Detroit Tigers: Improvements Made in Spring Training
Now that the last spring training game has been played, it’s time to look back on the improvements that the Detroit Tigers have made. From pitching to baserunning, the Tigers are looking like a team that is ready to hit the regular season full blast.
They finished the 2016 spring training season with an 18-11-1 record. Many of their wins were won by over five runs (although they did have that disappointing 16-1 loss to the Blue Jays). The wins were impressive and it landed the Tigers in the fourth spot in the Grapefruit League.
They finished just four games back from the Washington Nationals who won the league and behind the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins. Two of the Nats’ four losses were to the Tigers.
If you were able to watch any of the spring training games, there was one thing that stood out: baserunning. The Tigers were one of the worst teams when it came to 2015 baserunning numbers, but it appears that they have been working hard to move up in the rankings. Batters also managed to come through when men were on base, even if the man who earned the RBIs was the unlikely hero in the order. For example, in the last spring training game, it was Anthony Gose – the number nine batter – who hit the three-run home run, not James McCann or Jose Iglesias who batted before him in the order.
Baserunning improvements were guided by Kirk Gibson, who worked with the team for the majority of spring training. Players like Tyler Collins and Ian Kinsler benefitted from Gibby’s help. Collins commented: “I wanted to work on my burst speed and first-step quickness. There are people that have noticed it and said something to me about it.”
Gibson helped the team understand the logistics of baserunning, especially regarding awareness of surroundings. In 2015, the Tigers were frequently caught between the bases – whether they were trying to steal or not. In many games, it seemed like players did not put everything they could into baserunning. It often seemed like the team was just waiting for someone to come through with a big hit – and those did not always arrive.
Even though spring training stats do not matter in the regular season, it is notable that a handful of players did steal numerous bases. Speedy Jose Iglesias stole four while Kinsler, Collins, Mike Aviles, and Andrew Romine each stole two. Getting baserunners in scoring position usually equates to more runs scored. Stealing in the big leagues is challenging, which makes these small number quite impressive.
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The Tigers also showed that can hit home runs. J.D. Martinez knocked in seven. Kinsler had five. Miguel Cabrera had three. Iglesias had the highest batting average of .358 during his 12 games – he had 19 hits, also the highest on the team. Even Victor Martinez surprised everyone with his 11 hits in 12 games, especially considering he was out with hamstring issues.
The other major improvement that is making everyone feel relief is the fact that the pitching – especially in the late innings was remarkably better. It appears that 2016 will be the “Year of the Young Pitchers” as men like Matt Boyd, Shane Greene, Buck Farmer, and Kyle Ryan brought their A-games each time they were featured on the mound.
Of all of the young pitchers, Greene was clearly the most impressive. He earned a spot on the starting rotation because of his ability to hit his spots and get outs. His 1.86 ERA was the lowest of the five starting pitchers – Verlander included. Farmer was clearly the most improved, with a significantly lower ERA of 2.03 than he had in all of his games with the Tigers in 2015.
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Fans were also given the opportunity to watch pitchers new faces like Joe Jimenez and Logan Kensing. Though impressive, Jimenez will spend more time in the minor leagues, but Kensing impressed the decision makers so much that he made the 25-man roster.
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