March is a season for optimism for baseball fans of all stripes. Your team has flaws, but until they actually dig themselves that deep hole in April and May you can imagine what might happen if everything went right for a change. I remember imagining (in the Spring of 2003) how the Tigers might even break .500 if they caught enough breaks. Those were grim times.
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In 2013 I would say the Tigers peaked in terms of roster talent on paper. Last year we saw a bit of a decline, on paper, due to payroll-motivated personnel decisions. This offseason we have seen even more of a decline, on paper, due to more payroll-motivated personnel decisions.
Most people aren’t picking the Tigers to win the AL Central in 2015, for the first time in a number of years. FangGraphs neat season projections (those which are out already) give the Indians the highest “expected win total” and highest “playoff odds” in the division, predicting an average win total (through simulating many many seasons presumably) of 84.6. But… in March I don’t have to imagine an 85 win Tigers team that maybe comes up a little short in the Wild Card race (or maybe not). I look at that team and I see a 97-win juggernaut with the top two MVP vote-getters and the top two Cy Young vote-getters. I see World Series. Because – maybe moreso than just about any other team this offseason – the Tigers haven’t so much gotten better or worse as they have become “high variance”. There is SO MUCH that could go wrong for so many players but also SO MUCH that could go right for so many players.
When I imagine just how great the Tigers COULD be this year, what I think about most is that bullpen. Just think how good they could be, even without any chance of a midseason Hanrahan, if everybody stayed healthy and pitched as well as they are presumably capable of.
To make my point, I’ll put the numbers here for the best half-season that each of our expected relievers has had at some point in the last 3 years. (Obviously the worst half season for all of these guys is either atrocious or spent entirely on the DL, there is no need to point that out)
Joe Nathan: 1st Half 2013… 1.36 ERA, 2.42 FIP, 0.76 WHIP, 39.2 IP
Joakim Soria: 1st Half 2014… 2.67 ERA, 0.89 FIP, 0.79 WHIP, 30.1 IP
Bruce Rondon: 2nd Half 2013… 2.29 ERA, 2.54 FIP, 1.17 WHIP, 19.2 IP
Al Alburquerque: 2nd Half 2014… 1.93 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, 23.1 IP
Joba Chamberlain: 1st Half 2014… 2.63 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, 37.2 IP
Tom Gorzelanny: 1st Half 2013… 1.88 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 1.04 WHIP, 52.2 IP
Ian Krol: 1st Half 2013… 1.80 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 0.60 WHIP, 15 IP
Doesn’t that look like an amazing bullpen??? How could a bullpen like that not win a World Series?