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Know (And Criticize) Thine Enemy, Pt. 7: Detroit Tigers.

If you could criticize me of doing double-duty as a fan this season, this would be the team. Dave Dombrowski has proven his mettle as a GM, though it's also important to note the success due to some moves that other owners might not have made at the time: I-Rod for four years (the contract details contained therein provided some measure of protection for injuries) and Magglio Ordonez for five years (injury clauses as well).

On the surface, it was a gamble even with the team opt-out language (shades of J.D. Drew). Dombrowski was the driving force behind the moves, and you have to think he got through to owner Mike Illitch. Ask a long-time Tigers fan whether he ever showed more than a passing interest in his secondary sports franchise before Dombrowski was hired. Tigers fans should be thankful to Dombrowski for the simple fact that he fired Randy Smith. None of Smith's teams finished above 3rd in his entire GM career.

There was one primary transaction for the Tigers this season, one that makes me reluctant to root for them in any way. As always, it's hard to argue with the Oracle. If you're going to suggest that the Tigers shouldn't have acquired him period...I'd have a hard time disagreeing with you. If you would suggest they gave up a bit too much to, in the end, give the guy a contract extension? I would have a hard time disagreeing with you. If you would suggest that they can't get pretty good production? I would have to disagree. More on all that later.

The other minor transaction was the re-signing of Sean Casey. He's cheap but fairly unproductive. If the lineup weren't so RHH-heavy, Craig Wilson might've made more sense, or stats-hero Roberto Petagine (Who is a LHH, so he might've made sense either way). These are all somewhat minor criticisms, as the only overall cost was Humberto Sanchez, and their production at the two positions will be stable and/or improved.

Starting Pitching.

This is where the Detroit Tigers' bread is buttered. Kudos to their quality depth in addition to the primaries. The Tigers are returning with another strong rotation, one in which order is almost immaterial. You could make cases for Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, or even Kenny Rogers as the #1.

