The Detroit Tigers had a down season in 2015. What was once an elite starting pitching staff struggled, while the bullpen continued to be an issue. Detroit’s offense was excellent as usual, but the Tigers couldn’t quite score enough runs to overcompensate for the generally poor pitching.
In a season filled with negatives, the team had few bright spots. The continued emergence of J.D. Martinez was one, and Alex Wilson’s breakout season was another. However, two of the main bright spots were the strong play from both Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler.
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Verlander, the former Cy Young and MVP winner, was written off as a pitcher on the down swing of his career. The future Hall-of-Famer rebounded from a down year in 2014 and lowered his ERA from 4.54 to 3.38. He also dropped his FIP nearly almost a third of a run to 3.49. In addition, Verlander doubled his WAR number from 1.1 to 2.2.
Despite all the statistical improvements, the pitcher was especially dominant down the stretch. While he didn’t pile up victories due to pitching on a struggling team, Verlander posted a 2.12 ERA and 73 strikeouts over his last 11 starts (or 76.1 innings pitched). During that span he held batters to a .194 batting average and a miniscule .536 OPS. Additionally, the right-handed pitcher struck out at least seven batters in seven of his final 11 starts. What’s even more remarkable is that Verlander did all this while only inducing a total of three double-play ground balls.
Expect more excellent pitching from Verlander in 2016. The ace is finally healthy and will once again lead the Detroit rotation. The Tigers will need him to perform at a high level next season, and Justin Verlander’s numbers towards the end of last season suggest he’ll do just that.
While he wasn’t written off like Verlander, Kinsler did have some concerning trends that kept popping up in his career.
The second baseman was generally an excellent first-half hitter. However, he tended to taper off in the second halves of seasons.
Kinsler experienced an up-and-down first half of the season before turning things around for good in early July. From July 10th through the rest of the season (70 contests), the former Texas Ranger hit .331 with a .854 OPS, 18 doubles, four triples, eight home runs, 34 RBI and 45 runs scored.
Because of injuries to the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, Kinsler was often in a position where he was depended on to carry the lineup. While he couldn’t singlehandedly push the Tigers into the postseason (no one human being could), he served as an offensive catalyst and kept the unit going.
After an offseason of change, the Detroit Tigers are going to be a playoff contender once again in 2016. Thanks to strong second half performances last season, expect more of the same excellent play from Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler as the Tigers chase an elusive World Series title.