Sunday, July 12, 2015

Grading the Detroit Tigers

With over half the season now played and heading into the All-Star break, the Detroit Tigers find themselves with a record of 44-44. Exactly .500. They're a whopping 9 games behind AL Central division leading Kansas City, 4 and a half games behind second place Minnesota and only two games out of the basement in the division, currently shared by Cleveland and the Chisox.

The Motown glass half-fullers maintain all is not lost. The Tigers could still recover, get on a bit of a roll, and make it into the post-season as a wildcard. Indeed they could. However, things could also go the other way and they could tumble into the cellar. Let's look at them.

Starting pitching.
Only an idiot would say the Tigers don't miss the presence of Max Scherzer. Former ace Justin Verlander's last two seasons have been no more than average. So far this year, the Fastball Flakes man has made over $15 million and has yet to win a single game. David Price remains the real deal, but he's likely got his eye on free agency after this season. Anabal Sanchez has his good days and bad days on the mound. At times he's almost unhittable. Other times it looks like he's pitching batting practice. The rest of the starters the Tigers keep trying to plug in have been castaways from other teams or brought up from the farm system. They started out okay, but as the year has gone on and opposing hitters have seen them a few times, they appear to be less and less effective. Overall, the starting pitching grades out at maybe a C.

Relief pitching.
It's pretty much a joke. If the starters don't go deep into a game with the hitters providing them a big lead, the Tigers are in trouble. Pinball machine time. Grade FF -- as in Freaking Farce.

Position players.
Good news and bad news.
J.D. Martinez has been hitting out of his mind so far this season. That's good news. Can he be expected to keep up the same pace for the second half of the season? Likely not. Not so good news.
The same with shortstop Jose Iglesias. At least he's stayed healthy and is slick with the glove. Good. Like Martinez, he enjoyed a stellar first half with the bat. But JI's history suggests he'll fade down the stretch. Just in the last couple weeks his batting average has fallen 20 points. Bad.
The absence of slugger supreme Miguel Cabrera certainly hasn't helped. Yet the Tigers have scored over 6 runs per game without him. Normally, that would be good news. Problem is the above-mentioned pitching staff keeps getting rocked. Six doesn't seem to be enough in many games.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler was once All-Star caliber, but seems to be on the back side of his bell curve.
Third baseman Nick Castellanos has improved his fielding, but remains spotty at best with the bat. A big hit here and a slump there.
Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes is tough to figure. He seems to have gobs of talent, truly a 5-tool player, but there's probably a reason he couldn't stick with the last couple teams he played on. So far he's been about average, but at least he filled the whozit hole in left field the Tigers had last year.
Unlike Cespedes, Victor Martinez is strictly a one dimensional player. He can hit. Period. If V-Mart was in the National League where they don't have a designated hitter -- he couldn't play. VM can't field any defensive position. Sure, a team could plug him in at first base and hope for the best, but there are beer-leaguers and grandmas out there that could likely play it just as well. Plus, he's slower than molasses on the basepaths.
Anthony Goss was a career minor-leaguer until the Tigers gave him a shot. He started off okay, but appears to be finding his equilibrium as a so-so player. There's a reason he was in the minors for so long. It's not like all the other teams overlooked him.
Catcher James McCann has certainly been a pleasant surprise. So far, he's held his own with the bat and has a terrific throwing arm from behind the plate. Longtime backstop Alex Avila was known as a defensive catcher but he never could hit much, and for whatever reasons AA struggled to stay healthy behind the plate. Those pesky high-speed projectiles seemed to have a way of hitting him repeatedly. Too many standing 8 counts. Then again, if he wasn't the son of the assistant General Manager, he might never have got this shot in the first place. When's the last time you heard of other teams clamoring for the services of a .210 hitting catcher that can't stay healthy?
Outfielder Rajai Davis plays some but sits more.
The Tigers have a handful of other guys to fill out their active 25 man roster. Among them are Andrew Romine, Hernan Perez, Josh Wilson, and Jefry Marte. These are known as "utility players". Translation? None of them are really good at any one thing, but the team will plug them in at various positions when the regular player needs a day off and hope for the best -- because that's all they have. "Utility players" is a nice phrase. It has replaced B-team, scrubs, and benchwarmers.
Considering the whole bunch -- Grade C-.

Front office.
Owner Mike Ilitch pretty much gets a free pass in Detroit because he has devoted so much to it. The Red Wings have been quite successful under his ownership and he's certainly poured a bunch of money into the Fox district to spruce it up. The theater itself is magnificent inside and there's that little bauble called Comerica Park across the street where the Tigers play. No style points for the pizza man whoring off the naming rights to a stadium to some bank conglomerate for a few bucks he didn't need, but as stadiums go, Comerica isn't too shabby. Not the best in the majors, by far, but okay. Just don't venture too far out of the bright-light neighborhood. It's not pretty.
President and head-operating honcho Dave Dombrowki is in the last year of his contract. There have been times when D-ski was hailed as a hero for some of the moves he made on behalf of the Tigers. Getting Miguel Cabrera and David Price was brilliant. Trading starter Doug Fister for a ham sandwich and the Prince Fielder debacle weren't exactly his finest moments.
Ilitch is in his 80s now and his kids are pretty much running the show. Such is the way it goes amongst the billionaire folks. Whether the young-uns will want to re-up D-ski for another hitch remains to be seen.
Ilitch grades out as a C. He wasn't afraid to spend money for talent on his teams -- even though he would get far more in return --  but his dealings surrounding the building of what would become Comerica Park and current insistence on another brand new sparkling palace for the Red Wings to play in seem a bit like the product that made him rich in the first place. A little on the greasy side. There's nothing wrong with Joe Louis Arena. And if and when the new venue is built, count on it that many people will be ousted from their homes through the dreaded "eminent domain", and the taxpayers will be on the hook to finance a good part of it. Make that a C-.
Given his good moves offset by his boneheads, overall Dombrowski rates about a C as well. He's been wheeling and dealing for many years in Detroit, handing out whopper salaries to various players, but the best he has accomplished is a perennial playoff team that can never make it over the hump when it counts the most.
So how to grade the Detroit Tigers overall? As a .500 team it's obvious they get a C.
How to grade their media that has overhyped them all year long?
Let's give them a D. That stands for Delusional in the expectations they foisted onto the fans.
The fans get a D for Dumb as well -- for believing it.
These guys are OK -- sometimes -- but they ain't all that.
After 88 games, they're merely a .500 club. It is what it is. Maybe it gets better -- and maybe it gets worse. It could go either way.....

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