D. Martinez, a former member of the Houston Astros, has arrived from Triple-A Toledo to give the Tigers a much-needed lift. The last week, he has an OPS of 1.438 with three home runs and a key run-producing double at Cleveland Sunday. He has an OPS above 1.000 the last four weeks. He is a right-handed hitter destroying right-handed pitching. Martinez has been solid defensively.
This from a castoff, whose signing drew little notice.
But Martinez compares favorably to the above-mentioned players from the Tigers' not-too-distant past and there is a chance he will have the staying power they lacked.
J.D. Martinez: Has bat, will rake
Martinez vs. Chris Shelton - Shelton's red hot start was very important for the Tigers in 2006. He helped turn around their program, but it was unsustainable for him. He didn't have a quick bat. He was marginal athlete, at best, for an MLB player, and didn't really have a position. Also, his bat wasn't live enough that Shelton could drive the ball without perfectly centering it. Martinez, on the other hand, is a good athlete. He is an adequate MLB corner outfielder and he has a very live bat. He has hit a couple home runs recently in which didn't center the ball perfectly. He won't be 27 until August. Shelton was the same age in '06.
Martinez vs. Boesch - Boesch possesses adequate speed. He tends to be wildly inconsistent defensively, and we'll see if Martinez can maintain his play defensively over the long haul. Boesch has power, but was a one-trick pony. Once pitchers stopped throwing him first-pitch fastballs for strikes, he struggled. Martinez does seem to be a more fluid athlete with a better approach as a hitter than Boesch, and has more raw power. Bosech was 25 during the 2010 season, his MLB debut. But he was older than Martinez when  he made his MLB debut just shy of his 24th birthday.
Martinez vs. Berry - Berry is a specialist. He is an outstanding base stealer. He decidedly lacks as a hitter with virtually no power. He is also a minus outfielder. Martinez doesn't have Berry's speed and isn't a center fielder by any measure, but is better at tracking a fly ball from the corner OF spots.. Berry was 27 when he made his MLB debut with the Tigers, and turned 28 just after the season. The Sabermetrics stat WAR is a cumulative number that swings up and down based on performance. Berry had a WAR of 0.4 in '12. Martinez is at 0.8 already.
It was be difficult to keep Martinez out of the lineup. The Tigers may have to make a decision when both Torii Hunter and Andy Dirks return. Hunter is having a poor season statistically.
Martinez is not making the decision easy for manager Brad Ausmus.

My column. Why it's no coincidence the Tigers are back in the driver's seat in the AL Central:

My column. Reports of soccer's "arrival" in USA being greatly exaggerated again:

My column. Finally much-needed joy for Detroit Tigers, Brad Ausmus:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A couple things about the unfortunate comments by Brad Ausmus and current plight of the Tigers

While it was a slip of the tongue and tasteless rather than sinister, there did need to be a level of accountability for what Brad Ausmus said jokingly about beating his wife following the Tigers' loss Wednesday.
But I don't see that as fining him or suspending him or anything of that sort.
The apologies - he was more extensive in that regard this morning - is enough.
Ausmus reacted properly to this, and was appropriately contrite. It will, as it should, pass.
Brad Ausmus: Appropriately contrite
- It was a story. A big one. Any perception Ausmus said what he said off the record or on background is improper. It occurred in a clear news conference setting.
I understand his comments don't represent actually what Ausmus is in any way shape or form as a person, and said so continually for four hours on my radio show on 97.1 The Ticket Wednesday, and in the column I wrote about it (see below). Yet, it would be naïve to act like he didn't say it.
It didn't just get out because of Twitter or an overzealous media out to play the "gotcha" game. It would have been complete and total irresponsibility to not report what Ausmus said, or to suggest the Tigers' loss was the bigger story.
- Back to the field...Ausmus said this morning the Tigers "have to make their own luck."
A big catalyst for the Tigers since 2010 has been center fielder Austin Jackson, regardless of where he hits in the batting order.
Offensively, the Tigers tend to go as Jackson goes. Ausmus has him hitting second today so he can see more fastballs hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera.
"We're way better than this," Ausmus said. "The effort and concentration are there. We work almost to a fault."
There have been a few moves he has made that Ausmus is second guessing himself about. "But nobody says anything about the ones that work," he said.
He was joking and it drew a sincere laugh rather than the nervous one yesterday.

