Written by Matt Snyder | 17 August 2012

CabreraPeavyI think most Tigers fans were planning on being in coast mode at this time of the year. Predicted by many to be the runaway favorites in the American League Central, the division was supposed to be all but locked up once late August and September rolled around; the only question was whether or not they’d also finish with the best record in the entire American League.

But the baseball season often doesn’t unfold as anticipated. The Tigers dug themselves a nice hole with a horrible month of May, and the Chicago White Sox, fuelled by the resurgence of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy, the arrival of Chris Sale in the rotation, and a career year from A.J. Pierzynski, have lead the way in the division for much of the season.

Detroit was supposed to be a premier offensive club, but many of their break-out hitters have fizzled. A season ago, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta*, Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn, and Delmon Young combined for 13.1 WAR (as reported by FanGraphs). This season, those same five players have combined for 1.6 WAR. The White Sox, on the other hand, were supposed to be an also-ran in the division, but have found resurgence in quite a few places. In 2011, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, A.J. Pierzynski, and Jake Peavy combined for 0.7 WAR. This year, those four players have given the Sox 12.3 WAR. These numbers represent a huge swing in wins from a relatively small number of players.

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Written by Brian Buckey | 10 August 2012

Andy_Dirks_picAndy Dirks flew out to center field to end the Tigers’ 4-3 loss against the Yankees on Thursday afternoon. But that’s no indication of how he has played since coming back from the DL. In fact, he was playing great before he suffered a nagging Achilles tendon injury. What was thought to be a day-to-day ailment turned into over a two month absence. Dirks hadn’t played since May 31 before returning on August 3. He hasn’t missed a beat after his lengthy break from game action.

After the game on May 30, Dirks batting average was .328. With nine hits in his six games played since coming off the DL, Dirks has raised his average up to .349. The 6-0, 195 pound lefty has forced Leyland to give him more playing time in a crowded outfield.

Austin Jackson has been a fixture in center field but the other outfield spots have been in flux. Delmon Young, Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch, and newly acquired Jeff Baker are competing for the other two spots. Young spends most of his playing time at DH and Boesch earns plenty of time in right field. Baker profiles as more of a platoon player against left-handed pitching. That leaves Berry and Dirks competing on most nights for a spot in left field.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 08 August 2012


There’s still a lot of baseball to be played in 2012, and from the way things look to be shaping up in both the AL Central race (a half game out) and the AL Wildcard race (a half game up), the Tigers are going to be in the thick of the postseason battle from here on out.

But with the non-waiver trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, we can begin to create a fairly realistic picture of the payroll constraints the organization will face when we move to the offseason and into 2013. The first thing to do would be to determine the payroll cap. This number is obviously impossible to know for anyone not named Mike Ilitch, but we can probably come up with a reasonable assumption. Here’s a look at the club’s opening day payroll numbers since 2008 (the first years they eclipsed $100 million, numbers via Cots’ Baseball Contracts):

2012: $133,475,000

2011: $106,953,000

2010: $133,995,400

2009: $115,085,145

2008: $137,685,196

That’s an average of about $125 million with a peak just north of $137 million. The conventional wisdom around town is that Mr. I wants a World Series ring badly and is willing to stretch the payroll to achieve that goal. However, it doesn’t appear that there’s much room to stretch the budget beyond this season’s $133 million opening figure. Attendance has been good and TV ratings are reportedly very high, so perhaps the club will once again approach the $138 million mark (as they did in ’08), but I think it’s unreasonable to expect sizeable growth. It’s probably more than safe to assume a 2013 opening day in the same $133-$134 million range that we saw this year.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 06 August 2012

JeffBakerCubsThe Detroit Tigers announced on Sunday afternoon that they had acquired veteran utility extraordinaire Jeff Baker from the Chicago Cubs for two minor league players to be named later. Baker has played first base, second base, third base, and both corner outfield spots in his career, but with the recent addition of Omar Infante to fill the second base void, Baker is likely to see the majority of his action in the outfield.

The Tigers had made it no secret that they were looking for a right handed bat around the trade deadline – there were even rumors of the team asking about Alfonso Soriano – but with a myriad of quality-ish left handed hitting outfielders already on the roster, a platoon-type player was always the most likely addition. And that’s exactly what they’re getting here.

