The Competition: Boston Red Sox


The Tigers play in a division called the “AL Central”, so presumably our rivals ought to be the Twins, Royals, etc… It doesn’t much feel that way though, does it? After all, the Tigers won the division by 15 games last year and are predicted to win it by a good 10 games again this year. Obviously things might not go as planned, they rarely do, but it should be no surprise that a lot of Tigers fans are already looking ahead to the postseason.

Since the second Wild Card spot is a go this year, with that one-and-done Wild Card game before the ALDS, the Tigers are in a very privileged position as the front runner to win a division. In the AL East, we’ll likely see the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays battling it out all season long both to win the division outright and to get one of those Wild Card spots. In the AL West the Rangers are the heavy favorites, but while few give the Angels much of a chance to beat them out for the division crown their odds aren’t too long to win a Wild Card spot. Any of the remaining 8 AL teams could, if everything went right, squeak into the playoffs… but as of opening day we expect those 5 teams to be playing musical chairs until the end of September to claim the four playoff spots that don’t go to Detroit.

The question we pose is “how do we stack up?” The Tigers are, of course, a very good team on paper – but so are those guys. Do we look to have what it takes to beat them out in a 5 or 7 game series? Might we need to make a move or two in midseason, or hope for luck in the playoffs or misfortune for our foes? And so we begin our 5-part series “The Competition”, starting with the Tigers opening day opponent Boston.

First Base: Prince Fielder vs. Adrian Gonzalez
Advantage – Boston
Two very good hitters – at the plate this one is a wash. In the field, however, there’s no contest. Over the past 6 years Gonzalez has been one of the best defensive first basemen while Fielder has been one of the worst. At fielding.

Second Base: Ryan Raburn vs. Dustin Pedroia
Advantage – Boston
No contest. Raburn is an average corner outfielder. Pedroia is a star – and he’s actually a second baseman. That means that he can actually field the position. If Raburn could do that, we Tigers fans would be a lot happier – but Pedroia would still win this in a landslide.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta vs. Mike Aviles
Advantage – Detroit
No contest here either. A landslide just as big as Pedroia over Raburn. Aviles hasn’t had a decent year since his rookie campaign in 2008 and hasn’t been trusted to play short by anybody (even the Royals, who started Yuniesky Betancourt over him… repeatedly) since – coincidentally – 2008. If there was any competition on the Red Sox roster other than an aging Nick Punto, Aviles probably wouldn’t have this gig either.

Third Base: Miguel Cabrera vs. Kevin Youkilis
Advantage – Boston
I’m sure a lot of Tigers fans won’t agree with me here, especially given the down year that Youkilis had in 2011, but I have my reasons. Well, really only one reason with two parts. First: While Cabrera is the better hitter, Youkilis is still top-5 at the position and posts an .883 career OPS (Miggys is .950). Second: Youkilis is actually a good third baseman. It will take a whole season to see just how much of a butcher Cabrera turns out to be at third, but I’d expect at least 10 runs below average – maybe as bad as 20-25 runs below average. Youkilis projects to 3 runs above average, and if you add those numbers up you get a defensive bump that more than cancels out the extra offense Cabrera will provide.

Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia vs. Alex Avila
Advantage – Detroit
Folks had high expectations for Salty once upon a time, but they were dashed. He has been kicking around since 2007 and nobody really expects more than the .713 OPS he’s mustered so far. You could do worse at this position – but you could also do much better… if you had Avila instead.

DH: “Committee” vs. David Ortiz
Advantage – Boston
Here there’s really no contest – Big Papi is the prototypical DH, one who can’t properly play any position and doesn’t complain or allow his hitting to be affected when he doesn’t play in the field. The Tigers rotating cast at DH will include players who can match or surpass Ortiz’ abilities at the plate, but also likely include guys like Clete Thomas and Don Kelly.

RF: Brennan Boesch vs. Cody Ross
Advantage – Detroit
Ross is a proxy here, he’ll get a lot of PT but Boston looks to be running a right-field-by-committee again in 2012. He and Boesch are actually fairly similar players, if we go by the numbers, but Boesch is on an upward trajectory while 31-year-old Ross may have seen his best years already (2007-2009 in Florida).

CF: Austin Jackson vs. Jacoby Ellsbury
Advantage – Boston
This takes nothing from Jacksons abilities, particularly with his glove, but Ellsbury takes everything Jackson has and adds a power tool. That’s what it takes to go from cog to MVP-candidate.