My column on Ausmus comment:

My column on one of the greatest coaches I've ever met: "Art Paddy did more than coach football, he created magic"

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My thoughts after 6 innings Royals, Tigers

- Drew Smyly has given the Tigers the type of start today they could have reasonably expected out of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer the previous two days (and for a lot less money). Smyly is nothing else if not poised.
- The Royals have made several great plays in this series, the latest by left fielder Alex Gordon today. But that's not a coincidence. Last year, Gordon won his third gold glove. He is a terrific outfielder. Catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer also won Gold Gloves last season. How many Gold Glove candidates do the Tigers have?
- I have never been much for hitters just taking pitches for the sake of driving up the pitch count. The downside to taking a lot of pitches early in the count is if they are strikes, hitters are behind the 8-ball early, and it's much more difficult to recover. So I'm a proponent for seeing a good pitch and whacking at it. But I must say, even as a proponent for swinging early in the count, the Tigers have been getting themselves out remarkably easily in this series. There are times when you might want to take a pitch or two. The Tigers aren't putting pressure on pitchers to throw strikes. In a sense, they are allowing pitchers to widen the strike zone against them. It's been there biggest issue offensively.
- Omar Infante has hit a couple home runs in this series, both on high fastballs, which is his hitting zone.You'd think the Tigers' staff would be familiar enough with Infante not to throw him pitches in his wheelhouse like that.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My thoughts on the performance Max Scherzer and the Tigers tonight

- There will be a tendency to be tough on Scherzer after his results tonight. They speak volumes. It was kind of weird how he threw so many balls, but had few walks.
Max Scherzer: Disappointing performance
The keys to pitching are obvious, but they hold especially true for Scherzer because his changeup is such a great pitch. The idea is to get ahead in the count with his fastball. Sometimes Scherzer is overpowering, but usually not enough he can pitch from behind in the count. And his change up is not a pitch he should be throwing a lot at 2-0. It doesn't matter the pitcher, if he gets into that spot enough, he is going to get hammered.
I'm not so sure the complete game at Chicago didn't take something out of Scherzer for this start. His numbers are starting to look pretty ordinary. He has a 3.84 ERA and WHIP of 1.25. That isn't going to get him a Cy Young Award again, that's for sure, but I'm not so sure how much it will hurt on the free agent market. Unless there is an injury involved, I can't see how Scherzer doesn't get at least the $144 million the Tigers offered him. It's just the nature of the beast in MLB right now. Starting pitching rules, despite disappearance of the complete game.
- I like what I see from J.D. Martinez as a hitter. It's difficult to understand why he wasn't better with Houston. He is still young, though. There is hope.
- Kansas City has two outstanding players: Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez. Gordon is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He is an outstanding outfielder
and his conventional numbers have been held back by playing in such a bad park for hitters. It wouldn't surprise me if Perez, at some point, becomes one of baseball's great stars. He is huge and athletic. There is going to be power developing at some point. And he's a catcher....
- Hey, it's about time the Tigers dropped out of first place. It's been awhile since they have played like a contending team. And there couldn't be worse sign than their two aces didn't come through when most needed.

Why it is way too soon to write off Justin Verlander

The numbers, admittedly, are alarming. After a decent start this season, Justin Verlander's performance has been awful.
But Verlander has been in this spot before.
Just last season, the same thing occurred when he had a 6.41 ERA in May, and in 2008 when Verlander posted an ERA of 4.84 and WHIP above 1.4 for an entire season. There wasn't a better starting pitcher in baseball's postseason last season. After his lost season in '08, Verlander became the best starting pitcher in baseball.
He is 31. There is apparently nothing wrong with his arm. He did comeback quickly from the core injury he had in the off season, which required surgery, although it has taken him a while to get his velocity back.

