Author Archive


Immediate Returns
  • I know that nine games do not a trade make, but nearly two weeks in, could the Polanco-Urbina trade look any better? The Tigers’ new second baseman has hit safely in eight of his nine games in a Detroit uniform (and he looks darn sharp), putting up a .378/.415/.514 line. He hit a walk-off home run last night to bring the Tigers back to .500 again, and he’s provided solid defense and a consistent presence in the #2 hole. The timing was nice, too, with Carlos Guillen still on the DL and Tony Giarratano looking like a young player who was having a medicore season at Double-A before his call-up three weeks ago (0-for-his-last-15, 6-42 in the bigs on the season). Despite his scuffles, though, middle infield looks set to become the strength we thought it could be before the season. Guillen will come off the DL this week, and Omar Infante’s two starts at shortstop since he lost his 2B job produced three doubles, a triple, and even a walk. If Guillen is healthy and Infante starts to turn it around, or Trammell wants to give him a chance to turn it around, the Tigers should consider playing Infante at second, Guillen at short, Polanco at third (he played there very effectively every time David Bell got hurt in Philly), Inge in center, and Logan as a pinch runner and bunter.
  • Ugueth Urbina got shelled in his first outing with the Phillies, but has pitched extremely well since (3 IP, 0 H, 6 K). That’s fine — I hope he does well there as Ed Wade’s latest mid-season relief-pitching acquisition. The fact remains that a second expensive bullpen man was a luxury the Tigers didn’t need.
  • Polanco wasn’t the only Tiger hero on Sunday. Chris “Babyface” Shelton tied the game with a two-run blast in the ninth. That the blow came off nominal Giants’ closer Tyler Walker was even more satisfying — Walker struck out the side with the bases loaded in the ninth two days before to seal a win, and Shelton was his final, overmatched victim. I have high hopes that Shelton might turn into a Dmitri Young-type hitter someday, or even this year. If Guillen is healthy enough to play but cannot take the field, it opens a spot for Infante but forces Shelton or Young to the bench. That’s a net loss.
  • Next up for the Kitties: a trip to the Metrodome. All is well, though. For the third time in three series so far this year with the Twins, the Tigers won’t have to face Cy Young winner and generally scary dude Johan Santana, he of the 124 Ks and 17 BBs. The Twins’ historic stinginess with the walk, however, will still pose a problem for the hacktastic Tigers.
  • What’s the value of a decent team? About 6,000 fans per game. Attendance in the dark days of 2003 slipped to 17,000 per game. It rose last year to almost 24K, and is nearly identical in 2004. The number seems low. Large market, reasonably exciting team, nice new stadium, twenty-first in attendance. What’s missing?
  • It kills me that Robert Horry was open at the end of overtime last night. Kills me.


The Rarest of Occurences

What if Tiger Woods just couldn’t hit his 3-iron? What if with every other club in the bag, he was the best player on the course, but he swung the 3-iron like it was made of damp noodle? He’d still be a great golfer, without a doubt, and he’d still be able to hit his Nike-branded ball 3-iron distance by shortening his swing on his 2-iron or really rearing back and cranking his four. There would be a chink in his armor, though, an inexplicable flaw in his game that might make even his staunchest admirers question their opinion of his greatness.

We’re seeing a parallel situation unfold with the 2005 Tigers. Ivan Rodriguez is clearly the team’s biggest star and ostensibly their best player but he simply isn’t drawing any walks. It’s not a fatal flaw — as with Tiger and his fictional 3-iron boondoggles, Pudge can get around his inability to watch a quartet of bad pitches go past by hitting for a good average. He’s done so to date, checking in at a respectable .288. But Pudge only has five walks on the season, and though there are other ways to get on base, his impatience has clearly hurt his performance and the team’s offense. Alan Trammell has recognized the problem, too, and has recently dropped Pudge in the lineup, unwilling to put a player with a .300 OBP in the second or third spots. It’s hard to consider Rodriguez the team’s best player when he’s so clearly deficient in one important area. Or maybe he is the team’s best player, as the rest of the team certainly seems to be following his lead. The Tigers have walked fewer times than any other team in the majors, driving them to 25th in OBP and, not surprisingly, 25th in runs scored. The acquisition of Placido Polanco, who has sported OBPs close to .400 in the last few years, looks better in this light, though he has gone walkless in his first three games as a Tiger in that haven of control pitching, Coors Field.

