Detroit Tigers: Why They Are Overrated, Not Under-Performing

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIMay 15, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 10:  Jose Valverde #46 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates after the game against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum on May 10, 2012 in Oakland, California. The Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland Athletics 10-6. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers are overrated.  There, I said it.  I know, I know, it hurts a little.  Let it sink in for a moment, and then I'll show you why.

It is understandable that they were thought of so highly entering the season.  They did win the Central Division by 15 games last season.  Then, in the first round of the playoffs, they were able to beat the New York Yankees, before ultimately losing to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series.

The success of last season, combined with the offseason addition of Prince Fielder, had many predicting that they would be a World Series contender all season.  That has not happened yet, as they have stumbled since the season began.  They currently sit at .500 with a 17-17 record—far below expectations.

Various radio stations, local writers and message boards have berated the team for playing so poorly.  The common theme is how the team is under-performing. 

A quick look at last year’s stats point out that the team actually over-performed last year and that their record would be closer to where it sits now than to the lofty record of last year.

Here's a look at the key contributors:

Brennan Boesch

Boesch is still a young player in his third season.  He hit .256 in his first season and hit 14 home runs.  Last season, he raised that to .283 with 16 home runs.  The power increase was promising, as it happened despite playing in 18 fewer games. 

DETROIT, MI - MAY 04:  Delmon Young #21 of the Detroit Tigers watches the action from the dugout during the game against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on May 4, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

An injured thumb ended his 2011 season early, but he appeared to be ready to continue his growth this season. Instead, he has dropped to a .231 average, and his power has dropped as well.  He is hitting almost 40 points below his .270 career average.

Delmon Young

Young was a late-season addition to the team last year.  He hit .274 and had eight home runs in only 40 games.  He spent most of the season in Minnesota, where he was having his worst season as a pro.

He has averaged .286 and almost 14 home runs in his career.  He hit a career-best 21 home runs in 2010, but he has only one so far this year.  His batting average has also plummeted to a .228.

Alex Avila

Avila had a breakout season last year. 

Like Boesch, he only had a limited role prior to last season.  In his first full season, he exploded with a .295 average and 19 home runs.  He finished the season as one of the top-hitting catchers in the league.

DETROIT, MI - MAY 06: Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox with teammate Prince Fielder #28 at Comerica Park on May 6, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 3-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This season, he has crashed back to earth with a .239 average—far below his .267 career average.

Jhonny Peralta

Last season, Peralta finally got what he wanted from a team: the chance to be the starting shortstop.  He responded with a .299 average, his best to date. 

Like the rest of the team, Peralta has dropped. He has hit only one homer and his average is .259 at the plate this season.

Ryan Raburn

Raburn has played so poorly this season that he cannot even see the Mendoza line.  At this point, he just hopes to stay above the Inge line.  He is hitting a pathetic .135 on the season.

He is a notoriously slow starter, but not usually this bad. 

In the past, he has gotten stronger as the season has gone on.  He's usually able to put together long streaks where he hits above .300 later in seasons, but due to his poor starts, his career average is .261.  This means he is almost 130 points worse this season.

DETROIT, MI - MAY 02: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers throws a sixth inning pitch while playing the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park on May 2, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. Kansas City won the game 3-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Miguel Cabrera

Even Cabrera has struggled this season, as he has been surprising inconsistent.  He has been as high as .451 and as low as .222.  Just in the last week, he went 0-for-13 against Seattle, then turned around and went 9-for-16 against Oakland.

Last season, he hit .344, well above his a career average of .316.   This year, he is at .294. While not bad for most players, it is the first time he has hit below .300 since 2008.  For his career, since becoming a full-time player, he has only hit below .320 twice.

Justin Verlander

Of all players to put up career numbers last season, Verlander led the way.  His numbers were not just career numbers—he had one of the most dominating pitching performances of the decade.  It is impossible to expect him to repeat such dominance. 

He will likely end up with 18-20 wins—still a great season, but a drop from last season nonetheless. 

Jose Valverde

Valverde put together an impressive season last year.  Since 2000, the average league leader in saves averaged five blown saves a season.  Only Eric Gagne in 2003 has been able to have more saves than Valverde while remaining perfect.  Only Gagne and Valverde have been able to lead the league in saves without blowing a save since 2000.

Over the previous four seasons, Valverde had averaged 35.5 saves while averaging just over five blown saves.  Last season, he was perfect in 49 saves.  He does have seven saves already this season, but he's also already blown two games in 16 outings.

As with Verlander, it is impossible to expect Valverde to repeat last year's performance.  Still, he too is falling into the team trap of playing below his career norms.  The two blown saves are ahead of his usual pace.  Even more troublesome is that opponents are hitting .254 against him.  Opponents have averaged only .205 off of him in his career, and only once in his career have teams batted better than .225.

While it was great last season to see player after player exceed their career averages, it had to be expected that they would return to their norms.  Unfortunately, many have gone the opposite way that they went last year and have fallen far below their career averages.  While batting average is just one measure of a hitter’s success, the stats are in decline across the board.

Last year, these batters combined to hit roughly 27 points over their career averages.  This year, they have combined to average 46 points below their career numbers and 61 points below last year.

Going into the season, we all looked at what this team accomplished last year and figured that they could maintain, if not exceed, those numbers this year.  In truth, they were more likely to come back to earth after playing above themselves last year.   This over-performance last season is what has led them to be overrated this year.

Now, I hate being all doom and gloom.  There is some positive within these numbers too.  As well as they played above their averages last season, they are even further below—plus-27 last year to minus-46—this year.  If they can just climb back to their usual stats, then they should be alright. 

Luckily, the Central Division is weak, and the Tigers are only one game out of first.  If the players just manage to play to their usual standards, they will win the division and make the playoffs.  And once in the playoffs, anything can happen.

PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports. You can follow him on Twitter.

To read his most recent articles, see:

Off Season Moves for Ken Holland

Best Stanley Cup Playoff Moments in Red Wing History

Best and Worst of the Detroit Tigers in April

Six Questions facing the Red Wings this off season

What we have learned about the Detroit Tigers so far


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