A shortened season will feel different, but it may not be all bad for these five Detroit Tigers players
After a nasty negotiation between the players and the owners, Detroit Tigers baseball is back as players have started to report to Summer Camp (sponsored by Camping World. Cheeky, right?). Commissioner Rob Manfred instituted a 60-game season which will begin July 23rd and finish at the end of September.
For players, the general expression is relief and excitement; although we have also witnessed some prominent names in the game like Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, and Joe Ross opt out recently due to concerns over the health crisis. In a season that is scheduled to be anything but normal, however, some MLB players may actually be well-suited toward a shortened season.
For the Detroit Tigers, a combination of injuries and the fatigue that comes with a 162-game season has taken its toll on a handful of players. In a 60-game sprint, though, there are five players that could reap some reward in a short year:
1) Michael Fulmer, RHP
As we know, Michael Fulmer has been recovering from Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2019 due to rehabilitation from the surgery, which typically runs 14-16 months. The plan all along was for Fulmer to return somewhere around July; but with the delay to the start of the baseball season, the right-handed power pitcher will not have to miss any games without his teammates and has not had to worry about rushing his way back into the rotation.
Reports from Detroit say Michael Fulmer will be a full-go for the start of the season, but given a three week summer camp, big roster sizes, and a slew of piggyback matches, it might make sense for the Tigers to at least start with Fulmer in 3-4 inning stints to ease him back to full strength, which would play into his heavy fastball/slider pitch mix.
2) Daniel Norris, LHP
Fellow rotation mate Daniel Norris had one of the more quiet 2.9 bWAR campaigns in 2019; perhaps in part due to his less than stellar 4.49 ERA along with an innings limit which had him pairing with teammates Gregory Soto, Drew VerHagen, and Nick Ramirez to help build a typical start.
Looking at Norris’ results from the second half of 2019 (3.69 ERA, 9 K per 9 IP) at face value might suggest he would suffer from a shortened season, but Norris spoke candidly this spring about how effortless he was able to hit 94 mph in Lakeland and the lengths he went to in order to ensure he was able to finish the season any way, so in a season where inning and physical limitation will go out the window, it will be fun to see an unshackled Daniel Norris.
3) Joe Jimenez, CL
Big Joe has always been highly-regarded since his days with the West Michigan Whitecaps; where his fastball was able to touch triple digits and his slider kept undisciplined hitters flailing. These days, the fastball sits more in the mid-90’s and his added change up got rocked–an uninspiring .571 batting average against it in 2019.
Jimenez should be just fine with two pitches; if he effectively scraps the change up or changes his usage with it (exclusively vs left-handed batters in 2019 according to Baseball Savant), it is easy to see him having an excellent season. The disclaimer, of course, with reliever numbers in 2020 will be to beware of ERA as a tell-all, as a bad outing or bad luck may negatively skew the traditional stats. Look more for K-rates, walk percentages, and exit velocity against as the barometers for a successful season for a relief pitcher in 2020.
4) Miguel Cabrera, DH
The shortened season for Miguel Cabrera has likely benefited him more from the lack of baseball that has happened the last three months more than the shortened season itself. With a chronic knee injury that has stolen from his numbers the last couple seasons, Cabrera has essentially had a second off-season to rest an injury a knee that goes beyond repair.
Add to that we will not see much, if any, Miguel Cabrera playing the field in 2020 in part thanks to a universal DH rule instituted by the league, and there is a convincing argument for Miguel Cabrera to re-establish himself as one of the game’s great hitters.
5) Matthew Boyd, LHP
Strike out extraordinaire Matthew Boyd has potentially gone from trade bait to cornerstone as the Detroit Tigers have unsuccessfully attempted to trade Boyd over the last couple seasons. But a combination of mixed results leading up to the deadline and historically awful performance the last two months of the season have caused Detroit to struggle to find a trade partner to justify their high demands in return.
I detailed recently in an article about what it would take to extend Matthew Boyd about his struggles in August and September in comparison with the front end of the season. In April and May, Boyd sports a 3.08 ERA and 4.24 ERA respectively; whereas in August he spiked to 5.59 over the course of his career. In a 60 game season, Boyd figures to make about 12 starts assuming the Tigers roll with a standard 5-man rotation. Using 2019 as an example, Boyd made 12 starts between April and May, so it is fair to guess that Boyd will be able to effectively avoid the dog days of summer, stay fresh, and leverage his re-designed curve ball to avoid more home runs in 2020.