But back to Pudge. Rodriguez has never been a particularly patient hitter — the 41 walks he drew last year constituted the second-highest total of his long and illustrious career, but in 2005 he’s on pace for 14. He’s walked so few times in the Tigers’ first sixty games that we can discuss each one like it’s some kind of special event.

1. April 13, at Minnesota. Pudge walked in the sixth, off Kyle Lohse, with a runner on first. He’d score that inning, though Detroit lost 8-4, and he was the only Tiger to draw a free pass that day against a Twins’ squad that is walking historically few batters this season. Lohse, in fact, is one of the Twins’ worst offenders, with 15 BBs in 61 IP.

2. April 24, vs. Minnesota. Again against the Twins! Of course, the walk was intentional. A subsequent throwing error would reopen first base, and Guillen would be walked as well before Rondell White killed the inning with a double play. The Tigers would win the game.

3. May 6, at Anaheim. Pudge led of the sixth with a base on balls against the notoriously wild Kelvim Escobar, making a rare start in between bone spur DL trips.

4. May 17, vs. Tampa Bay. An intentional walk in the 11th inning.

5. June 11, at Colorado. The big drought. Almost a month in between even intentional walks, no doubt at least in part because Pudge isn’t an effective enough hitter right now to win that much respect. In this case the walk was unintentional, Pudge’s third honest free pass of the season. But how legitmate was it? Neal was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. It seems Pudge needed a little help from the boys in blue to draw his first walk in a month.



What To Do With Urbina?

Wilfredo Ledezma was sent to Toledo this week after ten consecutive bad starts, a move any fool could have predicted. The Tigers didn’t call up anyone to replace him because they won’t need a fifth starter until the 18th — who knows, the fifth starter that day could yet be Ledezma — though my money is on hulking former Oriole Sean Douglass, he of the 3.00 ERA and 56/19 K/BB at Toledo. Douglass’ major-league track record indicates that he probably won’t be a long-term answer, but he could have a few good months.

Instead of calling up a pitcher, the Tigers activated Troy Percival off the disabled list. Percival, apparently recovered from a “partial tear of his right flexor pronator muscle mass”, aka hurt forearm muscle, seemed to find his stride right before his injury, and is on pace to throw the 45 reasonably effective innings we all expected and knew wouldn’t be worth the dough the Tigers signed for him last winter for $12 million. The happy conundrum is that Ugueth Urbina is pitching brilliantly in Percival’s closer slot.

I’m not much of a believer in the magic of closers — I scoffed this week when on the road somewhere, I heard a radio announcer say that most relief pitchers rely on catchers to help them understand the game when they’re put in, except for closers, who just know how to get outs. I believe that there are some great relief pitchers in the major-leagues, and that sometimes it makes sense to put them in when you have a lead of three or fewer runs, but that mostly you want to have your best relievers in when the game is on the line. By that logic, it doesn’t matter that the Tigers have two proven closers (not to mention minor-league closer Franklyn German), only that they have two good (though not great) relievers to send to the mound in tough situations.

But as much as it helps the Tigers to have a deeper bullpen, there are a lot of teams who believe that relievers aren’t interchangeable, that there is mystical and possibly moral worthiness indicated by the ability to get saves, never mind that saves were invented in 1960 and that they’re the pitching equivalent of the now-defunct GWRBI. The Tigers have been rumored to be considering trading Urbina for some proven-closer swag ever since Percival came aboard. Should they trade him now that so many teams have injured or ineffective closers (Hawkins, Benitez, Dotel, etc.) and that Percival is, for the time being, back to a reasonable facsimile of health?