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Written by Brian Buckey | 05 August 2012

Cabrera_pictureIt looked like the Tigers were going to let one get away in the final game of the series against the Indians. After the game was tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Austin Jackson led off with a triple to the gap in right center. With a runner on third and no outs and the heart of the Tigers’ lineup coming up, the Tigers were going to win this one in front of the home crowd and sweep the Indians out of town. Right? Not so fast. Omar Infante struck out for the first out of the inning. Then Indians’ manager Manny Acta chose to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to load the bases. With Delmon Young due up, Quintin Berry was called on to pinch hit. With the Indians using five infielders to try to cut off the game winning run at home plate, Berry hit a sharp grounder to first base. Carlos Santana fielded and threw home for one out. Catcher Lou Marson returned the throw to Santana at first for a huge double play.

The crowd was deflated as the Tigers blew a golden opportunity to win the game. Cleveland promptly scored three runs in the top of the tenth. Travis Hafner and Ezequiel Carrera hit back to back homers off Joaquin Benoit. Lou Marson followed with an RBI double to put the Indians up 8-5.

Cleveland closer Chris Perez came in and quickly retired the first two Tigers’ hitters. Now with two outs and no one on base Cleveland would surely snap its eight game losing streak. Right? Again, not so fast. Perez walked Alex Avila and then walked pinch hitter Andy Dirks. Jackson followed with a double, knocking in Avila. Then Infante came up with a clutch, two RBI single, setting the stage for Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, who was at DH in order to give his sore ankle a little rest, sent a shot into the Indians bullpen to cap an amazing Tigers comeback. The 10-8 win sent the crowd at Comerica Park home happy after a thriller.

Here are some other notes from a wild game:

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Written by Brian Buckey | 29 July 2012

Jhonny_PeraltaJhonny Peralta and Doug Fister did their best to make sure the Tigers weren’t swept at the hands of Toronto. Peralta homered twice and Fister allowed just one earned run in his eight innings pitched. The Tigers managed four runs on a Peralta three run homer and another solo shot by Jhonny. The four runs were the most Detroit scored all series as they combined for just four runs in losing the first two games of the series.

The win at least put a positive spin on what has been a relatively rough road trip. After sweeping the White Sox at home, the Tigers rolled into Cleveland with a 1.5 game lead over Chicago. But Detroit stumbled against the Indians losing two out of three games. In the two losses, the Tigers’ offense combined for just five runs. Justin Verlander and Fister both lost their starts. Max Scherzer pitched well in the middle game to earn a 5-3 win.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 26 July 2012

RyanRaburnAndy Dirks was a late scratch in the Toledo Mud Hen’s lineup last night due to some soreness, but the decision seemed to be a precautionary move to allow the recovering outfielder some rest.

Jim Leyland has been quoted as saying that Dirks will stay on rehab assignment a little bit longer than is usual because he needs the at-bats after missing so much time, but rehab assignments are capped at 20 days (unless there’s special circumstances, and that doesn’t appear to be the case here) so we’ll certainly see Dirks back in Detroit in less than two weeks, and probably a lot sooner than that.

This brings us to the move that everyone’s been talking about recently (“Raburn, Kelly, Raburn, Rayburn, Raburn, Raburn, yadda, yadda, yadda”). When Dirks returns to the big club someone else has to go, and we really only have two candidates: Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn. Neither player are hitting very well this year -- Kelly has actually been slightly better at the plate, but let’s not go through the statistical hair-splitting exercise of trying to justify the value of having a 43 OPS+ bat on your bench instead of a 31 OPS+ bat. Let’s leave it at this: both have been very terrible at the plate this season.

The defensive versatility that either player brings is rendered a non-factor by the acquisition of Omar Infante and the presence of Quintin Berry. Don Kelly won’t be needed to play either third base or center field in a pinch as there are currently better options available (or at least reasonably similar replacements). Berry would get first dibs at any center field duties should something happen to Jackson (that’s why he was brought up in the first place), and Ramon Santiago (or Infante) could handle the hot corner for a spell if the need suddenly arose. So Don Kelly is now the third option in center field and the third (or fourth) option at third base, and Ryan Raburn is third in line for second base duties.

That leaves corner outfield defensive replacement as the only real defensive “need” that either player would fill, a position where both players have rated as “above average”. UZR rates Kelly as having plus range and an average arm, and rates Raburn as having average range and a plus arm (the magnitudes of each are quite meaningless given sample size constraints and the amount of playing time each would be likely to receive).

So here’s the conclusion on their abilities: both players have been relatively equally terrible hitters this season, and both players bring relatively equally good defense as corner outfielders.

So who should go? Here are four answers in order of how ideal each one would be for the team.

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