The Detroit Tigers have played two games and to the surprise of almost everyone, are 2-0. Of course, this is way too soon to overreact and make any grand assessments and change expectations for the season or player performance. But, what we can assess are the attributes that fueled the Tigers’ success during the first two games.
In 2020, the Tigers had one of, if not the worst starting rotations in baseball. In 2021 however, the strong starting pitching has been a pivotal part in the way to early success, and clearly, if that were to continue the Tigers would end up better than many anticipated. In this article, we discuss three other aspects of the Tigers’ performance which would be really positive signs as well. So here goes, it’s time to throw out sample size……….Let’s overreact!
Jeimer Candelario: Hard hit and exit velocity monster
Tiger fans everywhere are hoping Candelario’s breakout offensive performance from 2020 was legitimate. Well, if his 5 batted balls (remember we are throwing out sample size) through two games are any indication we may see even better things from Candy in 2021. He ranks in the 97th and 95th percentile for exit velocity and hardhit%. His exit velocity specifically is up over10 MPH from 90.2 to 100.7. For the season, an overall increase of half that amount would place him among the league leaders at the season’s end. Hitting the baseball hard is one of the surest ways to produce offensively. Through two games, against strong pitching, Candelario has done just that.
Michael Fulmer: Bullpen superstar
If making an assessment after five batted balls from Candy is crazy premature, then looking at Fulmer after one inning pitched is downright insanity but we don’t care. Qualitatively, Fulmer looked strong in his first relief outing but diving into the actual Statcast data provides even more reason for optimism. As a reliever, Fulmer pitched primarily with his fastball and slider (his one changeup was also quite nice). Both pitches showed significantly better velocity than in 2020 (over 2 MPH) and had higher spin rates. This is the type of improvement the Tiger’s were likely hoping to see with a move to the bullpen and to see it in Fulmer’s first outing is a clear positive sign.
Robbie Grossman: On-Base Aficionado
Ok, this one is kind of cheating since Grossman has always shown an above-average ability to get on base. But, through two games in 2021, he has taken things to a pretty crazy level. In two games, Grossman is yet to record a hit but still leads the team in OBP thanks to six walks (a salute to our own David Rumptz for pointing his out to me). The benefits to the lineup have been obvious with the Indians pitchers being forced to worry about a baserunner and the numerous extra pitches Tigers hitters have been able to see, helping the rest of the lineup. It feels like it has been forever since the Tigers have had a leadoff hitter who consistently gets on base and puts pressure on the opposing defense. It’s likely Grossman gives the Tigers just that but if Grossman can take another step forward in his ability to get on base it would have wide-ranging benefits to the Tiger’s offense as a whole and improve the offensive projections for the season.