Verlander: Has bounced back before
We all want some kind of magic solution when a star struggles. In truth, Verlander's issues aren't that complicated to target. He misses badly with pitches. They are either right down the middle or out of the strike zone. He is lacking feel with his off-speed pitches. When Verlander has been at his best, he's done out-of-the-box things routinely like triple-up with his changeup to start off a hitter. He wouldn't dare do that now. Merely getting strike one is a problem,
When a hard thrower struggles, it is not always the snap has left their arm. It's often a mechanical issue, or lacking the certainty of each pitch, which allows for a free-and-easy motion.
When a hitter struggles, it's called pressing. When a pitcher struggles, it's aiming the ball.
In 2008, Verlander let the season totally get away from him, much to the chagrin of manager Jim Leyland, and some of his teammates, who privately wondered about his mental toughness. Yet, he took that failure and turned it into tremendous success. His grit hasn't been questioned since, nor should it.
He bounced back last season, too. Verlander, it has quickly been forgotten, was incredible in the postseason.
Well, here we go again. I'm not suggesting Velander get a free pass for poor performance given his enormous contract, or it isn't a red flag he is allowing so many hits and not fanning as many hitters as he has during his past struggles. That was a big game last night vs. Kansas City, and Verlander didn't deliver.
Yet, I am suggesting he is arguably the best pitcher of his generation, still in his prime and has consistently displayed the tenacity to get up after being knocked down.
It is one of the best things about Justin Verlander, and I wouldn't be surprised if he does it again.
Royals might be for real this time. My thoughts on Tigers' loss Monday:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thoughts on Justin Verlander's poor outing tonight

There is a balance there between panic and just poor performance. Justin Verlander have the Tigers facing that dilemma  with the way he has pitched lately. When an ERA is pushing five, a WHIP is rising above 1.6 and bats just are not being missed, it cannot be dismissed.
I've remember Verlander this bad before. Last season for a stretch. Throughout 2008. But it seems less certain he will snap out of it this time without some sort of action. You know, something like skipping a turn in the rotation to regroup.
But it's not like there are a lot of off days upcoming and the Tigers have a lot of depth in starting pitching.
The problem is, the Tigers' couldn't have expected this and don't have a Plan B. But it's why you have to be careful not to trade a commodity as valuable as Doug Fister, especially getting so little in return. It did help the Tigers ride through Verlander's tough times last season that they had Fister. Right now, they miss Fister more than they could have possibly imagined.

Thoughts after 5 innings Royals, Tigers

Verlander: Rough inning
- Justin Verlander is fortunate that inning wasn't worse. Come on. Six hits in an inning while protecting a lead? Ten hits in five innings overall? I have been among those, who has been outspoken about overreactions to Verlander's struggles, but that inning is telling. And it wasn't velocity. His location is awful. It's either off the plate or down the middle. It's why he is getting hammered. Good thing Billy Butler ran the Royals out of that frame.
- Still, the Tigers should be hammering Jason Vargas. He is having a decent season, but is a lefty with mediocre stuff and the Tigers have a lot of good right-handed hitters. Yet, their response to the Royals' big inning was disappointing. They couldn't have been easier on Vargas.
- Hey, people who wanted more fire from Brad Ausmus got it. It has been giving it to ump over balls and strikes. But honestly, that isn't the issue.

Thoughts after three innings Royals, Tigers

- I find an interesting comparison between the third basemen in this game, Tigers' rookie Nick Castellanos and the Royals' Mike Moustakas, who is back in the major leagues after being banished to the minor leagues earlier this season.
Jason Vargas deals against Tigers Monday
Coming up, Moustakas was one of the most celebrated prospects in baseball. Castellanos, coming along a couple years later, was kind of in the next tier.
But right now, who would you rather have? I'd say Castellanos, although both have been hitting well lately.
- I didn't mind as much that Eugenio Suarez was bunting for a hit in that spot as if it were a pure sacrifice, but he bunted a very good pitch to hit. I'd rather see the kid keep swinging away while he is on such a roll. Jason Vargas is the ideal pitching matchup for Suarez. He is also an ideal matchup for Rajai Davis. It's not a coincidence Davis clubbed that RBI double off him.
- So far, so good for Justin Verlander. His issues, in my opinion, aren't so much velocity as command of the baseball. It's been pretty good so far.

