Detroit Tigers Need More than an Off-Season Overhaul
Last year the Detroit Tigers were hamstrung by injuries and bad pitching. Those problems alone will derail a season in any division. The team has already upgraded their pitching, or at least appeared to, and we, the fans, should assume players like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez will be healthier and have more of an impact than last year. Outside of pitching upgrades and team health, there are a few potentially overlooked details that could make or break the 2016 season.
Anibal Sanchez needs to minimize the extra base hits
First off, the team needs a full season of a healthy-innings-eating Anibal Sanchez. Second, he needs to reduce his opponents’ power. Sanchez would’ve been a Cy Young candidate if it weren’t for the injuries in 2013, posting a 2.57 ERA. Plus, who could forget the 17 strike-out game? In 2014, also shortened by injuries, his opponent batting average and WHIP actually went down but his ERA went up to a still respectable 3.43 because he started giving up a slightly higher rate of extra base hits. Then 2015 happened. His opponent average went up by .24 points and WHIP went up .18, but his ERA went to a nightmarish 4.99. What was the culprit? Power. In 2014, he gave up 4 home runs, in 2015 he gave up 29. That’ll blow anyone’s ERA through the roof. Lowering that home run count will do us wonders.
Gose needs to make himself at home in the lineup
If you include V-Mart’s switch-hitting along with Anthony Gose, that’s only two lefties in our lineup. That’s a huge imbalance. When Cameron Maybin was signed this offseason the first thing that went through my mind is that he better not replace Gose. Barring a total slump, Gose needs to get the majority of the at-bats so the team can have a decent left-handed presence in an otherwise unbalanced lineup.
Justin Upton could sacrifice some power for average
Power is good. Sacrificing average for power is just what the Tigers don’t need. When Avila signed Upton I was excited to finally have left field solidified; but also a tad nervous that outside his power, he’s really a league-average hitter who strikes out a lot. The team should have good power between Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, and even guys like Nick Castellanos and hopefully a healthy V-Mart. Despite not being 30-home-run guys; hopefully, they can provide some pop. What would be nice is if Upton improved his plate discipline and learned to get on base more since he can be a base-stealing threat, even if it means giving up a few of his long balls.
Base running needs to tighten up
The team improved in 2015 on base running, mainly due to players like Jose Iglesias and Rajai Davis. The problem is, the Tigers weren’t as successful at it as they should’ve been. The team was 27th in the league in stolen-base success rate with a scrawny 61.9 percent. In other words, the Tigers were almost as good at getting picked off as they were actually stealing bases. The Tigers were also 5th in the league in double plays. Part of that is the batter’s fault, but aggressive base running can avoid a lot of double plays. If the runners could learn to take better leads and time the pitchers better, it might inch up the stolen base success and trim off the double play total.
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The Tigers need to play better in the AL Central
It’s unfair to make comparisons to last year considering how much has changed this offseason, but in the dominant years Detroit owned the Central Division. Last year the team actually held a winning record against teams in the Central, but not as big of a margin as 2014. The 2015 record against the Central was 41-34, 2014 was 41-31, 2013 was 47-29. The Tigers have been a known to dominate inside their division, and since they always take a beating from teams outside the division the record in the AL Central will be crucial.