Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila remade the team’s roster in the offseason, bringing in a number of players to provide upgrades in the rotation, the bullpen and the offense.
Detroit Tigers baseball needed some new talent. Last offseason, Detroit was coming off a season in which the team posted its lowest win total since 2008. Changes were needed.
Avila definitely had his work cut out for him. The rotation consisted of Justin Verlander, a suddenly home-run prone Anibal Sanchez and a group of inexperienced youngsters. Elsewhere on the roster, the rotation was an utter mess, and even the offense was struggling some. Detroit led the league in batting average and was second in on-base percentage in 2015, but the team struggled to put up runs after Yoenis Cespedes was dealt.
As it stands, Detroit’s general manager has fixed many of those needs. Jordan Zimmermann has proved to be the ace needed to pair with Verlander, while Sanchez and younger pitchers like Michael Fulmer and Shane Greene have shown promise. Additionally, the bullpen is in much better hands with Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson. Lastly, Justin Upton and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have added more length to an offense that is proving to be one of baseball’s best.
Here’s a look at how each new addition has fared.
It’s safe to say that Justin Upton’s first 17 games in a Detroit uniform were not pretty. The outfielder hit just .214 with a putrid .247 on-base percentage in his first 17 contests.
That span also included seven runs scored, four doubles, a home run, three RBI and three walks. Most troubling of all was Upton’s strikeout totals. The 28-year-old had 30 punch outs in 70 at-bats.
All said, that’s not the most encouraging… you know what, that’s an awful ratio actually.
Despite the struggles, Upton has rebounded nicely in his past eight games. During those games, he’s hitting .300 with five RBI, five runs scored and a home run. He’s also tacked on a stolen base while only striking out nine times. Things are starting to turn around for the slugger.
As it stands, Jordan Zimmermann is the best offseason acquisition Al Avila has made. In fact, he may be the best offseason acquisition any general manager made last winter. In five starts, the former National has been exceptional. He’s already 5-0 and has a sparkling 0.55 ERA.
As of May 2, 2016, Zimmermann has the highest WAR on the Detroit roster at 2.0. That WAR is also tied with White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton for the highest in all of baseball.
On a team loaded with exceptional players performing well, Zimmermann is clearly playing the best baseball of anyone on the Tigers roster, if not the league.
With his stellar offensive play and solid defensive work, Saltalamacchia has filled in exceptionally well for the injured James McCann.
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The former Ranger’s play has likely earned him more playing time even when McCann comes back. In 60 at-bats, Salty has mashed six home runs, four doubles and a triple while driving in 16 runs.
While his .233 batting average isn’t anything to write home about, the catcher does have a respectable .313 on-base percentage. What’s more, he’s been especially clutch when the Tigers have been trailing in games. When the team is behind, Saltalamacchia has five home runs and 11 RBI.
The veteran catcher has clearly given the lineup some needed length, not to mention another source of power. Generally hitting in the bottom three or four of the order, Salty’s bat has made it even tougher on opposing pitchers. Often, the bottom of the lineup is frequented by some combination of McCann, Jose Iglesias, Anthony Gose and Tyler Collins—none of whom are exactly Babe Ruth at the plate.
Acquired to solidify the back end of the bullpen, new closer Francisco Rodriguez has done just that. The relief ace struggled in his first appearance, allowing four hits and three runs in an inning against the Marlins.
However, since then, he’s been excellent. The man known as “K-Rod” has posted a 2.08 ERA in 8.2 innings since blowing the save against Miami. Over the same period, opponents are hitting just .172.
Rodriguez also has seven saves since Opening Day. Perhaps what’s more important is that in the 10 appearances K-Rod has made since his first appearance, the Tigers are 10-0.
To simply put it, Mike Pelfrey has struggled in Detroit. The starter has an unsightly 5.68 ERA in 25.1 innings, and his 5.44 FIP isn’t much better. What’s more, he’s also been tagged for 37 hits and 15 walks. Those 15 walks aren’t great to begin with, but when you consider that he only has 12 strikeouts in 2016, the walk total looks even worse.
While Rodriguez has been a steadying presence in the ninth inning, Justin Wilson has been a steadying presence in just about every different inning that he’s appeared in. The reliever has pitched in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings so far, and the result has been pretty much the same every time. Wilson has yet to allow a run in 11 innings, and has allowed just two walks compared to 15 strikeouts.
From a defensive standpoint, Mike Aviles has been everything the Tigers have asked for and more from a utility player. The defender has logged time at third base, second base and shortstop, as well as in left field.
At the plate, Aviles has hit .200 with four hits and an RBI in nine games. He probably isn’t going to produce like he did with Kansas City as a rookie when he hit .325 in 102 games, but the utility player will likely hit somewhere in the .250 neighborhood. If he can do that while providing some pop off the bench, the Tigers will be in a good position.
Early in the season, manager Brad Ausmus established Justin Wilson as the seventh inning specialist and Mark Lowe as the top choice in eighth inning. The idea was that the duo would form the bridge to new closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Like Rodriguez, Lowe was ruffed up early, allowing a run in an inning of work against the Marlins on Opening Day. While that may have driven his ERA up, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. The reliever made one mistake pitch to Dee Gordon, who crushed a triple off Lowe. After that, the former Marlin pitched well.
Since that outing, he’s settled in. The right-handed pitcher has a 2.08 ERA and is holding batters to a .172 batting average in 8.2 innings pitched. Over that span he has five strikeouts compared to just two walks.
Detroit is 9-1 in games when Lowe pitches.