Are the Detroit Tigers really that "bad?" What we're about to discover

The glass half-full view of the Tigers suggests they are in first place in the American League Central, are on pace to win 90 games and have won three of their last four.
The glass half-empty look is the Tigers have lost 16 of their last 23 games, have seen their lead in the AL Central dwindle to a precarious 1 1-2 games, and even on the days and nights they win, it isn't very comforting.
The Tigers' bullpen has gone from shaky to brutal. Their flaws offensively have become apparent.

Justin Verlander: Time to be an ace
This town has usually laughed at the Kansas City Royals for their perpetual rebuilding and thought  every year is going to be the season it will finally pay off. The Tigers have, too, routinely slapped down the Cleveland Indians in recent years, and enjoyed the benefit of watching the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins self-destruct before their eyes.
But Kansas City won 88 games last season and Cleveland 92. They both got off to slow starts this season, but have moved to .500 or better. The Royals have won seven games in a row heading into a four-game series against the Tigers at Comerica Park beginning tonight.
If they beat the Tigers the next two nights, the Royals will be in first place. Then, the Tigers move onto to Cleveland for a three-game weekend series.
It's early, sure, but these are seven very important games. They are far more important than we could have possibly imagined when the Tigers were seven games up and rolling with a 27-12 record.
What we are going to find out this week:
Are the Royals to the 2014 Tigers what the 2013 Indians were - The Tigers are 5-0 against the Royals this season. Last year, they were 15-4 against the Indians, who ultimately ended the season just a game behind the Tigers.
How much does a stellar bullpen really mean - The Tigers bullpen is the worst in MLB with a 4.80 ERA. Closer Joe Nathan's struggles have made it an alarming area. Kansas City's bullpen was the best in the AL last season, and is 11th in MLB this season with a 3.44 ERA. Royals' closer Greg Holland is outstanding.
Can Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer dominate when it is desperately needed - Verlander is going through another funk, and the Tigers need him to snap out of it sooner instead of later. He gets two starts in these key seven games, including tonight. It's a test of whether he still merits his "ace" status, and whether he still ranks among the very best starting pitchers in baseball. Verlander's dominating performances in the '13 postseason seem like a distant memory at this stage.
Torii Hunter: Is father time finally catching up?
Scherzer did answer that question with a stellar performance at Chicago last week, but it must continue. He gets the start Tuesday vs. KC and in the what could a very important series finale at Cleveland Sunday.
Is age catching up to a couple of the Tigers' key players - Nathan is 39, Torii Hunter is 38. Both are off to a bad starts. Nathan's performance speaks for itself. Even when he avoids disaster, it's not because he's been impressive. Hunter's on-base percentage has fallen precipitously to .289, and his WAR has dropped to minus 1.2 (baseball reference version), which makes his Sabermetrics stats among the worst in the AL.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

What can the Detroit Tigers do about Joe Nathan, their bullpen and the left side of the infield

