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Detroit Tigers - 2007 Team Preview
Predicted Finish
89-73
1st Place
AL Central

by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 1, 2007

2006 Record - 95-67, 2nd Place AL Central, 1.0 behind the Twins
2006 Runs Scored - 822
2006 Runs Allowed - 675
Pythagorean Projection - 95-67



The Detroit Tigers of 2006 were the poster children for the old adage about pitching and defense winning championships.

Almost

The Tigers were last season's Cinderella team, defying the odds and rebounding from a 43-119 season just three years earlier to make it to the World Series. And they did it with pitching - the Tigers had the lowest ERA in the majors last season. Oddly, while the Tigers offense scored almost a half a run more per game on the road than they did at spacious Comerica Park, the pitching staff actually gave up fewer runs on the road last season, which made the Tigers the best road team in the majors last season.

Catcher
2006 Starter - Ivan Rodriguez
Projected 2007 Starter - Ivan Rodriguez

Now that he plays at Comerica, Ivan Rodriguez's slugger days would seem to be behind him. I-Rod will be 35 in 2007, but this will be his 17th season in the majors, truly a remarkable feat. Rodriguez needs 258 total bases to become the first catcher in history to top 4000, and he is coming up on other impressive milestones as well - 300 homeruns, 50 triples, 500 doubles, 2500 hits, and 1200 runs, all of which he can accomplish this season or next.

When I-Rod came into the league, he was given the nickname "Pudge," which was the nickname of Carlton Fisk. How coincidental, then, that Ivan Rodriguez would seem to be approaching so many of Fisk's career marks for a catcher.

First Base
2006 Starter - Chris Shelton, Sean Casey
Projected 2007 Starter - Sean Casey

Poor old Chris Shelton - for one month in 2006, he looked like the next Lou Gerhig. Turned out he was the next Kevin Maas. As of right now, Shelton is with the Triple-A club.

Sean Casey returns after what was a terrible 53 game debut with the Tigers last season, in which he went .245/.286/.364, and suffered through his worst stretch of his career. If Casey rebounds this year, he could hit 50 doubles in his new home, but if he doesn't rebound, at 32 his career could be prematurely over.

Second Base
2006 Starter - Placido Polanco, Omar Infante
Projected 2007 Starter - Polanco, Infante

Neither Polanco or Infante is anything to write home about offensively. They would make a good platoon if either of them hit left handed.

Third Base
2006 Starter - Brandon Inge
Projected 2007 Starter - Brandon Inge

Inge's homeruns have been on a three year rise, which disguises the fact that his average and on-base percentage have been on a three year decline. Inge strikes out a ton, and walks very little, but does have power. His range factor indicates that he is a very capable third baseman, but he has made 45 errors over the last two seasons.

Shortstop
2006 Starter - Carlos Guillen
Projected 2007 Starter - Carlos Guillen

2006 was Carlos Guillen's most complete season yet - he played 153 games, scored 100 runs, and went .320/.400/.519. In a league obsessed with Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada, it is easy to overlook the fact that Guillen was the second best shortstop in the AL last season.

That said, his range factor is not good, and he made 28 errors last season. Guillen may be a first baseman or DH very soon.

Outfield
2006 Starters - Craig Monroe, Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez
Projected 2007 Starter - Monroe, Granderson, Ordonez

Classic paradox - If you think the Tigers' outfield is good, then you will look at the stats and be surprised by how bad they are. If you think the outfield unit is bad, you will look at the stats and be pleasantly surprised by what you see.

Monroe took a step back last season, Granderson had a nice rookie season, and Ordonez came back from two straight injury plagued seasons. Monroe needs to regain his form from 2005, Granderson needs to continue to grow as a hitter, and Ordonez needs to stay healthy and look more like the Magglio of 2003 than the Magglio of 2006.

Tigers Fun Fact - Jeremy Bonderman became the first Tigers pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season since Jack Morris in 1987, the last time the Tigers went to the playoffs.
Designated Hitter
2006 Starter - Marcus Thames
Projected 2007 Starter - Gary Sheffield

Marcus Thames' surprising 26 homeruns in 110 games last season masked some deficiencies in his game - chiefly, his 37/92 BB/K ratio, and his .256 batting average. Nevertheless, he was one of the Tigers best hitters last season (second on the team in OPS+) and now finds himself without a role as Gary Sheffield joins the squad as the designated hitter. Sheffield is obviously the best hitter on this team, but whether Monroe should be starting ahead of Thames is a legitimate issue. Thames will be the first man off the bench, and will see time in left, right, and at first base.

Starting Pitchers

2006 Starters - Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, Justin Verlander, Zach Miner
Projected 2007 Starters - Bonderman, Rogers, Robertson, Verlander, Chad Durbin, Mike Maroth

The strength of the Tigers is their pitching, and the pitching will be their undoing if it falters, as it did at the end of last season. Kenny Rogers starts the season on the disabled list, but Mike Maroth is healthy again and Chad Durbin will replace Rogers for the time being.

Three years after suffering through an embarassing 20-loss season in 2003, Maroth looked excellent in April and May before getting hurt. He is not an over-powering pitcher, and relies on more on craftiness than talent to get people out, which should make Kenny Rogers the perfect role model for him.

Verlander tailed off at the end of last season, but that was due to blistering which kept him from throwing his knuckle-curve. This year, he has gone to a straight curve, and appears ready for the season.

Bonderman came into his own last season, and at only 23 years old the sky is the limit. He could win 20 games and strike out 220-240 batters.

Last season was Nate Robertson's best in the majors, and he looks like a solid overall pitcher who you would never want as your ace, but would take as the number three any day of the week.

Relief Pitchers
2006 Relievers - Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya, Jamie Walker, Jason Grilli
Projected 2007 Relievers - Jones, Zumaya, Rodney, Grilli, Jose Mesa, Willie Ledesma

Todd Jones will be 39 this season, which would seem to be a solid indication that he doesn't have a whole season as a closer in him. But that is okay, as the Tigers are loaded with options behind Jones. Joel Zumaya is only 22 years old, but already has five seasons of professional baseball under his belt, and always strikes out more than a batter per inning. Fernando Rodney is a power pitcher with a good ERA who needs to watch the homerun balls and walks. Jason Grilli is a former starter who got better as the season wore on in his first year as a middle reliever.

Outlook for the Season

Hitting wins games, but pitching wins championships. In 2007, the AL Central will feature the White Sox, a team that has hitting but no pitching; the Indians, a team that has hitting and a little pitching; and the Twins, a team that has a little of both. The Tigers are the only team in the division with above average hitting and very good to excellent pitching, and they should be the favorite to win the division.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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