Detroit Tigers: 5 Reasons Motown Shouldn't Stress Concerns at the Corner
In the past couple of weeks, every ounce of excitement directed toward the Detroit Tigers has been matched with equal amounts of criticism.
The Tigers made arguably the biggest splash of the offseason, catching the baseball world by surprise and inking star first baseman Prince Fielder to a contract lasting nearly a decade. The nine-year, $214 million deal signed by Prince will provide Detroit with endless options in the lineup and the field.
Some of those options however, aren't exactly considered to be favorable choices. Fielder's arrival will push Tigers' current superstar slugger, Miguel Cabrera, back to his original position at third base.
Perhaps the fear of facing Miggy and Prince in succession is what has critics suddenly zeroing in on just how the infield transformation could destroy Detroit's title hopes. But I sense the move has some Tigers' fans concerned as well.
Maybe the fact that Fielder and Cabrera finished dead last together in fielding percentage, among qualifying first basemen in 2011, has kept the some of the celebration at bay. Or possibly the letdown in '07 that followed a World Series appearance and the massive trade that brought Cabrera to Detroit, re-appearing in the minds of Detroit's followers.
But fear not fans, the Tigers will be just fine in 2012 and beyond. And here's why:
A Motivated Miggy
Recognize this fella?
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Sure, to be anything above-average at the hot corner, Cabrera's best odds are probably being bitten by a venomous, superpower-gifting spider, and having every ounce of fat morph into muscle overnight. But as we all know, life isn't a comic book.
Fortunately, Cabby won't have to be great, or good, or even above-average. Heck, I don't even care if he flat out stinks at third, Cabrera and Fielder are hitting back to back!
In all seriousness, Cabrera is reportedly excited about the move, and should be shaving a few pounds before spring training. So that should help, maybe. But if it doesn't improve his defense, it should at least improve his movement around the bases.
Look, Cabrera is still going to get his walks, even with Prince waiting in the on-deck circle. Miggy is far too patient and intimidating a hitter not to reach base via the walk, at least 80 times a year.
Comerica Park has one of the most spacious right-center field gaps I've been around to see. So when Cabrera is on first, and Prince whacks one to the scoreboard in right-center, I want to see Miggy scoring, not gasping for air and allowing Gene Lamont to stop him at third base.
Defensively, the Tigers ranked 11th in the AL in fielding percentage at third base as a team in 2011. Cabrera likely won't improve those numbers in the future, but he can't make them much worse, either.
Offense Is Key to American League Success
Detroit should have no issues producing runs this season.
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Let's delve into some recent postseason history in the American League.
In 2011, the four playoff qualifiers were the Tigers, New York Yankees, Tampa Rays, and Texas Rangers. Of these teams, all but the Rays finished inside the top four in runs scored during the regular season.
In defense of the Rays, they did lead the league in fielding percentage, but also barely made the playoffs, and made little impact when they arrived.
Instead, it was the American League's 12th-ranked fielding team, the Rangers, who would go on to make their second-straight World Series appearance.
In 2010, the AL playoff field featured the top three teams in fielding percentage. Yet it was still the Rangers and their offense who blew past the Rays, Yankees, and Twins. Texas' 105 errors were significantly higher than that of the Yanks (69) and Twins (78) as well.
Then, in 2009, all four of the top offensive teams in the American League made the postseason.
Dating back to the Tigers' World Series appearance in 2006; it wasn't the eight errors in five games that sent them home losers. It was being outscored 22-11 in those games that crushed their season.
If the Tigers' 2011 lineup can't muster more than 11 runs in five games, they don't deserve a spot in the October Classic.
Oh, and your defending World Champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, finished 27th in all of baseball in errors committed during the 2011 season. I'm sure they don't care, though.
Don't Forget Don Kelly
Kelly is more than capable of holding down the hot corner when called upon.
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It almost seems that since Jim Leyland made it clear he plans on using Cabrera as his regular third baseman, he has to start there for all 162 games.
Some forget about the Tigers' super-utility man that is Don Kelly. In 2011, Kelly made 41 starts at the hot corner and committed just four errors. He even had a better overall fielding percentage than the defensive-minded Brandon Inge.
Offensively, Kelly hit .245 during the season and went .300 in his 20 postseason at-bats, a nice luxury for Leyland to have in case Cabrera does crumble at third.
So don't see surprised to see Cabrera DH here and there, in favor of Kelly at third. If any manager loves to mix and match his lineup, it's the Tigers' skipper.
Tigers' Pitching Can Overcome Defensive Shortcomings
Verlander and Co. have the firepower to keep the ball from bouncing around in the field too often.
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All the focus directed toward the overpowering offense and possible lack of defense, must have the Tigers' pitching staff feeling somewhat left out.
That doesn't seem very fair when your ace just completed a 24-win season, in which he claimed both the Cy Young and AL MVP awards.
Nor does anyone seem to be showing excitement over the prospects of Doug Fister sporting the Olde English D for a full season. Fister was lights out after a trade deadline move brought him over from Seattle. In 10 starts for the Tigers, he ripped off an 8-1 record with a 1.79 ERA, possibly outperforming his MVP-winning teammate.
If youngsters like Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello can improve in 2012, the Tigers could escape most games with Single-A players at the hot corners.
In addition to it all, you have Jose Valverde, arguably the best closer in baseball. Make your case against him if you like, but Valverde converted on all 49 save attempts in 2011. Trust me, you can't argue with perfection.
Newly added veteran Octavio Dotel was brought in to help out in the late innings as well, and Tigers' setup man, Joaquin Benoit, was untouchable after a slow start to the season last year.
Experience + Star Power = World Series Title
The Tigers have some unfinished business to take care of in 2012.
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After the Tigers appeared in the '06 World Series, expectations the following year were lofty, to say the least.
The addition of Miguel Cabrera to the current defending American League Champions, was scary by all means. But Miggy was still extremely young, as well as Verlander, who despite a brilliant 17-9 season, was nowhere near prepared for postseason baseball.
Despite stars like Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and Kenny Rogers, that Tigers' team was not built to contend on a yearly basis. It was a team building for the future, for years like 2011 and beyond.
The Rogers of '06 was no Verlander of '11. And although Ordonez was amazing during that memorable season, even twice the numbers from his year to remember won't match the production of Cabrera and Fielder on the same squad.
In 2011, the Tigers didn't outperform their abilities. They simply showed the rest of the league what Dave Dombrowski and Mr. Illitch have been assembling for years.
The Tigers are ready to take what they want in 2012, and no infield glove is going to prevent them from doing so.