To say that the mood for Detroit Tigers' fans going into 2023 was sour might be a bit of an understatement. The Tigers had languished in either mediocrity or outright failure for six years, never once finishing with a winning record and only finishing above .400 twice. Those six years, from 2017-2022, saw the departure of Tigers staples in Justin Verlander and JD Martinez, and the decline of beloved but aging Miguel Cabrera. It seemed like the Tigers were stuck in a perpetual rebuild that was going nowhere.
And then 2023 happened. The Tigers still finished with a losing record, but they capitalized on the fact that pretty much every team in the AL Central was struggling and the Guardians just seemed to give up down the home stretch. Detroit wrapped up the season in second place, their best outcome since 2016, and the mood seemed to shift a little. The Tigers played some good ball, with young players coming up in a big way while giving fans real names to root for.
The Athletic took the temperature on Tigers fandom going into the 2024 season, and spirits are a lot higher than they were last year (subscription required). Scott Harris, AJ Hinch, and Riley Greene all received top marks, there was higher confidence in the team's future, and a majority of fans expect at an 80-90 win season for these Tigers.
The Athletic fan poll reflects optimism for the Detroit Tigers front office, young players
Of all polled fans, 82.1% responded that AJ Hinch's performance in his third year as manager was either 'excellent' or 'very good,' an opinion that seems to be shared by the front office, which gave Hinch a multi-year contract to stay with the team earlier this offseason. The reception for Scott Harris was also relatively warm, with 70.2% in the 'excellent' or 'very good' categories. Chairman and CEO Chris Ilitch faired the worst out of the Tigers' three most front-facing managerial figures, with 45.2% saying his performance was 'average,' 27.9% 'below average,' and 16% 'poor.'
On the team side of things, Riley Greene was the Tigers' most popular player for the second year in a row with 36% of the vote. Tarik Skubal and Spencer Torkelson also got high marks with around the 23% mark, and a steep drop off put Kerry Carpenter in fourth with 8%. Jake Rogers and Javier Báez brought up the rear, with less than 2% each. Greene will be returning from injury this season, Skubal is expected to be a highlight in the rotation, and Torkelson was a steadfast mainstay at first base last year. The front office has a lot of faith in these four young players specifically, so it's reassuring to see that the fan base is also being won over by them.
Confidence in the team's direction was also overwhelming positive, with only 14.9% of fans polled responding that they were 'unsure,' 'not very confident,' or 'not confident at all' in where the Tigers seemed to be headed. There's a lot to be done to prove fans right, but the Tigers' bar is still relatively low, and even finishing the season at .500 would do a lot to retain some of the trust fans are starting to feel toward the team again.