I’m getting excited about the start of spring training and I like the Tiger’s chances this year. While they’re probably not the best team in baseball, they’ve made enough solid moves to where they should compete for a division title. The White Sox and Twins are also good, so this will be an interesting race.
If you take a look at a lot of championship teams, there’s usually a mix of the guys who are paid to perform, a breakout young player or two and an aging veteran having one last season in the tank. The 2006 season was the perfect example. Guys like Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez did their job while Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander burst onto the scene. Throw in the last hurrah for Kenny Rogers and it made for a potent mix.
2011 won’t be any different. If the Tigers are going contend, they not only need their typical production from guys like Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, but they also need a guy or two to breakout. If you look at the pen, you should expect Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde to be your best relievers because their being paid to be there. Joel Zumaya is a wildcard because of his injuries and that’s why I think the guy the Tigers need to step up is Ryan Perry.
The Tigers first round pick in 2008 (21st overall), Perry signed too late to make his debut that season but in 2009, he broke camp with the Tigers with fellow rookie Rick Porcello and made the Tigers team. By the end of April, one bad game (which can cost a reliever early in the season) made his ERA look mediocre but he also began walking batters including three in a one inning appearance on April 29. In May he was able to shave almost a run off of his ERA and ever better, he began to strike out more guys then he walked. June wasn’t so good though and after three rough outings in the middle of the month, the Tigers decided to send him to Toledo for some fine tuning. He came back about a month later with mixed results and he finished the season with 60 strikeouts, 38 walks and a 3.79 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. He had a rough time against left handed batters (.841 OPS against) and that ultimately cost him in the numbers department.
2010 was a little more of the same with a slight twist. This time he had an even rougher first half and in early June he hit the disabled list with elbow tendinitis. He came back just before the All Star Break and and he pitched fairly well, getting his ERA down from 5.82 (pre-DL) to 3.59 (season’s end). From September 1 on, he was particularly effective and he held batters to a .132 batting average over 57 plate appearances. His strikeout rate came down (but mostly because his rough first half, he struck out almost a batter an inning in the second half) but his walk rate also went down. Oddly, he was awesome against lefties (his Achilles heel in 2009) with a .485 OPS against but not so good against righties (.792 OPS against).
So, you have a small sample size (two seasons) but some nice trends (strikeout to walk ratio is going up, ERA and WHIP coming down). Now we’ll just have to see if he can put it all together in 2011 and be a vital cog in the pen this year. Perry has been labeled the closer of the future in the past and I can see him in a role this year very similar to how the Tigers used Joel Zumaya in 2006. He’s a hard thrower that could be called on in the sixth inning to get the critical strikeout with men on base. He also has some motivation because with Jose Valverde’s contract expiring at the end of 2012 (I’m assuming they pick up his option), that gives Perry a couple of years to get ready to become the Tigers top reliever.
Pitcher and catchers report a week from today. It’s been a long winter. Isn’t there some football game on today.
Alright, pitchers and catchers report soon and I’m in a predicting kind of mood. This is who I think the Tigers will take with them to New York when the break camp for their home opener. A lot of these are no brainers, but I’ll also leave my comments where I think they’re appropriate.
1) Victor Martinez
2) Alex Avila
3) Miguel Cabrera
4a) Carlos Guillen (but he’ll start the season the DL, so there will be 26 names on the list)
4b) Scott Sizemore
5) Will Rhymes (Sizemore and Rhymes will split time at second until Guillen comes back)
6) Jhonny Peralta
7) Brandon Inge
8) Ryan Raburn
9) Austin Jackson
10) Miguel Cabrera Magglio Ordonez
11) Ramon Santiago
12) Don Kelly (he’ll play outfield and the Tigers are also going to have him work as a third catcher)
13) Casper Wells (he’ll beat out Brennan Boesch as the primary fourth outfielder)
14) Justin Verlander
15) Max Scherzer
16) Rick Porcello
17) Brad Penny
18) Phil Coke
19) Jose Valverde
20) Joaquin Benoit
21) Joel Zumaya
22) Ryan Perry
23) Dan Schlereth
24) Brad Thomas
25) Robbie Weinhardt
Brennan Boesch, despite his breakout first half in 2010, will start the season in Toledo and he and Strieby should make a formidable pair there. Andrew Oliver would have made a nice option instead of Weinhardt but I’m guessing they want to stick with him as a rotation option so he’ll be the ace in Toledo. Jacob Turner will shine, but like Oliver, he’ll be the Hens ace but probably see himself in Toledo by year’s end.
The Tigers said they weren’t going to re-sign Jeremy Bonderman and it looks like he’s going to sign a minor league deal with the Indians. Bonderman made his major league debut on April 2, 2003 and while he got shelled (his first of 19 losses that year), it was the beginning of a roller coaster career. Just two days after Bonderman’s debut, I started Tigerblog and in those nearly eight years since there have been two constants on the field, Jeremy Bonderman and Brandon Inge. With this news about Bonderman, the phrase “and then there was one” is rather fitting.
My birthday is July 5th and on that date in 2002, my fiance (at the time) surprised me with a weekend trip to Boston that included Tigers versus Red Sox tickets at Fenway Park. It was supposed to be a national television battle of the aces with Pedro Martinez going up against Jeff Weaver (who was having a nice season for the Tigers at that point) but that fell apart when Weaver was traded to the Yankees in a three team deal that very night. Ted Williams also passed away that day so it was an interesting weekend. Anyway, the Tigers got Carlos Pena, Franklin German and a player to be named later in the deal. On August 22, 2002, that player to be named later turned out to be Jeremy Bonderman.
