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The Problems With the Tigers

June 7, 2012

Baseball

I’ve tried, for quite some time, to stem the floodgates.

No longer.

The Detroit Tigers are in serious danger of finishing behind the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and even the “lowly” Kansas City Royals in the American League Central.

This is not a hoax, a joke, or a scam.  It’s not, as a Miller Lite commercial once stated, “a travesty, a sham, and a mockery.”  It’s real life.

Folks, I think it’s time to come to terms with a simple fact about this ballclub.  The Tigers, as presently constructed, just aren’t that good.

Sure, they have all-world players in Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and maybe even Prince Fielder.  But what about after that?  How many of these guys ARE good?  Is it just Austin Jackson, who has been sidelined with an oblique strain for a while?

We could include Alex Avila in this conversation…  But as Jason Beck pointed out via fangraphs.com, as of May 24, Avila did not have a single hit against changeups.  After catching so many games down the stretch last year, it’s fair to suggest that his body may have absorbed a bit too much punishment.

Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch are awful defensively.  Boesch is frequently out of position, not sure with the glove, and doesn’t have the athleticism to make up for his lack of range.  He’s clearly the better defender of the two…

The Delmon 360.

Delmon Young was such a tantalizing prospect a few years ago.  But now he’s a guy who just got busted for racial abuse, has been run out of two other towns, and has only topped 15 homers once in his career.  So is he a big power threat?  Or just another guy who was supposed to be?  Either way, he has been a huge problem batting 5th every day.

But he’s really the only guy who even can.  Jhonny Peralta doesn’t offer the theoretical power that Delmon does, nor does Alex Avila.  Meanwhile, Young hasn’t produced according to his spot in the order and I think it’s fair to question if he can.

Then there’s the issue of Ryan Raburn, who is presently hitting sub-.200 in Toledo after a slightly worse stint in the big leagues.  A guy who typically turns it on after the All Star break, Raburn is noted for being able to play many positions, but none very well.  Remember when Raburn committed thre errors in a game against Kansas City in 2009?

The responsibility of a manager is to put his players in a position to succeed.  Playing guys out of position, trotting them out there every day during a season long slump, and failing to provide the coaching prowess to bring players out of a prolonged slump does not accomplish that goal.

Alex Avila recently went on the disabled list due to a right hamstring strain, after missing two straight games due to the condition.  Leyland said the decision to play Avila was likely due to a mistake on his part.  If that’s a true statement, then shame on Leyland for not knowing if his player was healthy or not, especially given how banged up this team is.  This is a horrible time to lose the starting catcher.  If it’s untrue, then it’s another in a litany of excuses for the Tigers.

And that’s been the story of the Leyland era in Detroit.  There’s always a guess, always a reason, always an excuse.  The fans have heard too many excuses and not enough wins to justify all of them.

Why is Lloyd McClendon still employed as the hitting coach of this team?  The Tigers are 25th in the league in walks.  A ballclub with free swingers like Delmon Young and several guys who display questionable power needs to be able to work the count.  One of the Tigers biggest issues this season has been swinging themselves out of innings.  Nothing helps a guy like Phil Hughes look like a world-beater than first pitch grounders.  Hughes pitched his second career complete game, and only his first 9-inning effort, against the Tigers on June 3.

Let’s not forget that Chris Shelton, Craig Monroe, Gerald Laird, and Curtis Granderson all hit well for a time in Detroit, then cratered and didn’t recover in Motown.  Granderson was dealt to the Yankees and was instantly transformed into an MVP candidate.  That’s no coincidence.  During his Detroit tenure, he tantalized fans with flashes of power, yet couldn’t hit left-handed pitching.  This year, he’s hitting .273 vs. LHP, more than 30 points better than against RHP.

Gerald Laird left the team for a year after he was ridden out of town on a rail for poor hitting, yet has contributed with the bat since his return, having seemingly figured out his issues while elsewhere.

Free swinger after free swinger have come and gone in this town and questionable plate discipline has always been an issue.  Yet McClendon is a constant for the Tigers hitters.  What quality advice has he provided?  What has Leyland done for that matter?  He hit Raburn 2nd less than a week before his demotion, citing the possibility of lineup protection for the struggling man.

When Leyland was in the National League, did he ever hit the pitcher second?  What would he say if I said Tim Wakefield should hit in the 2-spot?

Having Justin Verlander hit cleanup is good for him, right? For lineup protection?

The Tigers have continued to disappoint, and now the injury bug has caught up.  The ballclub put together by Dave Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch hasn’t been managed well by Leyland, but let’s not forget how this hodgepodge of talent came together.

When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder for five 18-wheelers filled with solid gold, second base was a priority that had not been addressed.  The “solution,” after having Scott Sizemore shipped out a year ago to make room for Carlos Guillen at 2B, was to plug the defensively atrocious Raburn in.  Which means that the issue of second base was never going to be fixed.  There was never a time when the Tigers looked at second base and declared it as a position of need, which it has been since Placido Polanco left a couple of years ago.

Let’s not forget the Tigers draft record over the last few years.  Ryan Perry, Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Dusty Ryan, Wilkin Ramirez, Jeff Larish, Brent Clevlen, and Eulugio De La Cruz have all been Top 10 prospects that haven’t amounted to more than average role players with massive flaws in their game skills.  That’s at their best.

With very few hits, and several of them dealt away over the years, the Tigers don’t have many reinforcements when players like Raburn or Young struggle for a lengthy period of time.  There just isn’t any room for error.  The blame for that lies solely on management.

Now, even Phil Coke has said that injuries are getting in the Tigers heads.  I’m not sure that having everybody healthy would make a huge difference.  Casey Crosby’s first Major League win was the first by a Tigers starter pitching from the 2 spot in the rotation this season.  The bullpen hasn’t been great, the hitting hasn’t been timely, and the defense has been terrible.

Admittedly, this team can’t really play much worse than it has as a whole so far.  But it’s not early in the season anymore.  Now, it’s legitimately time to be concerned.  It’s time to ask the question if this group of guys is capable of playing any better.  This Tigers team just might not be that good, folks.  It’s time to seriously start wondering if this team is going to make the playoffs or not.  Time is starting to run out, folks.  There comes a time where it isn’t negativity.  It might be the story of the season.

The 2009 season collapse was an abomination.  2012 might be an embarrassment, too.  With the frustration of so much hope lost and so many seasons wasted, it’s fair to speculate that this may be another lost cause for the Motor City Kitties.

What Tigers fans may be viewing in October.

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About mattpocket

I am the Sports Director at 88.3 FM WXOU Radio, out of Oakland University. I am the play-by-play voice of the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. I've been to two NCAA Tournaments, been heard on ESPN, and won 9 Michigan Association of Broadcasters Awards. Follow me on Twitter. @cornerpocket422 You can tune in to The Corner Pocket every Friday from 3-5 pm with my cohost Bryan and Everson and myself, featuring the best guests, such as Dave Birkett, Jim Nill, and Bruce Buffer.

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2 Comments on “The Problems With the Tigers”

  1. Michael Gazdik Says:

    Above average fielders based on Rdrs: Avila, Dirks, Jackson, Kelly.
    The rest of the Tigers’ fielders this year are at best below average in the field, with Boesch topping the inadequacy. We simply cannot afford such fielding ineptitude without the supposed run support these players are supposed to bring. It looks like Boesch may be finding his rhythm, but the sample is small.

    This is a team of sub-par, hot and cold DH’s.

    Reply

    • Michael Gazdik Says:

      Crazy enough, it may seem the most important every day player on this squad is Austin Jackson. He was the best defender in the league last year. (based on DEF WAR)

      Reply

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