  • Verlander was an ace where the Tigers needed one last season, and will only be three years out of Old Dominion at the beginning of the season. His projections and BABIP, WHIP, etc. None of this data shows us anything out of the ordinary. Good WHIP, non-anomalous BABIP, and I'll take the Bill James projection over the others (though ZIPS seems pretty sensical as well). This guy is going to be an above-average starter for the Tigers for several years to come.
  • You could classify Jeremy Bonderman as a late-bloomer. However, that makes an assumption which must be refuted. Verlander burst onto the scene and was fantastic last season, right? Bonderman is a mere 4 months older than Justin Verlander. Modest projections would have Bonderman as an above-average workhorse, but he could also be an ace. Some bloggers (me), believed that he was not cut out for being an ace due to a lack of certain intangibles. Anyone who watched him pitch in the 2006 playoffs knows that I'm warming up a giant plate of crow right now. It was clear that the guy didn't want to play second fiddle to anyone. Thus, kudos on the contract extension.
  • Ah...Kenny Rogers. Unlikely mentor to the young Tigers staff, Kenny didn't punch a single cameraman in his tenure in Detroit. However, Tigers fans should be prepared for a slight downturn in production from ol' Kenny. The most optimistic projection has him a third of a run above 2006, and his BABIP was at its lowest in nearly ten years. I'll take James's projection here, though I think his W-L total won't be such an accurate reflection of his probable pitching line.
  • The Tigers are in a position of having more starters than they need. Advice from a Red Sox fan? Don't trade one of your proven starters for a prospect with one outstanding tool (this came out wrong, but I'm not sure how else to put it). Nate Robertson's projection data isn't particularly kind. However, even if he regresses a bit, he'll still be better than the league-average 4 or 5 starter. For some reason, I remember Mike Maroth's season being slightly better than the actual. Again, assuming health, even the most pessimistic outlook on his 2007 has him as an above-average 4 or 5 starter. If he has a good first-half, don't be surprised to see him peddled at the trade deadline. It's possible Wilfredo Ledezma could be a better option as things stand right now, though his versatility is something the Tigers will consider. Look for Ledezma and Zach Miner to see any spot starts.
  • Todd Jones has been the butt of a lot of "jokes" around here lately. By butt of jokes, I mean we're all hoping that Pineiro can be as "good" as Jones was in 2006. The CHONE projection seems most reasonable to me.
  • Guitar Hero Zumaya. There's not really any way to detract from what Joel Zumaya did last season. It was phenomenal. I don't know for sure, but I would think how hard he throws (frequently touches 100 MPH, and isn't shy about checking the stadium scoreboard for his velocity) should account somewhat for the BABIP of .266 (i.e. I think the projections overdo a mean regression in his case). I'll take the ZIPS counting stats here, with an ERA more like 2.40 or something.
  • Fernando Rodney was once the heir apparent to the closer role in Detroit. He's now a setup man, and Zumaya would seem to have the inside track on the closer role. He's a more than capable late-inning complement to Zumaya. As far as rates go, I think ZIPS comes closest, but look for James's projections on G and IP as a baseline.
  • Others. Joe Table has a roster slot. Mesa feels like a pitcher about to fall apart completely, but it hasn't happened yet. Ledezma will almost surely have a spot as a LR/MR/LOOGY combo meal. Out of ST, my guess is that Rule V draft pick Campusano gets one spot (Ledezma, as a starter candidate, isn't well-suited to a LHR role: think Gabbard, but with a higher ceiling) I guess Jason Grilli gets the last spot, though the fact that he doesn't have options left shouldn't play a role.
  • Ivan Rodriguez, already discussed returns as the Tigers primary catcher. Nothing out of the ordinary (for I-Rod) here. Normal offense projected, and he'll be a top 5 defender in MLB behind the plate (conservative estimate). Vance Wilson will back him up again. Interesting. All projection systems project at least a small spike in PAs for Wilson, and none project similarly lowered totals for I-Rod. Nice work boys.
  • Sean Casey. Sigh...c'mon Tigers. You probably could have done better than this. Like this guy perhaps. Shelton should probably start, or at least be given an opportunity. The FA cupboard for 1B was pretty bare, I admit.
  • Polanco is king. Maybe not king, but you know what you'll get in terms of production. He's also pretty clutch, his BA/RISP the last three seasons have all been above .375. His defense at 2B is (slightly)-above average, depending upon who you ask.
  • Carlos Guillen is underrated. He's an above-average shortstop offensively. He hits for power, average, and exhibits more patience than most Tigers' players. Defensively, his range and arm are both described as above-average, but he still makes a lot of errors (fundamentals?). Guillen might be well-suited to a permanent move elsewhere in the future, but he'll start at SS for the Tigers this season.
  • Brandon Inge. Most projections seem to indicate that he may have peaked offensively. He was 4th in the AL in defensive WS at 3B last season, and figures to improve. I actually got see him in at 3B, and he makes the spectacular plays as well as anyone. An extension wasn't a bad idea but may have been a bit premature.
  • Backup infield. Omar Infante. This SHOULD be the only name you need to know. Neifi Perez is on the roster, but this is a situation where you swallow the $2.5M and get rid of him in any way possible. As can be seen in this scouting report, Infante actually has a ceiling. Done on this one.
  • Craig Monroe figures to hold down LF again this season. Monroe is a quality place-holder until, for example, top prospect Cameron Maybin is ready to take over or push Granderon to LF. Kudos to Dombrowski, as all of Monroe's (reasonable) projections see 2006 as a career year.
  • Curtis Granderson is an interesting case. The Tigers desperately want him to become a good leadoff hitter, and that may not be in the cards. His OBP last season was .335. My guess is he tops out around .350, which is hardly ideal. Unfortunately, he'll play in the same division as Grady Sizemore the next few seasons (at least), and will probably be seen as a poor man's version the entire time.
  • Magglio Ordonez scares the crap out of me as a semi-Tigers fan. His defense can be Manny-scary at times in RF. Baserunning miscues. Etc. In addition, three of the four projection systems see him regressing next season, and only ZIPS seems to believe a minor injury will be involved.
  • ..."thankfully", the Tigers have acquired another middle of the order hitter. If there's a player I dislike more than Gary Sheffield it's John Rocker, and unfortunately for Sheffield, Rocker doesn't play anymore. Sheffield will probably DH, will probably put up good numbers, but most of our friendly projection systems see him missing some time due to injury.
  • Backup OF. I think this slot should go to Brent Clevlen, if only because he can hold down CF, something no player beyond Granderson could really claim. I'm surprised the Tigers haven't unloaded Marcus Thames yet. With Sheffield on the roster, I'm not sure where he fits in the mix.

I expect the Tigers to regress a bit. Monroe may have been a one-hit wonder, and Sheffield/Ordonez are walking injury risks. They could offset this by giving Shelton a shot to win the 1B job again, but they won't. Pitching should once again be a strength; they'll miss Jamie Walker, but not for the price he fetched. I'll "add" to the general baseball consensus that the Central is going to be a tough division, with every team but the Royals having a sporting chance at winning it. Note to Dombrowski: Unload Neifi Perez.