In 2003, Bonderman was shut down late in the season so he wouldn’t suffer a 20th loss but September shutdowns wouldn’t be unusual for Bonderman. He was a perennial pitcher to watch for several years and then in 2006, he finally got it done and had a break out year. While Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander picked up Cy Young votes that year, if you really look at the numbers and not the win total, Bonderman was the best pitcher in the rotation that year. He pitched in over 200 innings for the first (and only) time to date and he struck out 202 batters.
2007 looked just as promising but after a 10-1 start he went 1-8 the rest of the way and he was shut down in September. He then got off to a decent enough start in 2008 but then the blood clot was found and he missed the rest of that year and most of 2009. In 2010, he pitched the entire season but not very well. For a guy who was consistently in the mid-90s, he was having a hard time just touching that in a game and while he may eventually perfect his new style, it didn’t happen all at once in 2010.
Bonderman is still young. He doesn’t 29 until late October so maybe there’s a come back in him. It just doesn’t look like it’ll be with the Tigers. Farewell Bondo, we wish you the best.
Phil Coke acted as the Tigers primary left handed relief pitcher in 2010 and while he was usually called on to pitch to more then one batter, he did pitch in more games (74) then he had innings pitched (64 2/3). In the second half, he pitched more then one inning only three times and one of those was the rough start he had on the final day of the season. The Tigers and Phil Coke think he’ll make a good starter (and I tend to agree with them), I just don’t think it’ll be as smooth of a transition as people think. The last time he pitched more then three innings in a game was when he was still starting in the minors back in 2008. I’m hopeful long term, but think he might have his bumps early I just hope those come while he works out the kinks in spring training.
That leaves a hole in the pen and it looks like the Tigers are counting on Dan Schlereth to fill the left handed hole. He also came over in the Edwin Jackson/Curtis Granderson trade (the circle is now complete, all four guys the Tigers got should make the opening day roster) and while Schlereth is a hard thrower, his role as a short relief specialist troubles me a bit because he sometimes has a hard time finding the plate. In his brief major league career, he has 25 walks in 37 innings. For the Hens last year, he had 34 walks in 49 1/3 innings. If you’re bringing in a guy to get just one out and he walks that many guys, it’s going to be a problem. And if it means the other team isn’t afraid to leave their lefty hitter in the game because they know they can ride a guy in the mid-innings and draw a walk, then you can’t say he’s doing his job.
What’s of interest is not only is he better and striking out lefties, his walk rate is also a lot better at least if you look at his minor league numbers from last year. For the Hens, he walked only 9 batters in 19 2/3 innings against lefties (not great, but better then his overall average) but he walked 25 batters in 29 2/3 innings against righties. I’m not sure if this is a confidence thing or what, but this hasn’t carried over into his big league career. In fact, in the short amount of time he’s pitched in the major leagues, his OPS against for right handed hitters is just .581 (102 plate appearances) while his OPS against for left handed hitters is a rather high .888 (71 plate appearances). His walk rate is also worse at the big league level against lefties then it is against righties.
So, the good news is, with Benoit and Valverde (and hopefully a healthy Zumaya) and with a breakout season from Ryan Perry (prediction), we might not need to rely on Schlereth too much. Still, just in looking at the numbers, you wonder how well Schlereth will thrive in this role.
Alright, over the weekend, news started coming out about how good of a fit Vlad Guerrero would be for the Tigers. At first I dismissed it as just speculation on a day where there’s no news, but then yesterday, someone told me that Vlad was in for a physical. I still haven’t confirmed that yet, but that still leaves the question as to whether Vlad Guerrero would make a nice fit with the team or not.
After an injury filled season in 2009, Vlad stormed back onto the scene with a very solid season for the Texas Rangers. He made an All Star appearance, won the Silver Slugger as a DH and he even earned some MVP votes as the second best hitter on a team that saw Josh Hamilton win the award. And even though Vlad hasn’t put up the monster numbers like he did earlier in his career, if you carve out his 2009 season, he’s had an OPS+ of over 130 every year except for 2009 and 2010 and even in 2010 he stood at 122. With a career .320 batting average, unless Vlad regresses quickly, he’s going to help our lineup.
Of course the casualty will be Alex Avila. If Guerrero is the team’s DH, then Victor Martinez will get most of his time at catcher which leave Avila short on playing time. It also means defense behind the plate could take a step back although Avila hasn’t established himself as a defensive superstar yet. It also means from a long term perspective, the guy you’ve pegged as your catcher of the future rides the pine for another year and doesn’t develop.
And there’s also the cynic in me. Both Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland are basically playing for their jobs. I know it’s always best to win now and take your chances later, but with the rotation still less then solid, I’d think that would be the focus although that could simply be a matter of there not being another guy out there that they want to take a chance on. Vlad Guerrero is also another Type A free agent. I’ve never studied up on this enough to know what happens once you’ve already lost your first round pick but there has to be some kind of compensation.
It also takes away some of your flexibility. What if Carlos Guillen comes back and he’s raking but he’s horrible in the field? Now you’ve locked him out of the lineup. It also means Victor Martinez will start more behind the plate and that might wear on him by season’s end. Of course at the end, it’s not my money and if it’s a one year deal, it might be worth the risk and if doesn’t work, you just adjust.