Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The 2008 Detroit Tigers: Contenders or the team to beat? Part 1, starting outfield and DH

With the true opening day for MLB being less than a week away (and it looks as if I'll be in attendance next Monday), it's well past time I started talking Detroit Tigers. Which means it's time for my TWFE Tigers preview.

In past years, I'd squeeze my Tigers thoughts into 2 or 3 season preview posts. I've learned my lesson. Rather than give myself both a splitting headache, and carpel tunnel, with massive, novel length previews, I'm breaking my thoughts up into 5 smaller pieces. Starting outfield and DH, starting infield and catcher, starting pitching, relief pitching, and the bench. It'll be easier to read, and easier to write. We cool? Good.

Let's get started...

Starting outfield

LF - Jacque Jones: If I told you the Tigers left fielder would put up a stat line of 21 HR's, 80 RBI, .280 AVE, .325 OBP, .455 SLG, and K 119 times, you'd think I was talking about the Tigers opening day left fielder in 2007, Craig Monroe. Well, those are the career average stats of the 2008 starter in left field, Jacque Jones.

Jones is essentially Craig Monroe, with a little less power, a better OBP, and a couple of years older. Put simply, Jones is a journeyman corner outfielder who's beginning his decline. Take a look at the "Most similar" categories on Jones' Baseball Reference page, and you'll former Tigers like Rondell White, Juan Encarnacion, Jim Northrup and Bobby Higginson sprinkled throughout. All journeyman outfielders who had respectable major league careers, but were in decline by their early 30's.

I don't expect Jones to put up spectacular numbers in '08. If anything, his power will continue to decline. But he'll still have plenty of at bats, thanks to the Tigers' powerful lineup, and being one of the few left handed bats on the team. For that reason alone, Jones has value to the Tigers. Defensively, he will be more than capable.

Tigers should be OK with his manning left field the majority of the time, and hitting in the bottom 3rd of the order.

CF - Curtis Granderson: Grandy will miss the first 2-3 weeks of the season thanks to a fractured finger. Thank goodness it's not a long-term injury, as the Tigers desperately need the spark Granderson supplies. As Granderson goes, so do the Tigers.

Granderson is a smart, heady ballplayer who does everything well, both on and off the field, save for one thing, hitting left handed pitching. He's a budding All-Star who is well on his way to becoming the next "It" player in Detroit. Granderson is the sort of athlete Detroit fans tend to falls in love with, namely a humble, hard working, blue collar and extremely talented athlete in the mold of Joe Dumars, Barry Sanders and Steve Yzerman. No matter how good Miguel Cabrera is, Granderson is the future face of the Tigers.

Granderson's 2007 line of 20/20/20/20 was a statistical fluke that he'll likely never repeat, and we shouldn't expect him to. But It's very possible Granderson will be the next 30/30 man, once he moves down in the order.

The one dig against Granderson is with his struggles against left handed pitching. He may never be a holy terror upon southpaws, though I don't think he'll hit .160 against them ever again either. Granderson knows what he needs to work on, has improved every season of his career, and I see no reason for that to change in 2008.

The Tigers are set for the next decade in center field. Let the arguments between who is better, Granderson or Grady Sizemore, begin!

RF - Magglio Ordonez: Speaking of years we shouldn't expect to be repeated, Ordonez's marvelous 2007 will be next to impossible to replicate. Magglio's season was the best I've ever witnessed by a Tiger at the plate. It bears repeating..THE. BEST. EVER.

Anyone who says they anticipated his hitting .363, winning the AL batting tile, finishing 2nd in the MVP voting, while setting several career statistical highs in the process, is one lying SOB. Ordonez exceeded both reasonable and crazy high expectations, which is why it would be pure folly to expect him to repeat his '07.

Considering the talent surrounding Ordonez in the batting order, it's quite possible he'll have another sensational season. Having Gary Sheffield hitting in front of him, and Cabrera behind, Ordonez will not get pitched around. Though he's no longer a 35 HR a year threat, thanks to creeping age and playing in Comerica Park, with his ability to hit the ball hard to all fields, Ordonez will drive in runners by score.

Defensively, Ordonez is nothing special. He knows what to do in right, makes the occasional play, and doesn't embarrass himself. He rarely dives for balls, which I'm perfectly fine with, as he's too valuable at the plate to risk getting hurt in the field. Most importantly, Granderson is in center, picking up the slack in the gaps.

Though he's no spring chicken at 34, as long as Ordonez remains healthy, and as with many Tigers, it's a concern, it's safe to expect another season of a .300+ AVE, 20-25 HR's and 120-130 RBI. It's no 2007, but still awful damn good.

Designated hitter

DH - Gary Sheffield: I never had the opportunity to watch Sheff on a regular basis till 2007. I knew he was a good ballplayer, but I didn't realize just how GOOD. Once Sheff's bat got smoking hot after his early April slump, he was a marvel to watch. Sheffield has some of the best pure baseball instincts I've ever seen. Watching him play everyday, I finally understood the hall of fame talk.

Sheffield rarely had a bad at bat, while showing an astounding amount of discipline at the plate He didn't just hit the ball hard, he punished the ball. Even in his late 30's, he has bat speed to burn.

After year after year of seeing Tiger after Tiger use a "run till you're out" philosophy on the basepaths, it was refreshing to see Sheff's baserunning smarts. Though not a burner, Sheffield knew when to best run, as shown by his 22 stolen bases. If it hadn't been for the injured shoulder, he was on track for a 30/30 season, an almost unthinkable accomplishment at age 38.

Yet, there's the rub. Sheffield and injuries. As good a he was before the shoulder injury, Sheff was just as awful when he came back. Much too early, as it turned out. I'll give him credit for doing his damnedest to come back, as the Tigers were in midst of a tailspin in the standings, but it was obvious Sheffield was only a fraction of his normal sweet swinging self. He should have been anywhere but on the field.

His going down was one of the main reasons the Tigers imploded last August. Which is why we should hope Jim Leyland hid all of Sheffield's gloves, save for his batting gloves. He's too valuable at the plate to risk playing him, or his balky shoulder, anywhere on the diamond. Which is my way of saying Sheffield will have a monster year as DH.

Overall: Sheffield, Ordonez and Granderson are all legitimate candidates to play in the All-Star game. There's no reason to anticipate anything other than very good statistical seasons from all 3. If Ordonez declines some from his 2007 season, he'll still have very good year. Same for Sheffield, he'll put up numbers if he plays a full season. Granderson is a stud, and on the verge of breaking out nationally. Jones is what he is, a respectable journeyman.

So what it comes down to health. If those 3 stay healthy, there should be little to complain about. If the injury bug bites (It's already bit Granderson), the Tigers should be able to tread water with the likes of Brandon Inge, Marcus Thames, and Ryan Raburn off the bench. (More about them later in the week) All in all though, any team filling their 4 slots at DH and in the outfield with 3 All-Star quality players is in fine shape.

Tomorrow: Starting infield and catcher.

1 comment:

  1. Have fun at the Opener. My thought on it is this, if it's 35 degrees and snowing they'd better not pitch Verlander or Bonderman or anybody else they think might have a future with the club. I'm old enough to remember the 1962 Opener when they trotted out Frank Lary in similar weather off his 23-9 3.24 ERA from '61. He hurt his arm throwing in the snow and was never even close to the same again. I hate to say it, but I'd rather they postponed the game than risk one of their young arms. I was there in similar conditions in '77 against the Royals when John Mayberry jacked one into the upper deck in right that nearly killed some poor sap because he never saw it coming through the mixed snow and driving rain. Enjoy yourself and drink a Stroh's for me.