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Posted By Cliff Corcoran On April 27, 2009 @ 6:09 pm In Cliff Corcoran,Game Thread,Series Preview | Comments Disabled
2008 Record: 74-88 (.457)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 78-84 (.481)
Manager: Jim Leyland
General Manager: Dave Dombrowski
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Comerica Park (102/102)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
1B – Miguel Cabrera (R)
2B – Placido Polanco (R)
SS – Adam Everett (R)
3B – Brandon Inge (R)
C – Gerald Laird (R)
RF – Magglio Ordoñez (R)
CF – Curtis Granderson (L)
LF – Josh Anderson (L)
DH – Carlos Guillen (S)
R – Ramon Santiago (IF)
R – Ryan Raburn (OF)
L – Jeff Larish (3B/1B)
R – Dane Sardinha (C)
R – Justin Verlander
R – Edwin Jackson
R – Rick Porcello
R – Armando Galarraga
R – Zach Miner
R – Fernando Rodney
R – Joel Zumaya
R – Brandon Lyon
L – Bobby Seay
R – Ryan Perry
R – Juan Rincon
L – Nate Robertson
15-day DL: RHP – Jeremy Bonderman (sore shoulder), LHP – Dontrelle Willis (anxiety disorder), OF/1B – Marcus Thames (strained oblique), C – Matt Treanor (torn hip labrum)
L – Curtis Granderson (CF)
R – Placido Polanco (2B)
R – Magglio Ordoñez (RF)
R – Miguel Cabrera (1B)
S – Carlos Guillen (DH)
R – Gerald Laird (C)
R – Brandon Inge (3B)
L – Josh Anderson (LF)
R – Adam Everett (SS)
The Tigers were the pre-season World Series favorites a year ago following their blockbuster acquisition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Instead, they finished dead last in the AL Central with a record better than only the Orioles and Mariners in the American League. What went wrong was exemplified by the performance of the two young stars they acquired from Florida. Cabrera led the AL’s fourth-best offense in hits (180), doubles (36), homers (37), RBIs (127), slugging (.537), and OPS+ (130). Willis made just seven starts, posting a 9.38 ERA, 2.21 WHIP, and walking nearly twice as many men as he struck out as the Tigers went 2-5 in the games he started, with one of the wins coming in a game in Willis left after hyperextending his knee prior to getting an out.
Just two years after they reached the World Series on the strength of a young pitching staff that was the American League’s stingiest, the Tigers allowed more runs than all but three team’s in baseball (the Rangers, Pirates, and Orioles). How did that happen? To begin with that “young” pitching staff also included Kenny Rogers, who after an injury-shortened 2007, finally reached the end of the line at age 43 last year, posting a 5.70 ERA. The 2006 rotation also included Nate Robertson, who simply had a career year that year, his only season with an ERA better than league average. Last year, Robertson’s ERA swelled to 6.35.
Perhaps most significantly, that 2006 staff leaned too heavily on three very young arms. Joel Zumaya, who posted a 1.94 ERA in 83 1/3 relief innings at age 21 in 2006, has suffered several fluke injuries since, including one brought on by an excess of Guitar Hero, and a major shoulder injury sustained while trying to move his belongings out of the way of the California wild fires a couple of years ago. More tellingly, Jeremy Bonderman threw 214 innings at age 23 in 2006 (and 749 major league innings from ages 20 to 23) and hasn’t been healthy since he elbow gave out in July of 2007.
Then there’s tonight’s starter, Justin Verlander. A college product who spent just one year in the minors before throwing 186 innings and winning the AL Rookie of the Year award for the 2006 pennant winners, Verlander has had no problem taking the ball since, and was even better in his sophomore season, when he threw 201 2/3 innings at age 24, but he’s increasingly losing his ability to determine where the ball is going. Verlander led the majors in wild pitches and hit batsmen in 2007, and last year saw his walk rate increase by nearly one free pass per nine innings while his ERA swelled to 4.84. So far this year, his walk rate is 3.9 BB/9, the same as it was a year ago, and he’s getting lit up as he’s allowed six or more runs in three of his four starts and opposing batters are hitting .303/.370/539 against him. Verlander still has his high-90s heater, but he can’t throw anything else for a strike.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Dave Dombrowski is a very good general manager. Last February, he acquired Armando Galarraga from the Rangers for marginal minor league outfielder Michael Hernandez . Galarraga emerged as the Tigers’ best starter last year, posting a 3.73 ERA in 28 starts and a pair of relief appearances. This offseason, he traded promising young slugger Matt Joyce to the Rays for Edwin Jackson, the still-just-25-year-old former Dodgers prospect who had a breakout season last year and has thus far this year been second only to Galarraga among Tigers starters (Jackson will start tomorrow’s game). In 2007, Dombrowski ponied up to sign Scott Boras client and New Jersey native Rick Porcello after drafting him in the first round. After a strong showing at high-A last year, Porcello, who will match-up with Joba Chamberlain on Wednesday, has lept right into the big-league rotation, bouncing Robertson to the bullpen (though one does have to wonder if Porcello’s quick advancement is once again too much too soon for a talented young Tiger starter). Just like that, the Tigers have a new rotation that will take what it can get from the currently disabled Bonderman (sore elbow) and Willis (anxiety disorder a.k.a. Steve Blass disease).
Better yet, Dombrowski has upgraded his defense by replacing the unproductive big-name veterans from last year’s team with young, inexpensive glovemen. The logic there is that if the players at those positions are going to help at the plate, they should at least help in the field. So gone is 33-year-old free agent shortstop Edgar Renteria ($9 million, 84 OPS+, -0.9 UZR in 2008) and in is slick fielding Adam Everett on a one-year, $1 million deal. Gone is 40-year-old designated hitter Gary Sheffield (90 OPS+ in 2008), so that the still-productive 33-year-old Carlos Guillen (114 OPS+, but a -2.9 UZR at third base in 2008) can DH while the slick-fielding Brandon Inge moves back to third base. That also frees up left field for the speedy 26-year-old Josh Anderson, a late-spring acquisition from the Braves. Before all of that, Dombrowski dumped now-37-year-old catcher and impending free agent Ivan Rodriguez ($13 million, 87 OPS+ in 2008) at last year’s deadline, and has since replaced him with 29-year-old former Rangers prospect Gerald Laird via an offseason trade that sent two marginal minor league pitchers to Texas.
Laird is the only one in that group likely to provide a boost to the offense, and his contributions are likely to be more than undermined by those of Anderson, Everett, and Inge (despite the last’s hot start), but the improvement in team defense is significant enough to have been worth the exchange. Only three AL teams (including the Yankees) were worse than the Tigers at turning balls in play into outs last year. So far this year, only five AL teams are better at it than Detroit. Similarly, the Tigers have gone from being the fourth-worst run-preventers in the AL last year, are the sixth best in the league this year, and they still have the fourth-best offense in the junior circuit. All of that has them sitting on top of the AL Central with a 10-8 record.
The Yankees send CC Sabathia to the hill tonight looking to rebound from his messy 6 2/3 innings in last Wednesday’s 14-inning monstrosity. CC has walked a total of 14 men against eight strikeouts in three of his four starts (in the other he walked nine and struck out six). His season totals of 14 walks and 14 strikeouts are an exact match for his totals through four starts a year ago. Last year, he flipped the switch in his fifth start (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K in Kansas City) and never looked back. The Yankees hope the fifth time’s the charm this year as well.
Here’s more on CC from Alex and Ted Berg:
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 Michael Hernandez: http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=hernan001mic
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