While many predicted a losing season, the Detroit Tigers are over .500 with 10 percent of the season in the books
The bullpen has been good. How strange does that sound? After a 5-4 win over the Royals on Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers are now 4-2 on the season and are a Thursday win away from taking their first two series of the short year. It isn’t just the fact that they are winning, though. It is how they are winning that has been just as surprising and impressive.
This team is not perfect. In fact, they are quite flawed. Strikeouts remain an issue–averaging almost 12 per game thus far and good for 29th in the MLB. Such minimal contact typically leads to abysmal batting average numbers as well and this team is no exception; they have hit just .206 as a team in 2020.
So if the batting is no good, the pitching must be carrying the club, right? Also not true; as some stellar bullpen work has kept some otherwise embarrassing numbers from going completely to the bottom. The Detroit Tigers pitching staff ranks 26th in the MLB with a team ERA of 5.93. They have also given up an MLB-worst 12 home runs thus far. So what exactly is keeping the Detroit Tigers’ head above water?
JaCoby Jones’ All-Around Game
Jones has always been a plus athlete–he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates as a shortstop in the Joakim Soria trade in 2015. That athleticism has carried him in center field as well; and he has shined by making highlight-reel grabs in center so far this season, but he has also been underrated in his ability to get good jumps and make difficult catches seem easy.
Jones’ bat has also perked; hitting three home runs already across six games thus far and is now hitting .421 on the season with an OPS of 1.450. Both numbers are completely unsustainable even over a 60-game season, but for Jones, his success comes as a byproduct of some changes he made to make his stance quieter and his hands quicker. JaCoby Jones performance in the field, as well as his two clutch home runs so far, are perhaps the biggest reason for Detroit’s success early.
The Emergence of Gregory Soto
Joe Jimenez and Buck Farmer were locks for the closer and set up spots in Detroit’s bullpen, but what came after those two names on the depth chart were a lot of question marks. There were many who were intrigued by the idea of Gregory Soto pitching in shorter stints compared to the multi-inning role the team had him in last year, but I am not sure anyone pegged him to have the type of start he has had so far.
Soto’s stuff is heavy, intimidating, deceptive, and confrontational. All the ingredients necessary to be a late-inning relief option; especially for a left-handed arm that hits 99–and especially Detroit Tigers club that has begged for consistency in the bullpen since their days of contention. Had it not been for strong performances from Jimenez and Farmer themselves, there would be some clamoring from the fan base to insert Soto later in the game. Personally, I love Soto in the fireman/high-leverage role he has been thriving in so far. The flamethrower keeping games in line for the late-inning options has been an integral part to Detroit’s success so far.
The ‘Clutch’ Factor
As much as we as fans want clutch to be a real and tangible thing, it has largely been debunked as a skill attribute for any particular player through analytics. Still yet, the Detroit Tigers have had an uncanny ability to come up with timely home runs has bailed the club out of some losses.
CJ Cron and the aforementioned JaCoby Jones have been the difference-makers offensively late in games; and although this streak is unlikely to last, the season so far has been a microcosm of what the home run has the ability to do: change the game in an instant. If Jonathan Schoop, JaCoby Jones, CJ Cron, and Miguel Cabrera can display their ability to hit for power throughout the season, this raises their chances of surviving the sprint.
Is Detroit likely to stay in their winning ways? No, they are not, for the offensive and pitching challenges listed above are tough for any team to overcome. But we have said it once if we have said it a million times: anything can happen in a 60-game season. With reinforcements Daniel Norris and Casey Mize lurking in Toledo, there is a chance, albeit slim, the Detroit Tigers will show they are better than most thought, including me.