Detroit Tigers: Three bold predictions for surprise performances in 2020
By Jed Oliver
Detroit Tigers baseball is almost back, for better or for worse. Let’s focus on the “better” with some bold predictions for players to lead the team.
With the Detroit Tigers still well and truly in the middle of their rebuild, it’s fair to say that the 2020 roster might not be setting the league on fire during the upcoming season, but there could be some positive signs. Let’s take a look at three players who could surprise a few people by leading the team in some of stats leader boards next season.
As an aside, I am not going to be considering Miguel Cabrera for any of the following categories. A healthy Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter on this baseball team, but a healthy Miguel Cabrera is also something we may never see again. My heart still wants to believe he will hit .320 with 43 HR again next season, so he has been disqualified from consideration to avoid me just picking him for everything on the basis he will be in the best shape of his life this year – again!
Home Runs: Christin Stewart
This may seem like a strange pick considering Christin Stewart finished the 2019 season with a WRC+ of just 80, a slugging percentage of just .388 and just 10 home runs. Even then, he only finished 5 home runs shy of Brandon Dixon – whose reward for hitting a team leading 15 HR in 2019, was to be swiftly DFA’d.
The addition of both Jonathon Schoop (23 HR) & C.J Cron (25HR) should provide some stiff competition for Stewart and he will likely need to more than double his home run total to outmatch them in 2020 – but I am rather sheepishly touting him to do it.
Stewart hit 28 bombs in his final season in Erie and then followed it up by hitting 23 in his only season in Toledo, and admit it – when he hit a towering second deck home run against Blue Jays reliever Daniel Hudson on opening day last season, he looked primed to continue his offensive production in the Major Leagues. We were exactly correct! Stewart hitting a pretty respectable .273/.391/.445 against in 2019.
Wait, nope, that was just against fastballs.
A fully rounded offensive performance never materialized. He went on to hit just .158/.198/.303 against sliders and just .161/.229/.226 against curveballs – pretty much negating anything positive he managed to do when he was offered a heater.
A lot will have to go right for Stewart, or go wrong for the Tigers, for him to come good on my prediction. But, if he can stay healthy, play decent enough defense to stay in the lineup and not look like a pitcher against breaking balls, he will have a chance.
Wins: Daniel Norris
This is the season it finally all clicks for Daniel Norris, I am sure of it…I think. Ever since he arrived from the Blue Jays in the David Price trade back in 2015 he has shown flashes of potential greatness about once a month that keep you optimistically waiting for him to breakout, only for him to ultimately frustrate – but this is the year!
This bold prediction is a two-part endeavor. Mathew Boyd is still the Detroit Tigers star pitcher and if he wasn’t constantly being listed in trade rumours, he would be the obvious pick to lead the team in wins in 2020. However, if he is to be traded midseason – the first part of the prediction – you have to assume someone else will lead the way. My money is on Norris.
He had the best season of his career in 2019 and he quite simply has to build on it this season.He pitched a career high 144.1 IP and also went some way to addressing the walks that have often plagued him. Along the way. he dropped his walk rate from 3.90 and 3.86 batters per nine innings in 2017 and 2018 respectively to a much more respectable 2.37 mark. He did strike out fewer hitters last season, but he also induced 15% more ground balls – maybe due to the visibly improved changeup he has started to show signs of mastering – holding hitters to a .225/.262/.312 line off that pitch.
In short, signs point toward a Daniel Norris who has finally learned how to pitch to contact, which will allow him to go deeper into games in 2020. A Daniel Norris who can pitch deep into games is one with distinct potential to lead the club in wins.
Batting Average: Victor Reyes
It may seem a bit of a cop out picking Victory Reyes for this category, seeing as he actually led the team last season with a .304 batting average. Other numbers, though, paint an unfriendlier picture. Consider this he ranks almost dead last in the Major Leagues in exit velocity, that he struck out 21.9% of the time and that he had an unsustainably high BABIP of .384. He might have been the luckiest .300 hitter in recent memory.
So why pick him to lead the team again, aside from the fact there aren’t many other candidates on the roster to push for a .300 batting average? I think he’s going to do it again – high BABIP and all.
He possesses the perfect mix of a low walk rate and weak contact to constantly finding the outfield grass with bloopers and seeing eye singles. While it might not be the skill set you want when looking for a valuable Major League player, it is a great skill set when picking someone to lead the worst team in baseball in batting average, cementing himself as a trivia answer for generations to come.