Detroit Tigers: Biggest Disappointments So Far in 2013
It's crazy to think that at the halfway mark, a team eight games over .500 and 3.5 games up in its own division could have several disappointing pieces, but that's just the case for the Detroit Tigers so far this season.
The Tigers are poised to win their third consecutive American League Central Division championship, but things haven't gone as smoothly through the first half of the season as Detroit would have liked.
Although there have been a few pleasant surprises, there have been glaring disappointments from several players who were expected to be key pieces in the Tigers' run at back-to-back World Series appearances.
Here are the Tigers' eight biggest disappointments so far this season.
So far in 2013, the Bruce Rondon experiment has blown up worse than the Tigers could've expected.
Rondon was given the opportunity in spring training to win the closer job. And because general manager Dave Dombrowski had so much faith in Rondon—albeit sight unseen—he refused to go out and make a splash in free agency.
Rondon was the only closing option in the Tigers' minds going into the spring, and as he began to struggle—as an unproven 22-year-old rookie would—Detroit's front office began to panic.
After posting a 5.84 ERA in 12.1 IP during spring training, Rondon started the season in Triple-A Toledo. He performed admirably with Toledo, and after the Tigers' closer-by-committee experiment failed, Rondon was called up to make his major league debut.
His debut was a sign of things to come. He would go on to give up three runs over his next three short appearances, earning him a demotion back to Toledo.
Believe it or not, Alex Avila being placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday just might be the best thing for him at this point.
His performance on the field couldn't have gotten much worse this season.
The only thing consistent about Avila's game so far in 2013 is that he's been consistently bad. He's posted averages of .183, .158 and .171 in the months of April, May and June, respectively, leading to a .172 overall mark with five home runs and 13 RBI in 48 games.
Avila, whose latest trip to the DL is because of a bruised left forearm, had a breakout season in 2011 with a .295 average, 19 home runs and 82 RBI. He earned an All-Star appearance and helped lead the Tigers to their first AL Central championship.
But just as quickly as he emerged, his game caved last season, as he posted a .243 average with nine long balls and 48 RBI. His production this year has gotten even worse.
He's lost a significant amount of playing time in favor of backup catcher Brayan Pena, who's hitting .109 points higher than Avila and has just one less RBI in 21 fewer games.
Avila was supposed to be the Tigers' catcher of the future. But with his performance over the last season-and-a-half, the Tigers may have to seriously look into other options behind the plate.
While he's on the DL, Avila will be able to watch more film and the action from the dugout. Hopefully he'll be able to figure out what has gone wrong so far this season. If he doesn't, the Tigers might be in trouble at catcher for a long time.
He's not a disappointment to me because I never bought the notion that he was somehow going to succeed. For the Tigers, however, Jose Valverde has once again been a huge disappointment.
The 35-year-old had his latest meltdown on Wednesday in mop-up duty for the Tigers. He entered the game against the Baltimore Orioles in the ninth, trailing 3-9.
Valverde proceeded to give up four earned runs, including a home run, on five hits.
Batters are hitting .405 in Valverde's last eight outings, and after not surrendering a run in his first five appearances, his ERA has ballooned to 5.59.
Unlike most Tigers followers, I'm not surprised that Victor Martinez continues to struggle this season, 18 months removed from an ACL tear that kept him sidelined throughout the 2012 season.
But though there's no surprise here, that's not to say Martinez still hasn't been a huge disappointment for the Tigers thus far in 2013.
It was plausible that, after missing an entire season, it would take him a while to get his timing back. But he hasn't gained any consistency almost halfway through the season. He is posting a .230 average in June after batting .235 in May and .221 in April.
He's only had 12 multiple-hit games this season and has gone hitless in 27 appearances this year.
Martinez does have 33 RBI, which ranks third on the Tigers. But that's expected when you're hitting behind perhaps the best combined top four hitters in baseball and there are constantly runners on base.