LF: Delmon Young vs. Carl Crawford
Advantage – Boston
Both of these guys had terrible years last year (.694 OPS for Crawford, and both are hoping for rebounds in 2012. In neither case is there anything like a guarantee of performance. Nonetheless – last year and in years past Crawford was every bit the hitter (and power hitter) that Young has been and combined that with the ability to run the bases and cover ground in the outfield. He’s also older, though, and if he isn’t compensating for declining speed with ‘old-player skills’ like patience (and he hasn’t so far) he might be a worse bounce-back candidate than Young.

Advantage – Nobody
The Red Sox have Ryan Sweeney, Nick Punto, Kelly Shoppach and… Darnell McDonald? I’m just guessing on the last one – the Red Sox haven’t declared a final 25 and still have a bunch of extra guys in camp. The Tigers will be going with Ramon Santiago, Brandon Inge, Gerald Laird and Don Kelly. This is pretty much a wash… Shoppach hits better, laird fields better – though Shoppach hasn’t really held his own at the plate the last couple of seasons either. Sweeney hits better, Kelly fields better. Darnell McDonald is probably a slightly better right-handed bat off the bench than Inge (assuming we’re talking about hitting against lefties only) but Inge offers a lot more positional flexibility. There isn’t a lot of separation between Punto and Santiago either.


#1: Justin Verlander vs. Jon Lester
Advantage – Detroit

#2: Doug Fister vs. Josh Beckett
Advantage – Detroit
If any Red Sox fans are reading this, they’re probably going to leave so me nasty comments. They can be forgiven, this is a classic battle of a guy with unlimited potential but mixed results and one who gets better results despite having (apparently) 5th starter stuff. Beckett’s career ERA is 3.84 – not bad – Fister’s is 3.49. Beckett was great last year with a 2.89 ERA, but Fister was better still with a 2.83 ERA.

#3: Max Scherzer vs. Clay Buchholz
Advantage – Boston
Scherzer has the stuff to make this a wash, but Buchholz has actually been stranding runners and getting outs while guys seem to keep mysteriously scoring while Scherzer is on the mound. Until that mystery can be resolved, the only thing that makes this close is the uncertainty regarding Buchholz recovery from injury.

#4: Rick Porcello vs. Felix Doubront
Advantage – Detroit
A lanky Venezuelan lefty reliever with questionable control, Doubront sounds a lot like Wil Ledezma and I wouldn’t expect better results from him in the Red Sox Rotation. Porcello hasn’t put up the best results thus far in his career, but I’ll take a guy with a career 4.54 ERA as a starter over a guy with a 4.84 ERA as a reliever.

#5: Drew Smyly vs. Daniel Bard
Advantage – Nobody
Here’s a tough one to figure. Bard has been a very good reliever for Boston the past 3 seasons and was a very good minor league reliever as well. But… how will he fare as a starter? He only started as a minor leaguer in 2007, his first pro season, and he stunk (7.08 ERA, 2.05 WHIP) which is why he was moved to the bullpen. Smyly is a virtual unknown who sparkled as a starter in the low minors in 2011 but has never pitched above AA and has (according to better prospect analysts than me) a 4th starter ceiling.

Closer: Jose Valverde vs. Andrew Bailey et al.
Advantage – Detroit
The dominant Papelbon is, of course, gone but I would have given this one to Boston in a squeaker despite Valverde’s vastly better 2011 (Bailey is pretty darn good and Valverde is due for a regression) but Bailey will open the season on the DL (and not for the first time in his career). I don’t know how long he’ll be out for, but starting the season with surgery definitely doesn’t bode well for Bailey. One thing Valverde has been for the Tigers (in addition to “perfect”) is durable. For the forseeable future it looks like Alfredo Aceves will be closing in Boston and while he isn’t exactly chopped liver, I’d take Papa Grande over him in a heartbeat.

Advantage – Detroit
Taking Bard out of the bullpen is a pretty big loss, especially given the fact that his success as a starter is anything but assured. Past Mark Melancon, I don’t see a lot to get excited about in Boston’s ‘pen and I’d still take Benoit over Melancon given the choice. Dotel and Coke have track records that Boston’s relievers can’t match and even the weakest of the Tigers bullpen arms ooze potential (as do some of those guys in Beantown)

From my perspective it looks like Boston and Detroit are pretty comparable offensively (though the Sawx play in a park friendlier to offense) but Boston is quite a bit better on defense. But… they didn’t stumble last year because they couldn’t hit or field, they stumbled because they couldn’t pitch. On paper their pitching staff is worse than in 2011 – and quite a bit worse than the Detroit Tigers.

In the ALCS? Tigers in 7.