The month of April has officially ended with the Detroit Tigers only playing 23 games due to multiple rain outs and off days. Their 14-9 record leads the American League Central, 1.5 games ahead of the Kansas City Royals who sit at 14-12 as the only other team to be above .500 in the division.
With better weather and more games approaching, it is time to hand out some grades for the first month of the season.
The Tigers have gone most of April with a four man rotation. Drew Smyly has only made four appearances on the season, two from the rotation and two from the bullpen. Overall, the rotation has been nothing short of what the Tigers had expected coming into 2014.
The staff owns the second best ERA in the AL at 2.98 and the fourth best batting average against at .239. They have nine wins in 23 games and have only compiled 136 innings as a unit due to the lack of games played by the Tigers.
Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello each own a 3-1 record on the season with Max Scherzer leading the staff once again. Scherzer has compiled a 51 strikeouts over 39 innings (1st in the AL) through six starts with a 2.08 ERA, which is good for fifth among AL starters.
Verlander looks to be much improved on a so-so season in 2013, by his standards anyway. The former AL MVP has thrown the most innings on the staff at 40 to go with a 2.48 ERA which currently places him at 11th in the AL. Porcello has even improved his numbers, getting more ground ball outs while not allowing runs in bunches so far in 2014.
April Grade: A
T0 call the Tigers bullpen anything short of a disaster in 2014 would be an understatement. The bullpen has accumulated a 5.37 ERA over 70.1 innings, the fewest out of any AL bullpen. Their ERA is second to last with only the Houston Astros below the Tigers.
Joba Chamerlain, Al Alburquerque and Joe Nathan lead the team in appearances, but neither pitcher has an ERA below 4.35. Nathan has been much better lately and does have seven saves so far in 2014. Phil Coke has been a disaster in his seven appearances, sporting a 8.10 ERA from the left side.
The injury to Bruce Rondon looks worse and worse as teams go deeper into the Tigers pen. The only positive to take from the horrendous month of April is that things can only go up from here. Alburquerque needs to find that slider that devastated hitters in 2011; Chamberlain is starting to find a little groove as the setup man behind Joe Nathan, who looks to be rounding into form as the Tigers closer.
Look for that bullpen ERA to go down a bit because frankly, it can’t get any worse for the Tigers.
April Grade: D
Alex Avila has led the pitching staff all April behind the plate, which is what he does best. The starters love when Avila calls a game, making him much more important to the lineup than his offensive numbers would suggest.
He hasn’t been awful to start 2014 like he was in 2013. He has an OBP of .339 and the duo of him and Bryan Holaday have splits of .278/.356/.380 with an OPS of .735 that ranks them seventh among other AL teams. The stellar defense and control of one of the best staffs in all of baseball make up for the average offense both of the Tigers catchers will provide.
April Grade: B+
For starters, the defense is much improved, as expected. Miguel Cabrera moving to third base to first base allowed a below-average defender at third to be average or above-average at his old position. Nick Castellanos hasn’t been anything special defensively in his rookie season, but did belt three home runs in his first month of his first full season in the big leagues.
Offensively, Ian Kinsler and Cabrera have led the way. Kinsler and former Tiger Omar Infante has very similar numbers at second base in 2014, but Kinsler plays a more dynamic role in the everyday lineup than Infante did last season.
Cabrera has turned it on lately during his seven-game hitting streak. He is batting .419 during that time frame after going just 13-63 in his first 16 games of the season. Everyone expects Cabrera to be in the running for MVP once again, and his swing is starting to come into form after a rocky start.
Castellanos has struggled with strikeouts –recording 17 in 73 at-bats– but that isn’t anything to worry about from the rookie. He is driving the ball into right-center field better than anyone not named Cabrera on the Tigers. He will go through a rookie slump sometime during the 2014 season, but look for him to improve on his April numbers as the season goes on.
Shortstop has been nothing special offensively, but Andrew Romine does have an OBP of .325 at the position. He has also shown the ability to make competent plays at short. The worst position for the Tigers does have some positive light there, though.
April Grade: B+
I want to start by giving Rajai Davis his props; the man has turned some heads (especially mine) by the way he has hit against both right-handers and left-handers. Here are his splits against righties and lefties:
He has had a little more pop against lefties, but overall, Davis has batted better against righties, despite posting nine strikeouts against them. He hasn’t been stellar in left field, but has provided some nice plays. Davis is going to get some time in centerfield, but don’t expect much from that position defensively.
Davis has also shown off his speed so far in April, swiping eight bags which is good for third in the AL. Due to the absence of Andy Dirks, Davis has been relied on more in April and will continue to see heavy workload until Dirks is able to make his way back into the lineup.
Austin Jackson is back to hitting over .300 as well as a team high 13 walks in April. He also posted double-digit RBI and 39 total bases in 23 games, which is the same amount as Cabrera. The speedy center fielder also leads the team in offensive WAR at 1.0.
Torii Hunter has been on fire lately after a rough spring and beginning of the 2014 season and has raised his batting average to .300. He is also slugging .500 in April with an offensive WAR of 0.5 which is third on the team behind Jackson and Davis.
April Grade: A-
Overall, the team has played well and could have a couple more wins with better bullpen pitching. May looks like the month where the Tigers can get in a groove. I wrote in the offseason about how the Tigers and manager Brad Ausmus need a good start from the team which they have gotten so far. More games and more consistency could allow the Tigers to add to their division lead heading into the dog days of summer.