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Comparing 2006 to 2009 Tigers

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Comparing 2006 to 2009 Tigers
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As we make our way through the final month of the 2009 season, there seems to be a lot of negativity toward our boys wearing the Olde English D. The national media scoffs at the AL Central whenever they come up, and our own fans sometimes seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

This squad hasn’t hit the finish line yet, but the skepticism reminds me of what was being said about another team as it headed into the postseason. That and a poll during the game the other night got me thinking. How do these 2009 Tigers stack up against the American League Champions of 2006. 

Before we make the comparison, we have to set a few ground rules. First, we’ll be comparing the 2006 playoff roster to what looks like the most likely 2009 playoff roster. The other thing is we’re comparing this team to the 2006 team as it was when the playoffs began. 

It may be true nobody is going to step up like Kenny Rogers did in 2006. It may also be true this lineup wouldn’t disappear for the World Series. But we don’t know and it doesn’t seem fair to give the 2006 Tigers credit and blame for their postseason before we know if this one will have one. 

Rotation

2006
Nate Robertson, 13-13, 3.84, 208.2 IP, 206 H, 29 HR, 137 K, 67 BB
Justin Verlander, 17-9, 3.63, 186, 187, 21, 124, 60
Kenny Rogers, 17-8, 3.84, 204, 195, 23, 99, 62
Jeremy Bonderman, 14-8, 4.08, 214, 214, 18, 202, 64

2009
Justin Verlander, 15-7, 3.38, 189.0 IP, 169 H, 17 HR, 215 K, 53 BB
Edwin Jackson, 11-6, 3.09, 175, 159, 20, 137, 58
Jarrod Washburn, 9-8, 3.55, 170, 150, 22, 97, 44
Rick Porcello, 11-8, 4.27, 128.2, 135, 20, 71, 42

(Armando Galarraga, 6-10, 5.05, 135.1, 147, 21, 88, 59)

The 2006 squad is amazingly consistent. Four starters with an ERA range from 3.63 to 4.08 is incredible, and it’s why Leyland wasn’t concerned too much about the order they went. Sure, you were nervous with Nate facing the other team’s number one but it sure was nice seeing Bonderman go up against Jaret Wright. 

That squad just didn’t have anything that even approached the 2009 version of Justin Verlander. He is far more dominant than anything the Tigers could produce in 2006 and it’s not particularly close. Ignore the ERA. Nobody approaches his strikeout numbers or the ratio of Ks to walks. The problem is we’ll be pretty nervous when the third and fourth starters take the mound, regardless of who they are. 

Pick: 2006

Bullpen (sorted by IP in relief)

2006
Joel Zumaya, RHP, 83.1 IP, 56 H, 6 HR, 97 K, 42 BB
Fernando Rodney, RHP, 71.2, 51, 6, 65, 34
Todd Jones, RHP, 64, 70, 4, 28, 11
Jason Grilli, RHP, 62, 61, 6, 31, 25
Jamie Walker, LHP, 48, 47, 8, 37, 8
Wil Ledezma, LHP, 60.1, 60, 5, 39, 23

2009
Brandon Lyon, RHP, 62.2 IP, 47 H, 6 HR, 46 K, 23 BB
Fernando Rodney, RHP, 58.2, 48, 5, 55, 27
Zach Miner, RHP, 51.2, 52, 4, 36, 27 (bullpen only)
Ryan Perry, RHP, 50, 46, 6, 48, 30
Bobby Seay, LHP, 43, 33, 3, 34, 15
Fu-Te Ni, LHP, 24, 15, 3, 18, 7

I didn’t include ERA because I don’t think it’s a very good measure of a reliever’s value. Looking at these two squads, I know the 2009 club doesn’t really have anything approaching what Zumaya was  but I feel better about them. Rodney matches up well with Jones and doesn’t have to follow the Jones rules (one inning only, never a runner on) to be effective.

Lyon has been incredibly effective for months now, and while he can’t dominate like Zumaya he has allowed us to feel pretty comfortable for a while now. I also like what Perry, Ni and Seay give you as you get deeper in the pen than what we got from Grilli, Ledezma and Walker. 

