The Tigers have played 39 games in the 2010 season. They recently shook up their roster in a weekend series against the Boston Red Sox. Struggling SP Max Scherzer and 2B Scott Sizemore were shipped off to exile in the minors. The pair have given fans ample opportunity to scratch their heads and wonder about some of the offseason moves the Tigers have made.
Well, I figure 39 games is enough of a sample to evaluate and second guess everything the front office did over the winter. Let's see what David Dombrowski got right for this season, potentially for the future, and what he perhaps bombed out on.
It was tough to say goodbye to Curtis Granderson. It still hurts. However, watching Austin Jackson play takes a lot of that pain away.
This kid is 23 and not only is he the best rookie in either league this year, he is one of the top outfielders overall.
Among qualifying American League hitters, Jackson is seventh in batting average (.331), second in hits (52) and is tied for third in runs scored (28). Unfortunately he is also the leader in strikeouts. However, many of those are from taking a called third strike, which is much easier to remedy than continually swinging and missing.
It was hard to lose a fan icon like Granderson, but Jackson is more than filling the center field shoes left behind. Jackson is a treat to watch in the field and on the basepaths.
Detroit is a good fit for him. He once quipped that Yankee fans hyped him up expecting him to be the next Babe Ruth. Tigers fans did not expect quite so much, and he is paying dividends in return.
Did I mention that he is only 23?
I will admit I inwardly groaned when the services of Joel Zumaya were retained for 2010. I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered he accepted an arbitration offer for less than a million dollars, and I'm sure you did too. After all, I've seen a million dollars wasted on less.
Still, I was skeptical. Since his outbreak in 2006, all Zumaya had shown is fragility, a mounting walk rate, and a fastball that, even at 101mph, could still get clobbered.
Way to prove me wrong, Zoom-Zoom. I am glad you have thus far. Fragility? No check: 23.2 innings pitched in only 15 appearances. Walks? No check: he has only walked four batters. Getting clobbered? No check, opponents BAA is .247, ERA is 1.90.
Zumaya is once again flourishing into a dominant stopper in the bullpen. Hopefully I didn't just doom him to being jinxed because of previous statements made above.
I have always said that every year, even a good team will get a unexpected contribution from an unsuspected source. It seems to happen every year, where a player flies under the radar only to explode onto the scene and carry his team on his shoulders for a while.
That guy this year for the Tigers is Brennan Boesch. Prior to this year, Boesch hadn't played above AA ball in Erie. I doubt he will be going back that low after the torrid start he is off to in Detroit.
In 19 games he has driven in 19 runs, stabilizing the middle of the batting order behind Miguel Cabrera.
Of course, we do not expect his numbers to prevail. He has an unsustainably high .421 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) which should regress toward the .300 mark eventually. But there is no reason to think he can't continue to be a presence in the middle of the order driving in runs, and actually catching the ball in the outfield, something Ryan Raburn struggled with.
Maybe David Dombrowksi was expecting the unexpected. Maybe he was counting on someone in the minors to shine. Perhaps this is why he was not overly concerned about some of the roster questions that prevailed through the winter. Boesch has seen to it that this one is taken care of.
I agreed with the decision to let Placido Polanco go in free agency. I'd like to take this opportunity to take it back.
PP is going to be 35 this year, but wanted a multi-year deal that the Tigers were not willing to give him. I understood the desire to get younger on the field, as well as cheaper.
Still, Polanco was another fan icon beloved in the Motor City, and it was a sad day hearing the news that he signed in Philadelphia to play 3B.
And Polanco still "has it" as much this year in the City of Brotherly Love as he "had it" in Detroit. Stat line for the year so far: .318, 5HRs, 21RBIs, 22 runs scored, only one error.
PP was a great investment for the team that has played in the World Series the past two seasons. I now wish the Tigers were just a little bit older on the field, and a little bit more expensive.
Jose Valverde was another signing I was somewhat skeptical about. Why pay $7 million for a one inning relief pitcher? I rationalized it and defended the decision by noting that wins might be hard to secure this year, and that nailing down late inning leads was a bigger priority than ever.
This in turn meant having a good closer. The Tigers certainly got one. Thumbs up to the front office for this signing. Papa Grande has 10 saves and has only allowed one run in 17.2 innings pitched. Dominant.
