When the Detroit Tigers first take the field in 2015 there will be just as many new faces around the diamond as there are familiar ones.
However, to improve is to change. And, despite significant departures, the Detroit Tigers will be better in 2015 than they were in 2014.
It starts with defense. Up the middle the Tigers project to be one of the best teams in baseball. Between Ian Kinsler and Alex Avila, alone, the Tigers were worth 4.1 wins above replacement in 2014, and you can expect that number to be much higher when you supplement Andrew Romine and Eugenio Suarez with Jose Iglesias and add Anthony Gose.
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Iglesias, in particular, will have an effect on the Tigers’ defensive efficiency. Having a defensive wizard like Iglesias back in the fold makes the Tigers better not only at short, but at third as well, by limiting the amount of plays Nick Castellanos will have to make. Castellanos posted a -2.8 dWAR in 2014.
On paper, the Tigers will be much better defensively. And, not just up the middle, either. Yoenis Cespedes who posted a dWAR of 0.6 in Oakland (0.5 in Boston), and led the league in outfield assists (16) in 2014, will replace Torii Hunter who posted a -1.9 dWAR last year.
The offense, meanwhile, will speak for itself. In 2014, the Tigers were either first, or second, in the following offensive categories: runs, hits, doubles, total bases, runs batted in, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. And, while they lost Hunter, they retained Victor Martinez and added Cespedes.
Even the much-maligned Tigers bullpen projects to be better.
First and foremost, the middle relief is drastically better. In 2014, Joba Chamberlain posted a 3.57 ERA while his left-handed counterpart Phil Coke, posted a 3.88. In 2015, those slots will most likely be filled by Alex Wilson and Tom Gorzelanny. In 28.1 innings with Boston, Wilson was 1-0 with a 1.91 ERA, and Gorzelanny was even better. In Milwaukee, Gorzelanny threw 21 innings and only allowed two earned runs over the course of 23 games.
Of course, Wilson and Gorzelanny will need to provide the Tigers with more innings than the combined 49.1 they pitched in 2014, but if they can, it will go a long way in repairing the bullpen.
There are a lot of questions about the bullpen going into spring training. However, if Joakim Soria and Joe Nathan can return to form and the Tigers can get a healthy year from Bruce Rondon or Joel Hanrahan, the Tigers could actually have a surprisingly good bullpen in the upcoming season.
An improved bullpen, paired with a much better defense, and the best offense in baseball, will help the Tigers to overcome the loss of Scherzer. And, in reality, the Tigers’ staff will still be very capable without Max, and Porcello. David Price is a bonafide ace who pitched the Tigers into the playoffs, many project Verlander to bounce back, and Sanchez, despite injury concerns, has historically been a very dependable pitcher. Beyond that, Alfredo Simon’s arm now has experience with an entire season, and both he and Shane Greene will benefit from a move to a pitcher’s park.
In 2015, they won’t be the Tigers we are used to, and that could be a good thing.