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Know your enemy: The Detroit Tigers

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How is their rebuild going?

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Tigers actually got their rebuild starter a year before the Royals, tearing it down to lose 98 games in 2017 while the Royals were still trying to reach the post-season one more time with their World Series-winning core. They have lost 64 percent of their games over the last four seasons, and it doesn’t appear as if 2021 will show an appreciable improvement in the standings.

But there does seem to help on the way. Baseball America ranks the Tigers farm system as the fourth-best system baseball, with five prospects ranked among the top 31 in baseball. Some of those prospects will begin to make their debuts in 2021, giving Tigers fans a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Detroit Tigers

2020 record: 23-35 (pro-rated to 64 wins in a full season)

2020 pythag: 23-35

2021 ZIPS projection: 72-90

2021 PECOTA projection: 65-97

Key additions: Robbie Grossman, Derek Holland, Nomar Mazara, Renato Nunez, Julio Teheran, José Ureña

Key losses: C.J. Cron, Ivan Nova, Austin Romine, Jordan Zimmermann

After finishing dead last in runs scored, home runs, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in 2019, the Tigers improved their offense slightly in 2021. Jeimer Candelario had a career season, although it may be a bit fluky with his .372 BABIP. Shortstop Willi Castro came on strong in his rookie season to hit .349 in 36 games.

Jonathan Schoop proved to be a shrewd free agent signing, and he returned on another deal in 2021 to play second base. The Tigers will hope to get similar performances from the other short-term free agents they signed, like on-base machine Robbie Grossman. Renato Nunez hit 31 home runs in 2019 with Baltimore, and Nomar Mazara has flashed inconsistent talent with Texas in the past.

It won’t be long, however, before the lineup is supplemented by the first overall pick in last year’s draft, Spencer Torkelson. The former Arizona State star has struggled in camp, has not adapted well to playing third base, and injured himself trying to open a can, but many expect him to be in the big leagues quickly.

Projected Lineup (2020 numbers)

Tigers projected lineup

Lineup PA HR AVG OBA SLG
Lineup PA HR AVG OBA SLG
LF Robbie Grossman (S) 192 8 .241 .344 .482
3B Jeimer Candelario (S) 206 7 .297 .369 .503
SS Willi Castro (S) 140 6 .349 .381 .550
DH Miguel Cabrera (R) 231 10 .250 .329 .417
2B Jonathan Schoop (R) 177 8 .278 .324 .475
RF Nomar Mazara (L) 149 1 .228 .295 .294
C Wilson Ramos (R) 155 5 .239 .297 .387
1B Renato Nunez (R) 216 12 .256 .324 .492
CF JaCoby Jones (R) 108 5 .268 .333 .515
Bench PA HR AVG OBA SLG
C Grayson Greiner (R) 55 3 .118 .182 .333
IF Niko Goodrum (S) 179 5 .184 .263 .335
OF Akil Baddoo (L) 0 0 - - -
OF Victor Reyes (S) 213 4 .277 .315 .391

The Tigers were dead last in ERA last year, but the organization has a good supply of young pitching on the way. Veterans Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull will anchor the rotation, but both could become trade bait if they have a solid start. Michael Fulmer struggled in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, and a poor camp could get him sent to the bullpen. Veterans Julio Teheran and José Ureña are stop gaps and could be replaced quickly when the Tigers promote top prospects Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize, each of whom made seven starts in the big leagues last year, plus right-hander Matt Manning.

The bullpen is a fluid situation. Joe Jiménez flopped in the closer’s role last year, and manager A.J. Hinch may be more open to using his best relievers before the ninth. Bryan Garcia and Jose Cisnero were their most reliable relievers last year, and you could see several starters demoted to the pen once younger arms replace them.

Tigers pitching

Rotation ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9
Rotation ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9
LHP Matthew Boyd 6.71 5.78 60.1 9.0 3.3
RHP Spencer Turnbull 3.97 3.49 56.2 8.1 4.6
RHP Michael Fulmer 8.78 6.91 27.2 6.5 3.9
RHP José Ureña 5.40 6.06 23.1 5.8 5.0
RHP Julio Teheran 10.05 8.62 31.1 5.7 4.6
Bullpen ERA FIP IP K/9 BB/9
RHP Bryan Garcia 1.66 3.61 21.2 5.0 4.2
LHP Gregory Soto 4.30 3.76 23.0 11.3 5.1
RHP Buck Farmer 3.80 4.41 21.1 5.9 2.1
RHP Joe Jiménez 7.15 6.72 22.2 8.7 2.4
LHP Daniel Norris 3.25 2.87 27.2 9.1 2.3

The Tigers took a different path to rebuild their team than the Royals, and it will be interesting to see which strategy works out better. Detroit opted for the full teardown, to acquire more high-end talent, but the road to get back to contention seems much longer than the timeline for the Royals. They could begin to make strides in the second half of the season, once their top prospects are up, and they could be a very interesting team to watch for next off-season.

Poll

How many games will the Tigers win this year?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    More than 90
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    85-89
    (1 vote)
  • 5%
    80-84
    (5 votes)
  • 15%
    75-79
    (15 votes)
  • 78%
    Less than 75
    (77 votes)
98 votes total Vote Now