Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Division Champs

The Tigers finally managed to do what we expected them to do all year, and that’s win the AL Central.  Back to back division championships is fantastic.  The papers say the Tigers are a matchup nightmare for the other playoff teams, and are up 2-0 on the A's.  Miggy won the Triple Crown and should be MVP.  Verlander is close to a 2nd Cy Young.

So why don’t I feel enthused about this team?

Perhaps it’s easily understood by what we expected and how they got here.  The Tigers played in one of the weakest divisions in baseball.  They really had no real competition.  Sure the White Sox had the division lead until the last week of the season, but they are a mediocre baseball team.  The Tigers should have blown by them months ago and never looked back.

But that underscores the problem with the 2012 Tigers – they are underachievers.  How many blown saves did they have this year?  How many 1-run losses did they have?  How bad was the production from the 5-spot?  How bad was the production from SS, 2B and C?  How bad was the defense?  These are the factors that tell you the Tigers are far from being a legit World Series contender.

So lets start with the pitching.  The bullpen was bad this year.  How bad?  Try 16 blown saves bad.  The bullpen ERA of 3.84 doesn’t tell the true story of how many games this team let slip away.  The Big Potato would win the Alka-Seltzer award for causing fans the most heartburn of any player in years.  Benoit gave up 14 homers in 71 innings.  That’s your closer and set-up guy, folks, and they were responsible for 9 of the 16 blown saves.  That’s bad, no matter how you slice it.

In one run games, the Tigers were 20-27.  Now that’s not good, but to put it in perspective, they were 29-17 last year.  Baltimore – the surprise team of the season – is 28-9 in one run games.  And there’s this – from August 24 to September 23, the Tigers played in 10 1-run games, and lost all of them.  That’s almost impossible to do for any team, especially one that actually wins their division.

But if it were just the pitching, at least this team can hit, right?  Um, not once you get outside of the 1-4 spots in the order.  The batting average of the 5-9 spots?
5 - .253
6 - .238
7 - .255
8 - .246
9 - .231
When your team BA is .269, it’s hard to have that many spots in your lineup perform that badly.  And it renders your 3-4 hitters much less potent.  Several times during the season, teams intentionally walked both Miggy and Prince to face the 5 hitter.  I can’t recall ever seeing that before – intentionally walking two hitters to load the bases to face the guy who follows them.  That’s horrific.

And when you look at BA by position, another point comes to light – the Tigers need to be active in the offseason.  Why?  Because of this:  2B - .211, SS - .239.  If these were fantastic fielders, you might be able to live with this.  But this was Jhonny Peralta with his minimal fielding range and 6 different 2B’s, the best of which (Omar Infante) made 9 errors in 60 games.  That’s just pathetic.  I could also include DH and RF here as they batted .259 and .236 respectively, but DH will be fine with Victor Martinez coming back and RF should be fine if Avisail Garcia or Andy Dirks is given the full-time starting gig.  Plus Nick Castellanos is waiting in the wings.

And finally, the defense, or rather, the lack of it.  This is the one area where it's hard to get the stats to back up the impression.  But this is not a good defensive team.  For all his prowess at the plate, Miggy is not a good fielding third baseman.  He's OK, and that's about it.  Peralta has good hands but severely limited range.  Infante has been disappointing at second, committing several errors, a few of which have been decisive in losing games.  And Prince isn't exactly gifted at first.  I heard on a broadcast that the Tigers led the league in most unearned runs allowed, and I believe it.  They aren't going to improve on the corner infield anytime soon, so second and short need upgrades, just like they do for hitting.

I want to believe in this team.  They do have the starting pitching to make a run in the playoffs.  But they are a flawed team and need to make improvements.  And that is why I still can't get too excited about them.

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