Analyzing the Detroit Tigers at the Quarter Pole


Sparky Anderson used to say that a team has to wait until the 40 game mark to know what they’ve got. Wednesday night’s game in Oakland was game number 40 so let’s take a quick retrospective.

The Schedule:
While the 23-17 record doesn’t quite match the 24-16 record the Tigers put up through 40 games a year ago it has been good enough to keep up with the Minnesota Twins. Much has been made of the early season success of the Twins but the Tigers find themselves just one game back in the Central Division.

The Tigers have benefited from two additional home games but the Twins have had the luxury of an easier schedule. The weighted average winning percentage of the Tigers’ opponents sits at 0.483 while the Twins’ opponents have managed just a 0.460 weighted average winning percentage. The difference can be attributed to the number of games the Twins have played against the White Sox, Indians, and Orioles while the Tigers have played more games against the comparatively stronger AL West.

Also important to note is that the Tigers will have completed their trips to the West coast by this time next week. Kansas City, with it’s hardly noticeable one hour time difference, will be as far West as the Tigers get through the end of the regular season.

More to come after the jump


The Players:
There is no doubt that Miguel Cabrera is just the kind of player the Tigers need in the middle of their lineup. His talent was never questioned but some began to wonder just how committed he was to the game following his ill-advised night out at the end of last season. Cabrera’s impact has been vitally important, although not terribly surprising.

Somewhat surprising has been the resurgence of Magglio Ordonez. Magglio’s five home runs are more than half of his 2009 season total in less than a third of the at-bats.

Even more surprising have been the contributions from rookies. Austin Jackson has more than lived up to the hype (more on him later) and Brennan Boesch has flourished despite a lack of hype. For the first time in recent memory it appears that the Tigers farm system has turned out major league talent that doesn’t pitch. Danny Worth, Casper Wells, and Scott Sizemore have all gotten their feet wet while Alex Avila started with the big club for the first time. Experience on a team expecting to compete can not be overstated.

As the Tigers’ season has gone there is always little bad with the good. The bottom of the lineup has to change. Whether it is the production from the guys who are there or the names that are put on the card, something has to give for this team to be successful in the long term. The bottom third (or sometimes half) has drawn comparisons to the 1968 team that featured a number of regulars that batted at or below the Mendoza line. While any comparison to a championship team is flattering, the fact that a comparison had to be drawn from an entirely different era is troubling.

It was another April and another bad start to a season for Justin Verlander. Just like last year the end of April brought out a new Verlander and his season ERA now sits in the threes. The lack of consistency out of the rest of the starting rotation is a problem although the play of the bullpen has been enough to keep the Tigers close, in games and the standings. Questions remain about what the starting rotation will look like come September. How long will Armando Galarraga be needed, or able, to take the hill every fifth game? Will Max Scherzer find what has been missing at AAA? Can Dontrelle Willis contribute for a full season?

The Comparison:
Austin Jackson and Curtis Granderson will forever be compared, fair or not. Both can smoothly patrol the vast center field of Comerica Park and both took control of the leadoff spot. Granderson was never an ideal leadoff hitter but he was always their best option. Austin Jackson may never have Curtis Granderson’s power but he appears to possess the attributes necessary to find success atop a Major League line-up.

Jackson’s current statistics projected over 596 at-bats, the number Curtis Granderson received as a rookie in 2006, give Jackson an edge in several key areas essential for a leadoff hitter. Action Jackson is on pace to surpass CJ’s rookie year in terms of runs scored, hits, doubles, triples, and stolen bases while being caught stealing fewer times.

The Outlook:
If presented with the opportunity to accept the Tigers current record and place in the standings in spring training I think a lot of fans would take it. Fill in the story with how they have gotten to this point and I’m not so sure what the response would be. Perhaps some of the success is smoke and mirrors and a result of unsustainable production from the top of the order and the bullpen. On the other hand, the bottom of the order has been so bad and the starting rotation so erratic that the law of averages has to turn in the Tigers favor. (please?)

The Carlos Guillen experiment may be the riding factor in determining how far the Tigers can go in 2010. Aside from a Scott Sizemore turn around there doesn’t appear to be an easy solution for the middle infield in the minors. I’m still hopeful that Ryan Raburn can provide some value this season. Since trades can not be predicted I’m afraid we’re stuck with “what you see is what you get”. The Tigers have to be classified as contenders as of right now, so hopefully what we are seeing is what we will get.