With runners in scoring position, Martinez is only hitting .215. To put that number in perspective, Cabrera and Fielder, who hit before Martinez in the lineup, are hitting .463 and .278, respectively, with RISP.
The 34-year-old has batted fifth in 254 of his 258 at-bats this season and just isn't getting it done as much as he should be, especially considering who he's hitting behind.
But for Verlander himself, his performance so far this season just hasn't been good enough.
Verlander began 2013 in typical Cy Young form, with a 1.83 ERA through six starts in April. But with back-to-back bad starts in May, his season took a turn for the worse.
He's given up at least three earned run in seven of his last eight starts and currently sits with an 8-5 record and a 3.72 ERA through 15 starts.
Verlander's five losses match his loss total for the entire 2011 season—the season in which he won AL MVP—and is three short of his eight-loss record last year.
And it's June.
Reliever Brayan Villarreal has a 20.77 ERA for the Tigers this season. That alone is enough said, but based on Villarreal's performance last year, things looked promising that the 26-year-old would be a big contributor to the Tigers bullpen in 2013.
Villarreal gave up just 38 hits over 54.2 innings last season, earning a 2.63 ERA and a .201 opponent average. He earned 66 strikeouts a year ago, which was second-best among Tiger relievers, trailing only Joaquin Benoit.
Despite being shut down from the Venezuelan League on Jan. 4 with inflammation in his throwing elbow, Villarreal made the Tigers' Opening Day roster and performed well in his season debut on April 3. He gave up one hit and zero runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Minnesota Twins, earning a hold.
But then the wheels fell off for the right-hander.
The very next day, Villarreal gave up five earned runs on four hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.
He suffered losses in each of his next two appearances, combining to give up four earned runs in just one-third of an inning, ballooning his ERA to 48.60.
Villarreal slightly rebounded in his next two appearances, managing to keep opponents from scoring, but giving up an earned run against the Angels in 1.2 innings on April 20 was the last straw for Leyland.
The right-hander was sent down shortly after and hasn't received a call-up since.
Al Alburquerque is another Detroit reliever who, based on past numbers, was expected to have a big year in the Tigers bullpen.
Alburquerque took Major League Baseball by storm his rookie year in 2011, earning a sparkling 1.87 ERA with 67 strikeouts and 29 walks in 43.1 innings. He boasted a 6-1 record with a 1.15 WHIP and six holds in his first major league go-around and looked to shore up a struggling Tigers bullpen.
Detroit was dealt a big blow in 2012 when Alburquerque missed all but eight games last season after offseason elbow surgery. But when Alburquerque came back, he picked up where he left off, posting an even better 0.68 ERA in 13.1 innings.
This season, however, Alburquerque didn't click like he did in the past, posting a 3.14 ERA and 1.81 WHIP, getting through just 14.1 innings over 15 appearances.
With only a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (13 base-on-balls), Alburquerque averaged almost a walk per inning this season and was sent down to Triple-A Toledo on May 16.
He hasn't been called back up since.
Stop me if I sound like a broken record, but Phil Coke is yet another reliever who people expected to pick up from where he left off last season.
The good news for the 30-year-old left-hander is that he's one of the only pitchers on this list who's still on the major league roster.
The bad news for Coke is that of the pitchers still on the team, he has the highest ERA.
Coke took over the closing role during the playoffs last season after the Valverde disaster, and he had the performance of his life, posting a 0.84 ERA with a 0.75 WHIP and two saves in 10.2 innings.
But the wheels have fallen off for him so far in 2013.
He began the season as the main option in the closer-by-committee experiment and couldn't match his success from last October.
He blew a save and suffered two losses in April, starting the season with a 8.31 ERA the first month.
He's improved slightly over the last two months, after being removed from any closing consideration, but the numbers are still not good, currently sitting at 0-4 with a 5.23 ERA.
Perhaps the worst thing about Coke's performance this season is his numbers against right-handed batters. Against right-handed batters, he's yielding a .317 average and an OPS of .843. He's a complete liability against them and can't be trusted in any such situation.