Yes. The Tigers sit, as of this writing, at 26-29. That’s a wonderful improvement over 2003, and a good bet to improve on last year as well, but they’re not contenders. They’re not going to beat the White Sox and Twins to capture the division, or one of those teams plus most of Anaheim, Texas, Baltimore, Boston, and New York to capture the Wild Card. They’re just not good enough. A few of the pieces are in place — Guillen, Inge, Bonderman, and Maroth, maybe Ordonez, Shelton, and German — but this is not a team that’s within even a few years of 90 wins. It needs to ruthlessly identify who can be part of the next winning Tiger team and get prospects for whoever will not while still maintaining a competitive major-league product. Two closers are not a necessary part of remaining competitive. Percival is overpaid and untradeable; Urbina makes $4 million this year and is a free agent to-be. The Mets need him, the Cubs need him, the Giants need him. Let them pay for him.

No. The Tigers sit, as of this writing, at 26-29. That’s only 7 games out of the wild card with a lot of time to go, and though they’re double-digits behind the White Sox, there’s no way the Southsiders will stay this hot. Guillen has been hurt and Ordonez will come back at some point. It’s way too early to throw in the towel on a promising team. Moreover, what kind of message does it give to the fans? “Sure we’re better than we have been, and we want you to come to the park, but this isn’t yet a real team. But please care about it anyways.” Isn’t avoiding that sort of death knell more important than a slugging young outfielder?

I sure don’t know. Your thoughts?



Ledezma

The time has come to do something about Wilfredo Ledezma. He is not a competitive major-league starter. This year, he has nine starts and eight disasters. His one quality start — and you can interpret “quality start” either philosophically or statistically — was his first start of the year, in April, against a Cleveland team that hadn’t yet brought its bats up from Spring Training. Leaving out that game, in which the Tigers jumped all over Cleveland for eleven runs, Ledezma hasn’t reached the seventh inning, has only given up fewer than four runs one time (and he left that game at the beginning of the sixth), and has only struck out more than three batters twice. All his outings are short, labored, inefficient, and ineffective.

But what to do? Ledezma has always had tantalizing stuff — a live fastball and a legitimate change. When he spent much of 2003 with the Tigers as a Rule V pick from the Red Sox, it looked like he might turn into a major-league pitcher some day, though he was clearly inefficient, clearly wild, and clearly prone to the long ball. It doesn’t appear he’s gotten any better.

Should he be sent down to the minors? He’s not quite so young anymore — 24 — and he dominated AA last year. Could he use some seasoning in AAA? Perhaps, but I’m not sure what the point is, though I suppose he could use the innings

Should he be dangled as trade bait? Maybe. It’s easy to see some team like the Devil Rays that gets themselves enamored of toolsy prospects thinking they can fix Ledezma. (By the way, aren’t the Devil Rays an amazing collection of failed prospects? Ben Grieve, Travis Lee, Alex Gonzalez, Josh Phelps, etc.)

Should he be put in the bullpen? Probably. He’s got two dominant pitches, and throws hard. If the Tigers have any aspirations to contend, the Ledezma starting pitching experiment has to end, and soon. He can be allowed to work out his kinks in a lower-leverage role, and perhaps find a niche.

Sound the horns. Prepare the feasts. Send out the banns. Let the Sean Douglass era begin.



The Best Laid Plans

Last week, I promised to begin a series on Dave Dombrowski that should have continued today. Those plans were rerouted, however, with a request from another site to contribute to a series on baseball’s GMs with a column on Dombrowski, which, at Brian’s urging, I did. A lot of the analysis I had planned to pen here is now there, and I don’t think it makes sense to redo so much of it just so I can weigh in with my opinions on the 1996 Dustin Hermanson-for-Quilvio Veras trade. So it’s back to that tried-and-true blog technique: the news and notes.

  • To write those Dombrowski posts, I had to do a fair amount of research, and I was surprised at how difficult it was to find his biography and career information on the web. It was shockingly hard to get the dates of his tenure in Montreal, though I eventually found them in a WMU press release. The amount of free baseball information on the web is staggering, from the comprehensive databases at Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet to the surprisingly useful collection of trivia at Baseball Almanac and the reams of real-time data at every major and minor news site. I’ve never seen a historic listing of baseball executives, though, that compares at all to the sort of histories out there for players and managers. Even Wikipedia is uncharacteristically blank when it comes to GMs. That’s a small niche out there for someone to fill.
  • What is it with the Tigers and .500? It’s a glass ceiling they cannot crack (though they were 11-10). This year, since starting 7-10, the Tigers have reached 12-12 and 19-19 before fading back. Both of those all-out strides toward mediocrity were followed up with losing streaks (they fell to 12-16 and 20-22, respectively). A similar thing happened last year. After a hot start, the Tigers fell to .500 at 13-13 and got back there again at 19-19. After that, every time they’d get close, they’d fall into a losing streak. Back to 31-34? Lose five straight. Back to 37-39? Lose five straight again. Back to 50-54? Lose seven of eight. It’s as if so much energy is expended getting to .500 that the Tigers immediately dig themselves a hole. Or maybe this is just part of behing a bad-but-not-awful team.
  • Carlos Guillen has been tremendous, obviously, but he’s emblematic of a problem the Tigers cannot escape: their best players are their most fragile. Things could get ugly in a hurry if Guilen or Pudge goes down, or Magglio doesn’t make it back. Just part of the price to pay for a 119-loss season and the perception — hopefully eroding now — that Detroit is a bad place to play.
  • Guillen’s batting average stands at .375, within a rounding error of league leader Brian Roberts. Guillen, however, whose power may be sapped by his lingering injuries, has only 12 RBIs, putting him on pace for 46. That would be the lowest total for an AL batting champion since 1982, when Willie Wilson had a similarly anemic run-producing year, despite hitting .332 with 15 triples. 46 RBIs, in fact, was right about average for a full, great season for Wilson, meaning the Royals must have had some real bums batting eighth and ninth. Guillen is also on pace for only 8 HRs — but that would only be the lowest for an AL batting champ since Ichiro, last year.
  • I never thought I’d say this — his career high in OBP before last year was .265, after all — but I believe that Brandon Inge has become a real major-league hitter, and it gladdens my heart. Inge is fourth in the AL in walks, almost doubling his rate from last year’s career year. If he can hold on to most of that improvement, he’ll be an asset to the Tigers at the top of the lineup for a long time. I am not, however, a believer in Nook Logan. He never hit in the minors, and has fallen off of late. Trammell needs to make sure Logan stays at the bottom of the lineup or on the bench, and that he only sees duty as as a pinch runner and replacement starter once Ordonez comes back.


Dombrowski: The Montreal Years

Dave Dombrowski is the man in charge of the Tigers’ future. His title is the ever-so-grand President, CEO, and General Manager, meaning that he is in charge of well, everything, except perhaps which kind of pizza pizza is sold at the Comerica Park concession stands. Dombrowski came to the Tigers three-and-a-half years ago with one of the jazziest resumes in baseball, building both the Montreal Expos and the Florida Marlins into contenders, and even prematurely breaking them down at the behest at management. But what player personnel decisions did he make? Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, which moves showed foresight, which moves were duds? This post begins a four-part series looking back on Dombrowski’s major transactions. This week, the Expos years.

Dombrowski joined the Expos organization from the Chicago White Sox in 1986. In 1988, he was named general manager. At age 32, he was the youngest top exec in baseball history. UPI named him baseball’s top exec in 1990, and the Expos won awards as baseball’s top organization in 1988 and 1990.

When Dombrowski took the reins for the 1988 season, he inherited a team that had won 91 games, and was led by a core of Dennis Martinez, Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, and Andres Galarraga, all of whom were in their prime, and all of whom (save Raines) would stay with the team until after Dombrowski left.

1988:

–Otis Nixon signed as a free agent. He got slightly less than the average salary, which is good, because he was never an average hitter, but boy was he fast. He was not going to be the answer in center.

–Traded Jeff Reed, Herm Winningham and Randy St. Claire to Cincinnati Reds in
exchange for Tracy Jones and Pat Pacillo. Dombrowski got the young players in this trade, but they didn’t pan out, and he gave up three borderline major leaguers to get them. A minor failure.

–Traded Mitch Webster to Chicago Cubs in exchange for Dave Martinez. A nice trade. Martinez was six years younger, cheaper, and immediately a better player, logging 1400 or so at bats for the Expos over the next few years, and he shunted Nixon right to the bench. Both players lasted a long time; Martinez played until 2001 and appeared for 10 teams.

–Traded Casey Candaele to Houston Astros in exchange for Mark Bailey. Candaele was a much better major-leaguer, but he was tiny and not particularly fast, and he played the outfield. The key stats for this trade: Candaele: 5’9″ 165, Bailey: 6’5″ 195. A reasonable risk for Dombrowski, even if it didn’t pan out.

–Traded Floyd Youmans and Jeff Parrett to Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Kevin Gross. A minor coup. Youmans was done in the majors and Parrett had a career as a mediocre relief pitcher ahead of him, but Kevin Gross would become a league-average starter for a long time, even if he’d get priced out of the Expos’ range by 1991.

–Traded John Dopson and Luis Rivera to Boston Red Sox in exchange for Spike Owen and Dan Gakeler. A small win. Owen would hold down shortstop for the Expos for the next few seasons, albeit without much hitting. Gakeler made his only ML appearances for the Tigers, and pitched about as you’d expect.

1989:

–Traded Mark Bailey and Tom O’Malley to New York Mets in exchange for Steve Frey. Dombrowski gave up on the physically-impressive Bailey and foisted him, along with, O’Malley, a career AAA player, on the Mets for Frey, who became an effective lefty reliever. A good job of getting something for nothing.

–Traded Neal Heaton to Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Brett Gideon. A good job of getting nothing for something. Heaton, though never a star, had a few good years left; he’d spend them pitching in Pittsburgh. Gideon never really made it.

–Traded Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris to Seattle Mariners in exchange for Mark Langston and a player to be named later; Montreal Expos received Mike Campbell. Finally, Dombrowski’s first big move. The Expos would later be known for all the star players they sold off to other teams and it’s easy to forget that in 1989 they were buyers. At the time of the trade on May 25, 1989, the Expos sat at .500, only three games out in the NL East, and they had the worst pitching staff in the National League. Langston was already a star, coming off great years in 1987 and 1988. In one respect the trade worked: Langston had a 2.39 ERA with the Expos, and their pitching improved to the middle of the NL pack. In a bunch of others it didn’t: the Expos finished at .500, exactly where they were at the time of the trade, Langston would sign a free-agent deal with the California Angels at the end of the season, and the Expos had to throw in a young player named Randy Johnson. No one knew Randy Johnson would become RANDY JOHNSON — he had the strikeouts, but he was wild, wild, wild. Still, no one could hit him, even then, even if they could watch ball four sail by with surpassing ease. Brian Holman was a good young pitcher whose shoulder fell apart, and Harris was never any good. A bold move by Dombrowski, but not one that history looks at kindly.

–Traded Sergio Valdez, Nate Minchey and Kevin Dean to Atlanta Braves in exchange for Zane Smith. Things looked good for a while after Langston was in the fold. When the Expos made this deal in early July of ’89, acquiring Smith (who one of my friends insists is the ugliest baseball player of all time) for very little, they were in first place. Smith would also pitch well down the stretch, before Dombrowski parleyed his giant (for the time) $2m salary into a great young outfielder the next season.

–Traded Mike Blowers to New York Yankees in exchange for John Candelaria. By late August, things had begun to slip. The Expos were still playing .540 ball, but had been caught from behind by the streaking Cubs, Cardinals, and Mets. Candelaria, coming off a long and successful career, couldn’t stop the bleeding, and would be released at seasons end. Blowers had a good career as a utility man. A net loss, though a reasonable shot in the thick of an increasingly grim pennant race.

1990:

–Oil Can Boyd signed as a free agent. Boyd got a two-year, $1.5m contract to replace Bryn Smith, who signed a much larger contract with the Cardinals after an excellent season. Dennis Boyd would put together a beautiful season in 1990, truly his last hurrah. A good signing for the still-competitive Expos.

–Traded Zane Smith to Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Scott Ruskin, Willie Greene and a player to be named later; Montreal Expos received Moises Alou (August 16, 1990). 1990 was a quieter year in Youppi-land. The Expos were still a decent team with an excellent pitching staff of Martinez, Boyd, Smith, Gross, and Mark Gardner and had added young players like Larry Walker and Delino DeShields to their lineup. Still, the Pirates were unbeatable at the top of the NL East (those were the days), and Smith, an impending free-agent, was sold off for spare parts and a future star slugging left-fielder. Moises was only 23 and had made just 5 major-league at-bats at the time; that he was a PTBNL makes me think Dombrowski got lucky.

1991:

–Traded Tim Raines, Jeff Carter and a player to be named later to Chicago White Sox in exchange for Ivan Calderon and Barry Jones; Chicago White Sox received Mario Brito (February 15, 1991). Raines had been the face of the franchise since 1980, the only player left from the Expos glory years, and the biggest star ever to don Expos blue. In 1991, he was only 31, but was coming off two subpar years. His speed was still there, but his power was gone and he was getting expensive, though he would play at a reasonable level until 1988. Calderon would be Tim Raines plus some outs on the basepaths in 1991 but was just as expensive and out of baseball in three years, and Jones was decent out of the pen. Perhaps the trade was a wash at best, but it was certainly an unsentimental move, a lesson that should be kept in mind should the Tigers ever get a reasonable offer for Pudge or Dmitri Young.

–Jeff Fassero signed as a free agent. Fassero was 28 and had never pitched in the majors. He would be a an effective lefty reliever immediately and a good starter by 1994. An inspired move.

–Traded Tim Burke to New York Mets in exchange for Ron Darling and Mike Thomas. By July, when this trade happened, the Expos were seven games under and suffering through their first truly crappy season in years. Darling was still an effective pitcher, but, they had to give up Burke, a decent reliever, to rent him for a couple of weeks.

–Traded Oil Can Boyd to Texas Rangers in exchange for Jonathan Hurst, Joey Eischen and a player to be named later; Montreal Expos received Travis Buckley. A good move to unload free-agent to be Boyd after getting a decent year out of him, even if the prospects the Rangers gave back were middling. Eischen is still left-handed, and still pitching.

–Traded Ron Darling to Oakland Athletics in exchange for Matt Grott and Russell Cormier. This happened not three weeks after the Expos aquired Darling; it had to be some sort of delayed three-way trade, a la Mike Piazza to the Marlins. As far as grand plans go, this one fizzled. Cormier isn’t even the most famous Cormier ever to play in the Montreal organization. Tim Burke, the new Met, turned out to be the best player moved in the Darling shenanigans.

——————————————-

In September of 1991, Dombrowski left to take the reins of the expansion Florida Marlins for more money, more control, and a larger budget. What’s his legacy in Montreal? Effective player decisions within a budget. Dombrowski generally eschewed free-agent signings in favor of building through trades, acquiring undervalued and solid veterans for spare parts. The free agents his organization did sign were generally low-risk and moderate reward. The team was better when he got there than when he left, but that’s most likely a result ever-tighter financial restrictions. Dombrowski’s highest profile move, the acquisition of Mark Langston for Randy Johnson, was his biggest failure, a trade that should get mentioned more often than it does, and certainly more often than the Alexander-for-Smoltz deal (at least the Tigers won the division in ’87).

Not covered above, but just as important for the franchise, was the organization’s solid record in the draft (Marquis Grissom, Rondell White, Gabe White, Cliff Floyd, Mark Grudzielanek, Kirk Rueter) and in signing international players and other minor-league free agents (Miguel Batista, Wil Cordero, Matt Stairs, Antonio Alfonseca, Ugueth Urbina, Mike Lansing, Jeff Fassero). Coupled with solid development of young players signed under other regimes (Walker, DeShields, Galarraga, Mel Rojas), Dombrowski’s organization had built the foundations for what would become the best team in baseball in 1994.



2005 All-Stars

As baseball commentators from all around the crowded ‘net have opined, we’re entering a bit of a silly-season for talking about baseball. The time for predictions is long past. Comments on hot or cold starts have already been made, and while the sample sizes they’re based on are trickling towards relevance, they’re not there yet. It’s also too early for talk about pennant races or contenders, and it’s too early to determine who should play for next season and who should, to borrow an expression that’s gone from obscure to overused in the course of a few months, go all in. No problem, though. We can watch games, or even go outside and enjoy the springtime.

We can also look ahead to the Midsummer Classic, to be held this year in lovely downtown Detroit. For years the Tigers have been merely incidental participants, granted a lone player but without a star or a storyline aside from whether or not a Detroit player will actually enter the game. Last year was an exception. Two Tigers made the roster for the first time since 1994. Ivan Rodriguez started, batted second, and went 2-4 with a triple, though Carlos Guillen, the fourth shortstop on the AL team, didn’t get any PT on the 30-man team.

I think we can be fairly sure that any Tigers that squeak onto the roster this year will make appearances in front of the hometown fans. What are the chances that we’ll get more than the obligatory one player? Let’s take a look.

Alan Trammell, odds: 1:10,000. This one’s cheating a bit, as Trammell has already been named a coach for this year’s team, under BoSox manager Terry Francona. It seems to be something of a tradition to name the home team’s manager a coach. Jerry Manuel was on the squad for the 2003 game at Comiskey though he would be fired at season’s end, and Jimy Williams received the same “honor’ last year in Houston even though he’d be fired the next week. Trammell is in no such immediate danger, however, and deserves a chance to receive a lusty cheer on national TV during the intros.

Ivan Rodriguez, odds: 2:3. Pudge was named starter by the fans last year, but may lose out to Jason Varitek as the inescapable outpouring of Red Sox love extends into the All-Star voting. Furthermore, though he’s off to a decent start, Varitek, Javy Lopez, and Joe Mauer are all off to significantly better ones. Still, Pudge is well-liked, will be hitting .300, and is seen as the best player on the team. It says here that if Mauer stays healthy for the first half of the season, Francona squeezes four catchers onto the roster. Maybe they should always have a DH in the All-Star game so they can overload a position. At catcher, I think they’re going to need to for some of these guys to get a chance, because the era of Mauer is about to begin.

Carlos Guillen, odds 2:3. Guillen is the AL batting leader, and his odds are only this low because of the chance that he could get hurt. He, Miguel Tejada, and Derek Jeter should make the team. The only thing, aside from the DL, that could keep Guillen out is a serious slump coupled with Red Sox nation throwing Edgar Renteria or even Orlando Cabrera into the mix as the starter.

Jeremy Bonderman, odds 3:1. Bonderman just needs to keep it up. He’s currently tied for second in the league in wins, he’s third in strikeouts, and 19th in ERA. If a couple of bad outings push his ERA up into the upper fours, he’ll struggle to make it. If he’s got 11 or 12 wins with an ERA under four come selection time, he’ll be hard to deny.

Dmitri Young, odds 8:1. Nothing wrong with Dmitri’s start: .302/.362/.528, 15th in the AL in OPS as of this writing. The fact that he’s quotable, gregarious, and made headlines on opening day doesn’t hurt, either. He’ll need to pick up the home-run pace, however, not to be denied by a decent cornerman from a one-player team. Players like Mike Sweeney, Aubrey Huff, and Travis Hafner stand directly in Young’s path.

Brandon Inge, odds 15:1. Inge’s fast start has been tarnished by a flu-influenced slump, and he’s clearly behind the likes of A-Rod, Melvin Mora, Hank Blalock, and Adrian Beltre in the ranks of most valuable AL third basemen. Still, Beltre is off to a horrific start, Blalock a mediocre one, and Mora’s emergence is not so widely recognized that should he get cold and Inge hot, the true order of things might get reversed. It’s not terribly likely that he’ll be better than Mora, but that doesn’t mean that Inge’s improvement over the last couple of years is any less remarkable.

Ugueth Urbina, odds 40:1. Troy Percival’s injury opens the door here. Urbina has started to pitch well; no reason he can’t uncork 20 saves in 35 games if the team gets hot and Percival doesn’t come back.

Troy Percival, odds 70:1. No reason he can’t uncork 20 saves in 35 games if the team gets hot and he comes back in the minimum 15 games.

Jason Johnson (100:1), Nate Robertson (95:1), and Mike Maroth (80:1). All three pitchers are off to reasonable starts with ERAs under 4.00. It’s not likely however that they’ll both improve on their performances and vulture some wins. Maroth has the best chance, as he’s striking out more hitters than at any point in his career and might seem like he deserves a reward for 2003. Robertson and Johnson are walking as many batters as they strike out.



Slouching Towards .500

I’d like to introduce Jeff into the small Tigerblog family of writers. In his first column, he takes a look at the Tigers legacy, or soon to be lack thereof. Nice work, Jeff.

* * *

The current era of Tiger baseball began with a whimper in 1994. In that strike-shortened season, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson were 37, Alan Trammell was 36, and Tony Phillips was 35. Save Trammell, though, they all had big years, as did relative young tykes Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton, and even Junior Felix. The pitching, however, was atrocious, and Detroit fell short of .500 by nine games. (Can you name the only Tiger starter to lead the team in ERA twice since then? Itís Felipe Lira in 1995 and 1996. He was 15-27 over that stretch.)

We all know what happened after that. The hitters got older and promised reinforcements either never quite showed up (Milt Cuyler, Raul Casanova, Robert Fick), or were nothing but drops in the slop bucket (Tony Clark, Bobby Higginson). The pitching never improved, and even the occasional inspired personnel move Ė like the trades both for and of Mark Redman Ė werenít enough to overcome so much negative inertia. That 1994 season kicked off a streak of eleven straight losing seasons, a streak the Tigers are still trying to bust.

Sitting here in 2005, itís easy to forget how different the Tigers were in 1993. Pieces of the 1980sí best team were still in place, supplemented by a recurring diet of bashing free-agent and trade acquisitions like Fielder, Tettleton, and Rob Deer. The Tigers werenít necessarily poised for greatness, but they were coming off of 13 winning seasons in 16 years, they scored more runs than anyone else, and greatness hadnít yet grown faint in the rear-view mirror.

Itís also easy to see what the years 1994-2004 Ė weíll call them the Lost Years — have done to the Tigersí legacy as a franchise, as the Lost-Years indignities stack up. Tiger Stadium sat empty while hope surrounding Comerica Park faded amidst stadium debt and general indifference. The Tigers slunk out of the AL East, away from traditional rivals they could no longer compete with. Free agents with other choices never hesitated to seize them.

At the end of the 2004 season, though, the Tigers had still won more games than they lost, 8150-7959. Thatís good for a .506 winning percentage, eleventh-best in the majors and ahead of franchises like the Braves, Aís, and Mets. Itís also 191 games over .500, which seems like a reasonable figure. But itís not, not for Detroit. In 1993, the Tigers were 518 games over break even, or two-and-a-half times better than they are now. When Trammell and Whitaker reached the majors for good at the end of 1977, the Tigers were 389 games ahead. After Al Kalineís rookie year of 1953, Detroit had won 290 more than it had lost, good for an all-time winning percentage of .518.

The Tigersí franchise winning percentage stayed at .518 until their last winning season in 1993. Since then, theyíve been 694-1021, good for a .405 mark, plunging the franchise record all the way to .506. Eleven years have been enough to wreck a long history of competitiveness. If the Tigers keep losing at this horrid pace, theyíll drop below .500 as a franchise early in the 2011 season, or if youíre an enternal pessimist, just about the time Jeremy Bonderman wins his second Cy Young Award as a member of the Diamondbacks. Perhaps the saddest thing about these Lost Years is that 2003ís historic 119 losses arenít even that much of an outlier.

If the 2005 Tigers break .500, or make a run at second place in the watered-down AL Central, will that usher in a new era, one to which we can assign a less-depressing nickname? Clearly the answer is no Ė they need to sustain a decent (or even a good) run to change the way their fans and the competition perceive them. One 82-80 season wonít make a difference, just like 2000ís 79-83 season didnít. But it sure was good to see the Tigers at the fringes of the wild-card race in July and August of 2000, to have something Tiger to discuss aside from new marks for futility. Thatís whatís at stake this summer Ė the opportunity to be a Tiger fan, not a Tiger apologist, the opportunity to build a bandwagon, even a short-lived one, for people to jump on. Every sustained run starts somewhere.



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