Pick: 2009

Lineup (in order of OPS+)

2006
Carlos Guillen, SS, 580 PA,.320/.400/.519, 136 OPS+
Marcus Thames, DH, 390, .256/.333/.549, 123
Magglio Ordonez, RF, 646, .298/.350/.477, 112
Craig Monroe, LF, 585, .255/.301/.482, 99
Brandon Inge, 3b, 601, .253/.313/.463, 98
Curtis Granderson, CF, 679, .260/.335/.438, 98
Pudge Rodriguez, C, 580, .300/.332/.437, 97
Sean Casey, 1b, 397, .272/.336/.388, 87
Placido Polanco, 2b, 495, .295/.329/.364, 80 

2009
Miguel Cabrera, 1b, 542, .336/.399/.562, 147
Curtis Granderson, CF, 574, .257/.338/.466, 107
Brandon Inge, 3b, 506, .239/.326/.444, 98
Carlos Guillen, LF, 236, .250/.331/.418, 94
Magglio Ordonez, RF, 415, .276/.349/.389, 93
Placido Polanco, 2b, 537, .272/.318/.393, 84
Aubrey Huff, DH, 521, .245/.315/.388, 82 
Gerald Laird, C, 379, .225/.305/.334, 67
Adam Everett, SS, 318, .244/.290/.336, 63

This is a similar comparison to the rotation. The 2006 club couldn’t really put up anybody like Miguel Cabrera, but one through nine they were far more consistent without the weak hitters like Everett and Laird. It’s pretty surprising to see Polanco is hitting almost as well this year as he did in 2006, isn’t it? 

Pick: 2006

Bench

2006
Omar Infante, MI
Ramon Santiago, MI
Neifi Perez, MI
Alexis Gomez, OF
Vance Wilson, C

2009
Ramon Santiago, MI
Clete Thomas, OF
Ryan Raburn, OF
Marcus Thames, OF
Alex Avila, C 

This really isn’t even close in my opinion. The 2006 bench was almost useless, and it was just lucky that having to cycle these guys in when Casey went down wasn’t a disaster. The only thing gained by putting any of these guys in for one of the starters is maybe some defense at short when Perez or Santiago were in there. 

The 2009 bench is actually quite useful. Raburn is a good part-time bat who is versatile in the field. Thomas can be put in for defense or to face a tough right-hander. Santiago is pretty much in a timeshare with Everett and Thames offers the power right-handed bat that can spell one of the lefties late in the game. Finally, Avila may actually even play a game or two in the playoffs, unlike Wilson in 2006. 

Pick: 2009, by probably almost enough to make up for the difference in the starting lineups.

Defense: 

I would say the defense is pretty much a push. The positives for the 2009 club are gains at shortstop, Granderson's defensive improvement and I think Miggy is better than Casey. It's also nice to have Clete Thomas for Maggs' defensive replacement.

The 2006 team, however, had Ordonez, Polanco and Inge when they were three years younger. Also, Monroe was no great shakes in left, but he was probably as good as Raburn and better than Guillen with the glove. 

 

Overall:

I’d give the 2006 club the slightest of nods, but it’s very close in my mind. I like the consistency of the 2006 rotation, but the Verlander-Jackson combo is nasty and if Porcello keeps throwing like he has been he’s going to make it hard to sit him for the playoffs. I think the 2009 bullpen is a little more reliable with better control and the 2006 lineup isn’t all that much better when you consider the 2009 lineup has so much more flexibility for different situations.

Now, you may be reading this and shaking your head. How can a team that won 96 be only marginally better than a team that will probably only win 86 or 87? I go back to the fact that we’re only talking about playoff rosters.

That sheds the shaky fifth starter the Tigers have had so much trouble finding and it also makes the back end of the bullpen nearly irrelevant. Mix in the 2009 squad having a true ace and a bona fide MVP candidate and I wouldn’t put much money down one way or the other in a head-to-head matchup.

 

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