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2006 Team Preview: Detroit Tigers
by Scott Glab, Baseball Evolution
March 1, 2006


2005 Record: 71-91 (4th Place)
2005 Runs Scored: 723
2005 Runs Allowed: 787

Expected 2005 Record: 75-87

For an organization that has not been to the playoffs since 1987, the Detroit Tigers…well, there really is no flattering way to end this sentence. Over the last two years, the Tigers have added Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and what appeared to be an invincible bullpen with Urbina, Farnsworth, and Percival, and seemed poised last year to compete in the AL Central.

Of course, during that time the Indians and the White Sox made the leap to elite teams, while the Tigers were the victims of bad luck, injuries and frankly were just an inferior team. It seems reasonable to expect them to improve over their 71 wins last year. But what kind of improvement should we expect?

Catcher
2005 Starter: Ivan Rodriguez
Projected 2006 Starter: Ivan Rodriguez

Rodriguez is regressing. But, that’s what 34 year old catchers do. His fielding is no longer gold glove level—though still adequate—and his OBA was .290 last year. His .276 batting average was his lowest since 1993. If new Tigers manager Jim Leyland decides to rest him more this year, the Tigers have another quandary: Do they put offensive-liability Vance Wilson behind the plate, or stick former catchers Inge and/or Shelton back there every so often?

First Base
2005 Starters: Chris Shelton, Carlos Pena, Dmitri Young
Projected 2006 Starters: Shelton, Pena

Shelton has a bust-out second season last year, and is favored to get most of the playing time over Pena in this platoon. But Pena is a lefty with pop who is reaching the prime of his career, so watch out. 1B could be a very productive position for the Tigers.

Second Base
2005 Starters: Placido Polanco, Omar Infante
Projected 2006 Starter: Polanco

Polanco will be Leyland’s everyday 2B and two-hole hitter, and Tiger fans couldn’t be happier. He is an average-to-good fielder who makes lots of contact at the place and had a break out offensive season last year. This is a good (though not great) second baseman in his prime.

Third Base
2005 Starter: Brandon Inge Projected 2006 Starter: Inge


When I-Rod came to the Tigers, Inge mad the transition to both 3B and leadoff man, and has done both remarkably well. In the field he is athletic, with an excellent arm and great range to the line. At bat, he gets his share of BBs and Ks and has become a triples machine. Though he slumped in the 2nd half, he is likely to be better than the average ML leadoff hitter this year.

Also, Dmitri Young has reported to camp 15-20 lbs lighter, and is getting some work at third base, where he may spell Inge when Leyland wants a big bat in the lineup.

Shortstop
2005 Starters: Carlos Guillen, Omar Infante
Projected 2006 Starter: Guillen

Carlos Guillen is an exciting all-star shortstop whose year was shortened by injuries in 2005. The Tigers expect big things from him in 2006.

Outfield/DH
2005 Starters: Nook Logan, Rondell White, Magglio Ordonez, Craig Monroe, Dmitri Young
Projected 2006 Starters: Logan, Ordonez, Monroe, Young, Curtis Granderson

This is where most of the Tigers’ lineup juggling will take place. Logan is a frighteningly speedy with 50 SB potential, and he may already be on of the top 5 center fielders in the majors (see The Fielding Bible). The question is, can he get on base enough to be effective?

Magglio Ordonez was once one of the most feared hitters in the game. Over the last two seasons, he’s has two different injuries and 17 homers in 507 at-bats. He and Young are expected to split time at DH and spent some time in RF and LF, respectively. They are each high-risk high-reward offensive players.

Craig Monroe will play most of the innings in RF, and he could be ready to break out with a 30 HR, 100 RBI season. If not, he should still be serviceable. In left, 24-year old Curtis Granderson impressed in limited time last season and should se a greatly expanded role this year.

Pitching
2005 Front Four Starters: Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth, Nate Robertson, Jason Johnson
Projected 2006 Front Four: Kenny Rogers, Bonderman, Maroth, Robertson.

Kenny Rogers is 41 years old. He posted a 3.46 ERA in Texas last year despite marginal peripheral stats. Even though he is moving to a pitchers park, if Rogers can keep his ERA near 4.00 and pitch around 200 innings/season over his 2 year, $16 million contract, it would be a shock. He has already been announced as the opening day starter.

The other three returning starters has ERAs between 4.48 and 4.74. But they all have upsides. Robertson and Maroth are each 28, and Bonderman is a 23-year old with over 500 career IP. It is reasonable to expect one of them to tale a significant step forward this year. He is also the only righty of this group.

Other 2005 Starters: Sean Douglass, Wilfredo Ledezma
Other Possible 2006 Starters:Ledezma, Justin Verlander

Ledezma had a bit of an edge in experience, but Verlander was the 2nd overall pick in the 2004 draft, and has dominated A and AA pitching. The Tigers would love to throw him into the major-league fire like they did Bonderman. Also, Ledezma is a southpaw? Do the Tigers really need four lefty starters? I fully expect this spot to go to Verlander.

2005 Top Relievers: Fernando Rodney, Kyle Farnsworth, Jamie Walker, Chris Spurling, Franklyn German
Projected 2006 Top Relievers: Todd Jones, Rodney, Walker, Spurling, Roman Colon
Percival, Farnsworth, and Urbina combined for less than 100 IP last year, and none will pitch for them this year. The new closer in the ex-closer Todd Jones, who is old, yet revived his Career with the Marlins last season. Walker is one of the best lefty relievers in the game, and Roman Colon should pitch long relief.

21-year old phenom Joel Zumaya is already opening eyes in Lakeland this spring, and could make the team to be groomed as the closer of the future.

Final Word

The Tigers have a deep, potentially dangerous offense that as yet remains a question mark due to the health and viability of their biggest bats. They also drew fewer walks than any AL team last year. That usually does not translate into great offensive success.

The Tigers pitching staff needs a surprising season form oldie Rogers and youngster Verlander in addition to a breakout season from one of their three holdovers to be truly dangerous. And their bullpen is as unknown a quantity as you’ll find this side of south Florida. So while it’s not a terrible stretch to imagine this team winning 90 games, it is not significantly more likely than their chances to win 70. In a tough AL central, expect 78-82 wins from this team.


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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Scott Glab resides in Chicago, Illinois, and can be reached at scott@baseballevolution.com.
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