|Sportsbook||Win AL Central||Win AL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 56.5 (BetOnline)|
Some seasons are not about wins and losses. The 2020 season is not about wins and losses for the Detroit Tigers. It is about trying to pick up the broken fragments of an organization and putting them back together. Years of ill-advised spending and a lack of internal development have put the Tigers into quite possibly the worst spot in baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles can make a really strong case for that title, but the Tigers are just a special kind of disaster. It really is unfortunate to see, but playing exclusively for the now with no forethought into the future has repercussions and ramifications. Those are currently being dealt with in the Motor City.
Dave Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch are front and center in this dumpster fire. Explaining Ilitch’s involvement in all of this is pretty easy. He wasn’t getting any younger and he wanted to bring a title to Comerica Park. You can see the thought process. From 2011-14, the Tigers won four straight division titles and won a playoff series in three of those years. Detroit had World Series appearances in 2012 and 2006. The division seemed to be ripe for the taking on an annual basis. The Indians were in a rebuild. The Twins had fallen off after their decade of dominance in the 2000s. The White Sox just sort of existed and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2008.
It was the Royals. The pesky Royals that stood in the way of the Tigers and perennial trips to the postseason. Ilitch would stop at nothing to win. That meant high payrolls. That meant huge contracts to guys like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, who would both ultimately break down physically with large sums of money owed to them. That meant big money to Justin Verlander, who needed a career resurgence in Houston.
From 2008-17, the Tigers ranked outside the top five in year-end payroll just twice. They were 10th in 2011 and sixth in 2015. By 2018, the Opening Day payroll was slashed nearly $75 million from what it was the previous year. The 2019 Tigers had an Opening Day payroll of $115 million and change. That was nearly $85 million lower than 2017.
The cost of spending money hits more than a bank account. It blocks younger players from moving up the system, so many of them are traded in the quest for division titles and World Series appearances. The Tigers also forfeited draft picks to sign free agents and failed with most of the ones they did draft.
Nick Castellanos was a win, albeit as something of a late bloomer with a position change after being a supplemental first-round pick in 2010. Matt Manning should crack the rotation at some point this season or next. Christin Stewart has shown flashes. The Tigers have just been mismanaged up and down throughout the decade.
We’re seeing exactly what that means. The Tigers lost 114 games last season. That wasn’t even a franchise record, but the team still had its lowest Pythagorean Win-Loss win percentage in franchise history. Attendance has fallen off by 1.2 million spectators over the last four years.
There really is no end in sight for a team that has won 64, 64, and 47 games over the last three years. The win total odds suggest that. Is there something to get excited enough over with this team to consider an over?
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-277 (3.94/5.66)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||48.9-112.1|
|Record in One-Run Games||14-22|
|Additions: Cameron Maybin, Kennys Vargas, Hector Santiago, Ivan Nova, Alex Wilson, Jonathan Schoop, CJ Cron, Zack Godley, Shao Ching-Chiang, Austin Romine, Jorge Bonifacio, Jhon Nunez, Eric Haase, Dario Agrazal, Rony Garcia|
|Losses: Drew VerHagen, Edwin Jackson, Gordon Beckham, Josh Harrison, Matt Moore, Tyson Ross, Blaine Hardy, Daniel Stumpf, John Hicks, Victor Alcantara, Dustin Peterson, Eduardo Jimenez, Zac Reininger, Matt Hall, Marcos Diplan, Ronny Rodriguez|
I love the idea of the offseason for the Tigers. With one-year contracts to guys like Jonathan Schoop, CJ Cron, Zack Godley, and Ivan Nova, they are trying to buy prospects. The Tigers are going to be terrible and have one of the lowest season win totals in baseball. But they can pay for four months of an established Major Leaguer to look to trade him in July to get some futures for one of the worst farm systems in baseball.
More bad teams should do this. The Marlins seem to be at the forefront of this approach. After this season, the Tigers are down to one albatross contract (Miggy). They actually have only one player under control for next season. There are several arbitration-eligible guys, but Matt Boyd and Cabrera are the only players making over $4M in line for contracts next season.