The best part of Valverde, however, is the spectacle. He puts on a show from the moment he exits the bullpen gate. Spit to the left, spit tot he right, spit center....and giant hop and jog toward the mound.
The antics get even better once he gets on the mound. I got to see him live from the first base line in the first game against the Yankees last week.
The only thing I could think of was that I was watching a new era Mark Fidrych in an old English "D".
Remember earlier I mentioned that I've seen a million dollars wasted on less. That is the book on Brad Thomas. He is from Australia, but has spent the past couple years playing in Asia, both in Japan and Korea.
Prior to 2010 Thomas had not appeared in the majors since 2004 with the Twins. The Tigers should have kept it that way.
His ERA is 4.76, he walks more than he strikes out, and twice he has been called upon to spot start. Both times he only lasted three innings due to inefficiency.
Bottom line: Thomas' WAR (Win Above Replacement, or Value Over Replacement Player) is 0, meaning he is no more valuable than a minimally paid replacement.
The Tigers have a whole roster full of pitchers in Toledo who could put up the same numbers as Thomas....for $600,000 less.
I have to give Tigers' management credit for standing by Jeremy Bonderman. Jim Leyland mentioned, in a recent interview, the struggles that can befall a guy who is trying to transition from a power pitcher to a control pitcher. That guy is Bonderman, who lost his 96mph fastball after multiple surgeries to alleviate the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome.
Bonderman lives at 91-92mph these days. The results so far for the 2010 season have been somewhat rocky. He's gotten kicked around a few times. Still, management has remained steadfast that Bonderman is going to be a starter for 2010.
Some guys have a fairly short leash. Bonderman has a pretty long one. Then again, he does have 12 million reasons for management to try to get him on the right track.
Max Scherzer is only 25 years old. He will turn 26 in July. Last year was his first full season in the majors, in which he won nine games and struck out more than a batter per inning.
Scherzer is still young. He has good makeup and good stuff, but he is still young. His woes this year seem to have a lot to do with his mechanics, which you can tell from the photo above, are somewhat esoteric.
In all likelihood he will get straightened out in the minors and will return to Detroit as the fabulous rising star I used to watch in Arizona.
The offseason taught us the virtue of being patient and developing talent. Between Scherzer, Jackson and Dan Schlereth, the Tigers got quite a haul via trade. Sure they are raw, but the benefits of patience and good instructors will reap hug benefits.
SS Adam Everett got a hit today to raise his average to .200 for the season. Hello, Mr. Mendoza.
The Tigers can live with having a light hitting shortstop. They made that decision last year when Everett was originally signed. I cannot say that was a bad choice.
Everett plays phenomenal defense. Committing to him and his platoon partner Ramon Santiago at SS shows that management has committed to to pitching and defense as a means to win ballgames.
Pitching and defense DO win ballgames.
Signing Everett essentially said to the pitching staff, "Look at what we got you, a guy who keeps runs from scoring." I'm sure the pitching staff is loving it.
Everett does not hit much, but he still takes the field a couple days a week to play his superlative defense. Management is staying the course. Good choice.
The idea that Sizemore was/is not big league ready is not new. This has been an utterance since before the offseason began and Placido Polanco was allowed to walk without an offer.
All the naysayers were correct. Sizemore made 30 starts at 2B, committed six errors, and only hit .206 with one long ball. He struck out 26 times.
He was demoted after Saturday night's game, and everyone saw it coming. The offseason taught us that 2B was not a priority this year. There was too much money sunk into the rest of the roster to make 2B a priority.
Sizemore did well in Toledo last year, so the job became his. Now the job belongs to the collection of Ramon Santiago, Don Kelly and Danny Worth. This will last until Carlos Guillen returns from the disabled list and moves back to the infield, as was my suggestion back in November.
Sizemore will probably be back at some point this year. It remains to be seen if 2B will be his, or if the organization will go a different route this next offseason.
Of course, this is only May. Only 39 games have been played. Baseball can be really funny about turning the tables on people. All the words I said in this article....I could be eating them by the end of the season.
We can play the game on paper all we want, but the real game takes place on a diamond, 162 times.