Why the Tigers Won’t Win the Division in 2011

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‘Tis the season for optimism.  Spring training has begun, and for the next month you’re going to be hearing a lot of people saying a lot of good things about the Tigers chances this season.  Tigerdog1 over at Bless You Boys thinks they’ll win the division this year, and he’s certainly not the only one making that claim.  I’m here to be the pessimist, to play devil’s advocate, and to deflate everyone’s hopes and dreams.  If you want to remain blissfully ignorant of the Tigers’ failings and continue to dream of a hundred victories, read no further.

Allow me to clarify:  I am a Tigers fan.  A huge Tigers fan.  When Detroit gets kept out of the playoffs because the umpire fails to call a hit-by-pitch on Brandon Inge, I start throwing things and screaming at the TV.  Just like everyone else.  I want the Tigers to win the division.  I just don’t think I was born with that optimism gene.

Without further ado, the 10 reasons to lower your expectations for 2011:

1.  Miguel Cabrera is due for a regression.  This isn’t in any way related to his recent incident with the Port Saint Lucie PD, but Cabrera gave the Tigers about two more WAR last year than he averaged in his first two seasons with Detroit.  Last year Cabrera set career highs in his walk rate and isolated power and a career low in his strikeout rate.  He’s not aging, he’s not injury-prone, but it’s never a good idea to expect that a career year has defined a new baseline for a player.

2.  Austin Jackson simply can’t keep this up.  We’ve discussed his sky-high BABIP a great deal already, and there is no need to beat a dead horse, but no-one is likely to have a BABIP 90 points above league average in consecutive seasons.  If Jackson only gives us a BABIP 40 points above average, we are stuck with a number 8 hitter leading off (and getting more plate appearances than anyone else on the team), basically the situation we had for the decade before Granderson arrived.

3.  The defense is going to be atrocious.  I’ve mentioned before that fangraphs and baseball-reference have opposing views of Austin Jackson‘s defensive contributions, and I still have no idea why, but they are in complete agreement about the Tigers defense overall in 2010.  It was good.  By fangraphs methods, the Tigers saved 17 runs more than average – according to baseball-reference 19 more.  The problem?  All of that came from Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago, both of whom are likely to see substantially reduced playing time in 2011.  Take them away, and we’re below average already.  We’re going to get a full season of Jhonny Peralta, and lots of Carlos Guillen & Scott Sizemore at second.  Rhymes and Worth are acceptable with the glove, but bats are going to get the starts.  Gerald Laird couldn’t hit a lick, but he was pretty good defensively.  All those innings he logged last year will be going to the defensively suspect duo of Alex Avila and Victor Martinez.  The Tigers defense is probably two wins worse than what we saw last year.