The Tigers are on the hook for $6M of Prince Fielder’s contract for the last time. Between Fielder, Miggy, and Zimmerman, the Tigers owe $61M of their $101.3M projected payroll. When you are destined to lose over 100 games, you have to get creative with your spending and buying players to trade for prospects isn’t a bad idea.
It would be hyperbole to say that injuries are undefeated, but they are pretty damn close. Miguel Cabrera gutted it out through 136 games to lead the team in games played and also plate appearances with 549, but to say he is a shell of his former self is an understatement. Miggy batted .282 with a .346 OBP. Those numbers are fine. A .398 SLG with 12 home runs is not fine. Cabrera wound up with a .318 wOBA and a 96 wRC+.
Comerica Park is one of the worst parks for offense in all of baseball. The Tigers only hit 64 home runs in 81 home games. They scored 285 runs, which averages out to 3.52 runs per contest. Here’s the worst part, though. The Tigers only scored 12 more runs on the road. They were robbed of a game because it didn’t need to be made up, but they scored 3.71 runs per game on the road. Unfortunately, the Comerica Park excuse doesn’t fly with that kind of futility.
Offensive positives were few and far between. Niko Goodrum looks like a pretty good Major League player with the ability to play multiple positions and a decent speed/power combo, but even with the sympathy provided by the park-adjusted wRC+ stat, Goodrum was still 6% below league average offensively. Nick Castellanos was easily the Tigers best hitter before he was traded to Chicago. After that, it was prospect Victor Reyes with a .304/.336/.431 slash, a .325 wOBA, and a 100 wRC+ in 292 plate appearances. He was 3% above league average in the International League before his call-up.
Jonathan Schoop and CJ Cron are serviceable offensive players, but they go from decent hitters parks in Baltimore/Milwaukee/Minnesota to Comerica Park, where fly balls go to die. In both cases, these guys are dependent on the long ball. Cron has hit 55 of them over the last two seasons with a .253 batting average and low walk rates. Schoop has walked even less, posted a batting average of .244, and has hit 44 home runs.
Cron hit 25 HR in 499 PA last season and posted a 101 wRC+. Schoop hit 23 in 464 PA and posted a 100 wRC+. The park factor change will likely zap the power from both of them and it could really impact the trade value that the Tigers get down the line.
Maybe Jeimer Candelario comes back healthy. Maybe Christin Stewart can actually translate some pretty good minor league numbers to the Majors.
Maybe not and the Tigers don’t have a single league average offensive player. The best hopes are Reyes and Travis Demeritte, who came over from the Braves and posted a .225/.286/.343 slash with a 65 wRC+ and a 33.9% K% in 186 plate appearances after the Shane Greene deal. At least he’s hit well in the minors.
This looks like the worst offense in the American League and I don’t even think I’d lump the Orioles or Mariners in with the Tigers in that department.
It should come as no surprise with a win total in the 50s that the ceiling is very low for the pitching staff as well. Matt Boyd was the biggest story for the Tigers in 2019 and yet his final numbers don’t show it. Boyd finished with a 4.56 ERA, a 4.32 FIP, and a 3.88 xFIP. Boyd’s massive K% spike stuck throughout most of the season with a 30.2% K%, a 7.8% increase from 2018.
Unfortunately, Boyd allowed 39 homers in his 185.1 innings of work. To say it was a tale of two halves is to undersell it. In the first half, Boyd did allow 19 HR in 107 innings, but he limited the opposition to a .242/.283/.435 slash with a .301 wOBA. In the second half, Boyd allowed a .254/.325/.505 slash with a .344 wOBA against. Boyd allowed 20 HR in nearly 30 fewer innings and his BB% nearly doubled. His K% also fell 4.1%.
What Boyd did early in the season did appear to be unsustainable, but he should be better than his second half for the upcoming season. The weirdest thing about all of it is that Boyd allowed 26 of his 39 home runs at home, even though he worked 12.2 more innings on the road. I’m not really sure how to handle that information, but it doesn’t paint a pretty picture going into this season in a lot of ways.