You can make a strong argument Tigers' closer Joe Nathan's most recent outings would have gone more smoothly with better fielding support behind him.
But in reality, he's the one who walked the leadoff hitter to start the fireworks for the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth inning of a scoreless tie Tuesday at Comerica Park.
Joe Nathan: Plan "B" not obvious
He is the one who allowed the long home run to Oakland's Josh Donaldson last week. Nathan's ERA is 6.86. His WHIP 1.418. It's unacceptable.
Did the Tigers make a mistake with Nathan. In hindsight, they would be better off with Francisco Rodriguez, a younger, less expensive, but with an equally impressive resume. K-Rod has a WHIP of 0.89 and is tied for the MLB lead in saves for the Milwaukee Brewers, who signed him to a one-year contract worth less than a fifth of what the Tigers have guaranteed to Nathan for two years.
What do the Tigers do if this continues? They have two choices on the roster now. Neither is ideal. Joba Chamberlan has limited closing experience, is a rehabilitation project the Tigers have success with so far as a setup man and it would be less than ideal than pulling him out of his role just as he gets comfortable with it.
Corey Knebel is a promising rookie. His so-called stuff is as good as anybody on the Tigers' staff, but the process of merely breaking him into the major leagues has just begun. But don't count him out long term for this season. Don't forget, last season the St. Cardinals used Edward Mujica as their closer before turning to youngster Trevor Rosenthal for the postseason. In 2006, when they won the World Series, Adam Wainwright closed for the Cardinals after Jason Isringhausen was injured.
Joel Hanrahan is an "X" fsctor. Health is an issue after Tommy John surgery. As big an issue is consistency. Hanrahan has had some success as a closer, but hasn't necessarily been the model of consistency.
There is also the message manager Brad Ausmus would set by relieving Nathan as closer. What he become, a mopup man? Setting up is nearly as pressure-packed as closing. How do you go back to Nathan after demoting with the season barely turned to May?
The left side of the infield is also major problem. Shortstop Andrew Romine (-0.4) and third baseman Nick Castellanos (-0.7) have been among the worst players in MLB this season according to the Sabermetics statistic WAR.
The idea Eugenio Suarez is ready to arrive from Triple-A Toledo to save the day at SS is a false one. He has been a brilliant hitter against left-handed pitching, but struggled against right-handers. He's also made nine errors in 54 games, which hardly represents steady fielding.

My column: MSU football has become what was expected of Michigan

Monday, June 02, 2014

Nick Castellanos isn't getting it done and it is starting to hurt the Detroit Tigers

Early in the season, Nick Castellanos, the Tigers' rookie third baseman, was answering the questions presented about him being thrust into the starting lineup at the tender age of 22 on a club favored to win the World Series.
His statistics weren't overwhelming, but he was hitting the ball consistently hard. He hit a few home runs. He had been moved to back to third base after year in the outfield in 2013 at Triple-A Toledo (he played shortstop as an elite-level age group amateur), and was making the routine play. The Tigers were winning, and Castellanos was contributing enough to justify his spot in the lineup.
But what had been growing pains has become alarming.
Nick Castellanos: The numbers adding up aren't the good ones
The numbers don't lie. He has fallen off dramatically at the plate. He hit four home runs early, but hasn't hit one in his last 88 at bats.. Only weak-hitting shortstop Andrew Romine has a lower slugging percentage among Tigers' regulars than Castellanos at .355. His on-base percentage is .282. His OPS is .637. All figures are well below the MLB average. Range defensively has become an issue. Tigers closer Joe Nathan was criticized recently for pointing out how much Castellanos not making a makeable play last week at Oakland hurt his performance and that of the Tigers. While not tactful, he was correct. Castellanos only has four errors, but his defensive range metrics recently have nose-dived. He is not a plus baserunner. What it adds up to is a Sabermetrics statistics WAR of -0.7. (Castellanos isn't the only Tiger struggling defensively statistically, Torii Hunter's defensive metrics are even worse, and his WAR, subsequently is -0.5, but he has hit eight home runs and has an OPS above the MLB average and is, well, Torii Hunter).
But to give you an idea of how badly Castellanos is grading out Sabermetrically, he is tied for 1,003rd among 1,028 MLB players in 2014 in WAR (the baseball-reference version).
A statistic of 0.0 is considered a borderline MLB player
Count me among those who still sees a bright future for Castellanos, but I did think he would be a bonafide Rookie of the Year candidate this season and he hasn't even come close so far.
To this stage, he's done more damage than good for the Tigers, which they were able to mask earlier and it appears he may not be ready for the Major Leagues at this stage.
The problem is the alternative. How about a left-side of the infield consisting of Don Kelly and Andrew Romine?
Still worried about that draft pick the Tigers would have lost by signing Stephen Drew?

My column. Five things we've learned about the Detroit Tigers two months into the 2014 MLB season:

My Column. Detroit Lions stuck in the middle of the NFC North: