AL CentralAnalysis

2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

The Detroit Tigers are not a good baseball team. That sentence is a reminder for me, not the reader. It’s the same strategy I use when I’m out of chocolate milk. I leave a note on my fridge so that every time I open it up I remember that I need to restock the greatest drink in the world. The Tigers are my chocolate milk and that first sentence is my note. I constantly need to remind myself to lower my expectations for this organization. Why? Partly because a sixty game sprint benefits the bad teams, partly because of our talented prospect pool, and partly because my love for this team will always give me a slight bias. Regardless of why, I need the reminder, so there it is.

THE LINEUP:

Let’s start with the bats. Why? When someone asks you “Good news or bad news first?” you always say bad. So that’s what we’re going to do here. This offense is horrible. Last season, Niko Goodrun lead our batters in bWAR with a whopping 1.6 mark. 2017 Rule 5 pick Victor Reyes tied former Tiger Nicholas Castellanos, who only played half a season with the Cats, with 1.2. Besides that, the rest of the offense varied from 0.6 to -1.2. To put it lightly, this is not ideal. I’ve watched a lot of Tigers teams, and the 119 loss 2003 team saw Dmitri Young bWAR more than double Goodrum (3.4), even while being one of the worst defenders in the league. We also did not see a single bat reach an .800 OPS or a .300 BA. The worst stat, however, is in a year that saw record setting home run numbers, our team leader had 15. You get the point. Improvement is needed, in the worst possible way.

Now, believe it or not, this season will be incredibly intriguing for the Tigers. Not because we will be competitive, but because a large amount of player’s careers will be determined by this season. Now obviously a sixty game sample size is not what anyone wanted going into this season, but there’s nothing we can do about that. The fact of the matter is, with all of the talent we have coming up through the system and on the taxi squad, a majority of this roster is on the hot seat. The biggest example of this is Jeimer Candelario. The “Candy Man” was acquired for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila in 2017 and was immediately thrown into the starting 3B role. After an impressive OPS of almost .900 after the trade, we thought we had our third baseman of the future. Since then, Candelario has done nothing but rapidly decline, which was shown in his 70 OPS+ and .206 BA last season. Long story short, this year is his last year to prove if he is going to be part of the long term plan, or if he’ll just be a filler through the rebuild years. Additional pressure also comes from top organizational prospect Isaac Paredes, who ironically was the second piece of the same trade that brought us Jeimer. This is one of many cases though, as JaCoby Jones, Christin Stewart, Jake Rodgers, and Niko Goodrum are likely in the same boat. This situation that a majority of the roster seems to be in is a great sign. It shows that the Tigers are finally trending up. We are no longer tearing it down, because we’re at rock bottom. We can only go up from here, and the pressure to start proving you belong is a crucial first step for any team exiting a rebuild.

Honestly, there’s no point in projecting a lineup. We’re going to experiment and mess around with our lineup card so often there likely won’t be a starting point for it all. I can, however, give you the lineup I would write down:

  1. Cameron Maybin RF
  2. Jonathan Schoop 2B
  3. CJ Cron 1B
  4. Miguel Cabrera DH
  5. Niko Goodrum SS
  6. Christin Stewart LF
  7. Jeimer Candelario 3B
  8. Austin Romine C
  9. JaCoby Jones CF

Notice how our three free agent signings are the first three bats in the lineup? That’s really embarrassing. Maybin was an easy choice for leadoff, as his OBP last season would have lead our team. That along with his speed made that decision easy. After that? Kind of a toss up all around. As I stated earlier, this lineup will probably change nightly. We’re going to see a lot of experiments, especially as players prove their role for the future of the team. All in all this is an improvement over last season and we should have a somewhat respectable product offensively this season, but I wouldn’t pay attention to that as a whole. The reason this season is so intriguing is because of what this years results mean for the future, not because of the team’s results.

PITCHING:

The Detroit Tigers pitching genuinely excites me. That being said, quite a few of our pitchers are in the same situation a lot of our position players are in. Prove it, or you’re gone. The reason the pitching is more exciting is because there’s a lot more promise here. There are significantly more pitchers that have a future with this team than batters. I’ll start by giving you my rotation:

Rotation:

  1. Matt Boyd LHP
  2. Spencer Turnbull RHP
  3. Michael Fulmer RHP
  4. Ivan Nova RHP
  5. Daniel Norris LHP

This rotation plus Joe Jimenez at closer, and Buck Farmer in the setup role, has several pieces that could be here long term. Opening day starter Matthew Boyd should not be on this team. My anger from not trading him at the deadline has not subsided whatsoever, and I remain furious about the situation. That being said, he is by far the best pitcher on this team. A lefty with a 11.5 K/9 last season and only three years of service time is valuable to just about any team in the league. This makes him a prize possession for Detroit. We can debate all season long about if he should be traded (he should) but the fact is if he’s not traded he’ll almost certainly be in our rotation when the Tigers are competitive again. So whether he’s auditioning for other clubs, or the 2023 Tigers, every Boyd start is must watch TV. Spencer Turnbull is also one of my favorite stories on the roster. The Tigers 2014 second round pick was lights out in the first half of last season and really made his case for being in the future plans. His second half was a different story, as his ERA went from 3.31 before the break, to over 6.50 after. A sixty game season will be interesting for him, as he’s proven he can be very solid in a stretch that long. Turnbull is auditioning for his future harder than anyone else on the pitching staff. He could prove as a cheap, solid back end rotation starter for a competitive team if he can stretch out his first half of 2019. Michael Fulmer has a case for biggest storyline as well, pitching for the first time in nearly two years. The former Rookie of the Year and All-Star is finally back. Rumor has it the Tigers will ease Fulmer back in an unusual way, by making him an opener. The 27 year old will be apart of the rotation, but on his starting days he’ll only go two or three innings before he’s removed. This is a great plan, and I have no complaints as long as it’s temporary and truly is a way to ease him back into things. By the end of the season, if Fulmer isn’t going at least six innings, something is wrong. Ivan Nova is purely an innings eater and a rotation filler for the season, but Daniel Norris has something to prove. I’m sure I sound like a broken record but this is likely Norris’ last chance to prove he’s a starter on this team. The former prized prospect in the David Price deal, has been passed and lapped by “the other” prospect in the same deal, Matthew Boyd. Norris shows flashes, but lacks consistency of any kind. This is his last chance. It’s as simple as that. As far as the bullpen goes, Buck Farmer has likely earned a spot for as long as he can keep putting up 2019 numbers. Joe Jimenez still has a lot to prove as well. The Tigers franchise staple is a poor bullpen, and the once top organizational prospect was rushed through the minors in an attempt to fix that. The stuff is there for Jimenez. His pitches break and dance, but location and the endurance of a full season remain question marks. Clearly there are a lot of story lines to follow on the pitching staff in 2020 as the bottom dwelling Tigers show why they’re worth a watch.

MANAGEMENT:

This one will be short. Ron Gardenhire will not be this team’s manager for much longer. He’s likely gone after this season, and a chunk of his staff will follow. The biggest piece here is the pitching coach Rick Anderson, who continues to show his worth. Anderson has done wonders with this staff and it’s vital that as we continue to call up our plethora of pitching talent that he remains in the organization. Outside of pitching coach, the only coach’s status I’ll argue for is Lloyd McClendon. Please leave, Lloyd. I’ve never seen a coach continue to get opportunities while accomplishing absolutely nothing quite like this man has. He’s likely on his way out soon anyways, but that day can’t come soon enough. Keeping Ramon Santiago is okay too. He seems to have the respect and attention of all the players, specifically the veterans. Also, who doesn’t love Ramon Santiago?

THE PROSPECTS:

Now that you’ve skipped the entire article just to read my opinions on our future talent, let’s talk. It’s true, this is by far the most interesting and important story of the Tigers 2020 season. There’s no way to hide it or pretend like its not. As stated earlier, Isaac Paredes might be forced into playing time. The front office may have no choice if we are in loose contention while Candelario and Lugo continue to struggle (spoilers: Lugo will). Then there’s Casey Mize. The savior. The franchise. The future. We will see Casey Mize’s debut this year. If that doesn’t fire you up you aren’t a Tigers fan, and it’s finally reality. Zimmerman’s injury all but sealed the fate of that decision, and even though Mize isn’t on the Opening day roster, he will be on it in 2021, and for a very long time. We can’t waste a full year of service time on a non competitive team in a sixty game season. The team will wait until they can call him up without losing a year of service time and then pull the trigger almost immediately. Then, that’s where he’ll stay for many years to come. After those two names the list ends though. You will not and should not see the likes of Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. Not only are these guys not ready, but the team isn’t ready. Wasting service time when the major league roster is as poor as it is just doesn’t make sense. Not to mention the work they all still have as players. I’m excited too, but remember the first sentence of this article. The Detroit Tigers are not a good baseball team, but if we play our cards right, we will be soon. The current major league talent deserves a chance too. While my expectations are low, they still deserve their last chance. That’s the theme for this year’s Tigers team. Last chance to prove your worth, or the future talent will replace you. And they are coming. Soon.

FINAL PREDICTIONS:

PECOTA has us at 26-34,which lands us the fifth pick in next year’s draft, according to the rest of their league projections. I’m going to be more harsh and give us a final record of 21-39. This almost certainly puts us in the bottom three teams in the league and will likely mean a majority of the “prove it or leave” crew didn’t “prove it”. This isn’t a bump in the road however, and will only lead to a clearer picture of who we can build around.

What if we proved it, though? What if Mize pitches lights out right off the bat? What if Candelario returns to his .875 OPS form? What if Boyd and Turnbull are both top 15 pitchers in the American League? What if Miguel Cabrera finds lightning in a bottle and has a comeback saeson? Could this team be .500 in a shortened season? Anyone could get hot in that small of a sample size right? The AL Central is weak… Wild Card spot? Could the Tigers win the World Series!?

Stop.

The Detroit Tigers are not a good baseball team.

But…

Featured Image via @Tigers twitter

Scott Bentley

Detroit Tigers writer and contributor at Diamond Digest

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