Throughout the league are pitchers that I love. Spencer Turnbull is one of them. Turnbull made 30 starts in his first full season as a big leaguer and only won three of them. He was 3-17 with a 4.61 ERA, but a 3.99 FIP and a 4.63 xFIP. He did an excellent job of keeping the ball in the park with a 10.1% HR/FB% to go along with an elite GB% at 48.3% and a solid enough K% at 22.3%. Turnbull is the upside guy in this rotation for me. His Statcast peripherals aren’t stellar with a lot of hard contact from last season, but he’s in the right park to get away with mistakes. The downside is that he’s getting no run support and the Tigers project to be bad defensively again.
Beyond Boyd and Turnbull, there isn’t much here. Michael Fulmer will be out until at least midseason after undergoing Tommy John surgery and who knows how he will look when he gets back. Jordan Zimmermann is playing out the string of a big contract in which he has rewarded the Tigers with 508.2 innings of 5.61 ERA ball with a 4.86 FIP and a 4.90 xFIP. Ivan Nova is a placeholder for a guy like Matt Manning, who will debut this year. The Tigers could very well see debuts from Alex Faedo, Joey Wentz, Tarik Skubal, Beau Burrows, Kyle Funkhouser, Anthony Castro, and Manning all in one season. Who knows, maybe even Casey Mize will make the huge leap for a spot start.
Daniel Norris quietly held the opposition to a .316 wOBA in 53.2 innings in the second half last season. Maybe he’s something of a league average starter, though he did allow 10 HR in that sample size.
The bullpen may not be as terrible this season, but that is a low bar. The Tigers had one of the lowest K% among bullpens and one of the highest BB%. Buck Farmer was good and he returns. Shane Greene was good and he does not. It is a collection of mostly unproven homegrown talent and guys with MLB track records of being inconsistent.
Positives & Negatives
I give Ron Gardenhire a hell of a lot of credit for taking this gig. He wanted to manage again and knew what he was getting into. I’m not sure he expected 114 losses, but he’s been tasked with doing what he can while not losing his mind. Props to him for that.
The Tigers project to be poor defensively once again. They won’t be as bad without Nick Castellanos hailing cabs to track down fly balls in right field, but they won’t be great. They were a bottom-five defensive team last season and won’t escape the bottom 10 this season. It would be nice if they could for the sake of the pitching staff, but they won’t.
It can’t be easy to go into a season knowing that you will be a terrible team. I made the mistake of talking myself into the Tigers exceeding expectations last season. I won’t make that mistake again and I can’t imagine they are jazzed up for the start of the year. At least other bad teams around the league have some prospects to inject some life into the org or something. Not the Tigers, though the pitching prospects are starting to look better.
Pick: Under 56.5
To me, this is the worst team in baseball yet again. I know people want to look at the Orioles, but the Tigers are going to be worse than the Orioles in my estimation. Cabrera spent the winter dieting and trying to stay healthier, but the Tigers may not have a single league average hitter on this ballclub and I am not even exaggerating.
The pitching staff will look a lot different late in the year. With any luck, Zimmermann will pitch well enough to get traded. The Tigers have had talks about Boyd with interested parties. Most of Detroit’s top pitching prospects are in camp as non-roster invites, so guys like Manning, Skubal, Faedo, Wentz, and Mize could all see time this year. They have a lot more upside than what we currently see, especially Manning, who is a top-20 prospect in baseball.
The Tigers should look much better in the second half as the youth movement takes shape, but their one-year rental players will be hurt badly by the park factor in Detroit and the carryover Tigers just aren’t very good.
As a rule of thumb, I don’t bet on teams with win totals this low because we’re simply trying to figure out exactly how terrible they are going to be. That being said, this line is juiced to the over at time of publish and I would consider going under if the line moved up to say 59 or 60. This is not a team that can avoid 100 losses in my mind. A lot of guys will be learning on the fly in the back portion of the season.
I give a pick on every team. Some are deemed actionable and some are not. This one is not, but I do think this is the worst team in baseball and under 56.5 is the way I’d look.