Pressing Questions: The Detroit Tigers

Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have a star's laugh
Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have a star's laugh

The last 11 years have been a renaissance for Detroit baseball. The Tigers have five playoff appearances over that span, including two visits to the World Series. Alas, the Bengals were never able to quite get over the hump, never able to present owner Mike Illitch with a World Series trophy to go with his Stanley Cup collection.

With Illitch’s passing on Feb. 10, it marked the end of an era in the Motor City. Say what you want about Illitch’s ability to get partial public funding to use for his sporting enterprises, but he was never shy about reinvesting in his product. Justin Verlander signed a seven-year, $180 million extension before the 2013 season. The Prince Fielder deal was a $214 million ticket over nine years. Miguel Cabrera is on the books for $28-to-$32 million over the next nine years. Illitch was worth a lot of dough, and he put that dough back into his baseball team. No one can ever say he wasn’t committed to winning.

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Detroit was in the playoff hunt until the final week of last season, and that’s probably what we’ll see this year — a contending club. Alas, it’s a top-heavy roster. Detroit has plenty of 30-something players you know by heart, and it’s the success of that aging core that will determine how much fun Comerica Park is this summer.

Drop the car off at Greektown, hop on the People Mover, and let’s try to figure out where the 2017 Tigers are headed.

Q: Who’s the best value on this offense? 

The room is giving you J.D. Martinez around Pick 44 in early Yahoo drafts, and as your broker, I suggest you pounce on it. The only thing Martinez did wrong in 2016 was suffer a broken elbow, a fluke occurrence; you shouldn’t price that into his future worth. Missing 42 games kept Martinez’s counting stats down, but the final slash line was juicy (.307/.373/.535). Entering his age-29 season, Martinez is a second or third-round bat in fourth-round clothing.

Q: Which Justin Upton shows up this year?

Looking at first and second-half splits can be a fool’s errand at times, a jump onto arbitrary endpoints, but perhaps there’s a logical explanation for Upton’s crazy 2016 breakdown. He was a monstrous bust for his first 85 games in Detroit (.235/.289/.381, just nine homers), but he rebounded nicely after the All-Star break (.260/.337/.579, 22 homers in 68 games).

Was he pressing to justify his fresh, bountiful contract? Did his first American League season catch him by surprise? Those general theories sound plausible. Or perhaps Upton simply fell into a mechanics mess, but ironed things out over the balance of the summer. Maybe he was playing through an unreported injury that later healed.

As is often the case with two extremes, we’ll look for an answer somewhere in the middle. I figure Upton will be around his career average of .268, with 25-30 homers and a handful of stolen bases. That makes him worth considering in mixed leagues after the first 65 picks or so.

Q: What does Michael Fulmer do for an encore?

Fulmer didn’t break camp with the Tigers last spring but he wound up spending five months with the team en route to the AL’s Rookie of the Year Award (sorry, Gary Sanchez). I suspect the Regression Police might come hunting for Fulmer, wanting payback for that 3.06 ERA. The FIP metric suggests a 3.76 ERA, while xFIP spits out a 3.95 number. Fulmer’s ERA also jumped to 3.94 in the second half.

Perhaps there’s nothing actionable from Fulmer’s splits by half, but they went in some interesting directions. His strikeouts dipped in the latter part of the year, but his control got better. He was homer-lucky in the first half, homer-unfortunate in the dog days. Perhaps Fulmer was simply on fumes come September, when he posted his worst month of the year (4.76 ERA).

At the end of the day, this could be a chance to leverage against the Regression Police and make a profit. When a surprise player takes the league by surprise, often it encourages an overcorrection the following year. I’ll expect around a 3.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP for Fulmer and pay accordingly, and that means I’ll probably have a few shares. Some projection models are calling for an ERA in the 3.90 to 4.00 range.

Fulmer is currently the SP 29 in early Yahoo ADP, going off the board around pick 115. He’s a reasonable purchase at that cost.

Projected Lineup

2B Ian Kinsler

RF J.D. Martinez

1B Miguel Cabrera

DH Victor Martinez

LF Justin Upton

3B Nick Castellanos

CF Tyler Collins

C James McCann

SS Jose Iglesias

Projected Rotation 

SP Justin Verlander

SP Michael Fulmer

SP Jordan Zimmermann

SP Anibal Sanchez

SP Daniel Norris

CL Francisco Rodriguez

RP Justin Wilson

RP Alex Wilson

RP Bruce Rondon

Projected lineups courtesy of Roster Resource

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