Last year, the Tigers won back-to-back AL Championships for the first time since joining the division in ’98. By all accounts, they’re poised to win their third in a row, but that will depend on a number of situations playing out correctly. It will also take a little help from the Baseball Gods, if Bud Selig has left any of them alive.
It’s time for a comprehensive breakdown of the 2013 Detroit Tigers, by department. We’ll answer some key questions for the upcoming season, and make evaluations based on the current status of each deparment.
The 2012 Tigers had the American League’s third best batting average at .268, but this was largely due to the presence of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder‘s high average (.313), and the contributions of Andy Dirks (.322) and Austin Jackson (.300). Not much can be said for the rest of the Tigers’ 2012 lineup. The Tigers also finished third in on-base percentage (.335) and fourth in OPS (.757), but there was a sub-plot to the story of the Tiger offense: the inability to score runs when they needed to.
Even with a three-four punch in Cabrera-Fielder, the Tigers struggled to score runs at several points during the regular season, going well into September before sealing the division. This also had to do with an historic collapse on behalf of the White Sox, who went 4-11 over their last 15 games.
The Tigers seem poised to make improvements on offesnse in 2013, mostly because of two main ingredients being added to the lineup. Enter Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez. Adding Hunter to the second spot in the lineup will allow Andy Dirks to move down to the sixth position where he will likely follow Victor Martinez, who will bat fifth, providing support for Prince Fielder.
Projected 2013 Detroit Tigers Lineup:
- Austin Jackson CF
- Torii Hunter RF
- Miguel Cabrera 3B
- Prince Fielder 1B
- Victor Martinez DH
- Andy Dirks LF
- Jhonny Peralta SS
- Alex Avila C
- Omar Infante 2B
This assumes that SS Jhonny Peralta isn’t traded. His name was frequently mentioned among the names of other similar shortstops during the winter. Some speculated the Tigers picked up his 1-year, $6MM contract and planned on using him as a trade piece. The Tigers have been rumored to be seeking a shorstop with more range. Peralta didn’t repeat his 2011 success in ’12, batting only .239 and his OBP sank 40 points from previous year to .305.
This is where the Tigers will see a bit of improvement over last year. In 2012, second base was as veritable black hole, filled at times by the likes of Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge, Danny Worth and a handful of call-ups. Landing Omar Infante from the Marlins at the trade deadline gave the Tigers a solution at second base. Though Infante started out shaky, he is still a significant upgrade at the position, offensively and defensively. Another upgrade on both sides of the ball is nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter. Hunter will fill another hole in the Tigers defense. Last year, right field was also a connundrum. Manager Jim Leyland didn’t have an answer at the position and it was again a game of musical chairs featuring Dirks, Brennan Boesch, Avisail Garcia, Don Kelly and others. An outfield of Hunter, Jackson and Dirks will give the Tigers a well balanced approach with good backup options.
The problem with the defense is, well, the big guys on the infield corners. I could stop right here and justify it by one glance at Fielder and Cabrera’s averages and power numbers, but it doesn’t take away the fact that they are simply one of the weakest corner infields in the game. This doesn’t mean that either of them are incapable of making routine plays, it just means that they won’t be in the vicinity to make many of those plays. Last year, Cabrera committed 13 errors, mostly of the throwing variety. Fielder contributed with 11 of his own. But, again, the errors aren’t the problem. The problem is the range. Add to their poor range the inflexibility of Jhonny Peralta, and the Tigers are undoubtedly in for another gut-wrenching season on the infield.
Like last year, this likely won’t be an issue for the Tigers. The Tigers starting rotation could be given the award for 2012 Tigers most important department. Tigers starters were second in the AL with an ERA of 3.76, and they were second in the Majors with a K/9 ratio of 8.19. The only question mark for the rotation is the fifth starter. Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello will be vying for the position in Spring Training, but it’s my estimation that Porcello will indeed be the Tigers fifth starter at the beginning of the season. This is mostly because he has already played the role for the Tigers, and Jim Leyland loves tradition. He puts a lot of stock in players who have paid their dues. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if at some point in the season, Smyly is give a chance to start on a regular basis. Porcello, experience aside, has a tendency to go on cold streaks.
Projected 2013 Detroit Tigers Starting Rotation:
The Tigers bullpen is another situation altogether. With the epic meltdown of closer Jose Valverde in the 2012 playoffs, and his subsequent release, the Tigers entered the offseason without a closer.
Enter: Bruce Rondon. Whether you’ve heard of him or not, he will be the Tigers new closer to start the 2013 season. Here’s the catch: he’s only thrown 8 innings, at the AAA level. GM David Dombrowski has ended the discussion and announced that Rondon will indeed get the chance.
The rest of the Tigers bullpen will feature Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel and Joaquin Benoit. Among the younger players likely to get time on the mound will be Brayan Villareal, Luis Marte, Darin Downs and Al Alburquerque. Duane Below will likely be used for late relief and spot starts. Also, keep in mind that either Smyly or Porcello will work out of the pen at any given point during the season.
The Tigers bullpen has a strong mix of veterans and rising talents, but none of the names stand out as an immediate door-slammer for the reigning AL Central champs.
The Tigers appear to have made improvements in most areas. Aside from the closer issue, there don’t seem to be any glaring holes in the 2013 team. The question now is: who stays healthy? This is where the Baseball Gods come into play. An owner can only do so much during the offseason. Fate always has a way of stepping in. Any way the pie is sliced, the Tigers should be considered a lock to win the American League Central in 2013.