I was watching the Tigers game the other day and in the first inning, the Tigers batted around. It was fun to watch, obviously, but something about it struck me. There really aren't any Tigers' hitters who are outperforming what I would call reasonable expectations at the plate.
The Tigers have 13 players right now who have made at least 100 plate appearances this season. Of those 13, 12 are still on the team and I think we can all agree Josh Anderson and his .597 OPS is not an exception to the previously stated rule. The remaining 12 are as follows, (AVG-HR-RBI, AVG/OBP/SLG):
Miguel Cabrera (.329-31-96, .329/.398/.551)
Adam Everett (.236-3-43, .236/.287/.325)
Curtis Granderson (.245-27-64, .245/.326/.443)
Carlos Guillen (.255-11-39, .255/.340/.449)
Brandon Inge (.234-27-79, .234/.324/.420)
Gerald Laird (.227-4-32, .227/.309/.327)
Magglio Ordonez (.295-7-41, .295/.366/.400)
Placido Polanco (.284-10-69, .284/.330/.402)
Ryan Raburn (.281-14-41, .281/.345/.517)
Ramon Santiago (.267-7-31, .267/.323/.398)
Marcus Thames (.251-13-36, .251/.312/.458)
Clete Thomas (.245-7-38, .245/.330/.395)
See what I mean? Who jumps out at you as a breakout or a surprise contributor in that group? Yes, Miguel Cabrera is having a great season that would usually get him some MVP play.
That's a given considering he's in the Top 10 in the American League for batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It's not the kind of season, though, where somebody is going to be watching him for the first time this season and go, "Whoa! Miggy's numbers are fantastic!" They are fantastic. Don't get me wrong. They're just not that surprising for Miguel Cabrera.
That's the kind of season I'm talking about the Tigers lacking. In fact, running down this list my first impression is that only Cabrera and Ryan Raburn are outperforming their respective expectations. I could even see Raburn's stats this season getting the response I was talking about above. Can't you?
If the Tigers face Andy Pettitte in the first round, can't you picture a Yankee fan noticing Ryan Raburn is leading off and slugging better than .500 and firing off an IM to his friend, "Whoz Rayburn?"
The thing about Raburn is he's only had 268 plate appearances this season. That's not too far above half of what he would need to qualify for the batting title. I'm not trying to take anything away from him. He's having a fine season and can only play when he's on the lineup card. He just isn't getting the kind of playing time that would allow him to roll up big numbers in the counting stats like home runs and RBI.
Of the other ten players, who catches your eye as being a net positive compared to expectations? Ramon Santiago? Clete Thomas? I checked with PECOTA (the projection system used by Baseball Prospectus) to discover both are outperforming their preseason projections according to that system, but that essentially means they're not as big a drain on the lineup as we expected.
It's not only that nobody is really outpacing our expectations. There are several whose numbers are a good deal worse than what we penciled them in for in April.
Curtis Granderson is struggling against lefties again and running into some bad luck in terms of hits falling in. If you took Magglio's numbers from above and told me they were Placido Polanco's, the only surprise would be that Polly was drawing more walks.
Finally, I know the Tigers picked up Laird for his defense but I'm also pretty sure they didn't expect to get these Neifi flashbacks from his plate production.
Now, the point of this article isn't to wonder how the Tigers are pushing for the playoffs in light of this information. We all know full well they took a step back offensively to get better as a whole. Their putting up 87 or 88 wins isn't even that surprising since I agreed with Detroit Tiger Weblog's Bill Ferris's guess of 84 wins at the beginning of the season.
I just think national viewers will be surprised when they see the lack of production in the Tigers' lineup. I think it's only natural when you see a one year improvement of 14 or 15 wins to expect a few guys in the lineup must have stepped up.
We'll just have to hope the real reasons for the improvement—a) better defense, b) the breakout season of Verlander and c) a pretty good bullpen—will leave defeated postseason opponents scratching their heads.