Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Talking Tigers: 5th starters, position changes and The Hammer

As the Detroit News' baseball columnist, Lynn Henning, no longer does his burning questions bit, he left me in the lurch! But that hasn't stopped him from doing a similar style column today, done in a long form format. He's left an opening for a rebuttal! Let's see how far I can "rebut," shall we?

What to do about a fifth starter...

The Tigers' front office made the anti-climatic announcement today, Jeremy Bonderman is out for the season. Thus, the Tigers are officially looking for a 5th starter.

Henning, as he is often wont to do, picks a bullpen pitcher to champion. In this case, it's Chad Durbin Casey Fossum. It's almost as if Henning has dug up one his "Bench Kenny Rogers and make Chad Durbin the 5th starter" columns, and just replaced the particulars.

I'm still not sure why left-hander Casey Fossum isn't getting a look. He is 30 years old with seven big league seasons in his rearview mirror. He is a left-hander. He pitched -- and started -- during a splendid spring at Triple-A Toledo. He is a couple of years removed from shoulder surgery, which is about the amount of time necessary for a pitcher to totally recover from a procedure so serious.

Normally I would rail against such a column. But in this case, with no prospects who would be considered ready to move up to the big club, Fossum is pretty much the only option. At least the only experienced option, as Fossum has a fair amount of big league starting experience under his belt.

Unfortunately, his past stats as a starter are nothing special. They're pretty damn bad, actually. Fossum is a mediocre version of Nate Robertson.

The Tigers find themselves in quite the rotation predicament. They got lucky once this season, as no one saw Armando Galarraga stepping into Dontrelle Willis' spot, and becoming a stopper. Hell, I'm not yet convinced he won't come back to earth. Even if Galarraga is the real deal (He sure looked the part today), I'm damn near positive Fossum isn't. Honestly, do you really expect the Tigers to have lightning strike twice? Me neither.

Which is why, the more I think about it, I'm warming to the idea of signing Freddy Garcia. He has a track record of success, and is more likely to be successful over the long haul. (If his shoulder is healthy, which remains to be seen.)

Fossum could work out a a spot starter for the time being, but I don't want to see him in the rotation when August rolls around. (The Tigers playing meaningful games late in the season doesn't seem so far fetched now does it?) Let's roll the dice with Garcia. Like I said yesterday, it'll only cost the Tigers money.

Sorting out the position puzzle...

Henning is pretty happy with the Tigers infield. He's almost giddy!

Miguel Cabrera has settled in at first base, not only because he is hitting the way he was bound to hit, but because he is getting noticeably comfortable -- and adept -- at playing his new position.

No arguments from me. Cabrera will never be a Gold Glove, but he looks at home playing 1st base. Much more so than at 3rd. Plug Cabrera into the lineup everyday, and let him do his thing...Which is hit a TON.

Carlos Guillen, a skilled professional, has done what talented, veteran players tend to do: He has adjusted, as well, and is playing a strong third base.

Leyland jerked Guillen around like a puppet on a very short string, playing "Where's Waldo Carlos?" on a daily basis.

"You're the 1st baseman for the remainder of your contract! Uh, I misspoke. You're the 3rd baseman for the foreseeable future! Not so fast, I meant to say you're the full-time left fielder! Umm, never mind. Just go back to 3rd, OK?"

Good Lord, if my head is spinning, what about Guillen's? Now that he's settling in at 3rd, he's playing adequately. Like Cabrera, Guillen will never be a Gold Glover, but he'll more than make up for any fielding miscues with his bat. I'm just fine with that, and I'd hope the Tigers finally are too.

Factor in Leyland's clever decision at catcher -- splitting time between Pudge Rodriguez and Brandon Inge -- and an infield that had everyone covering their eyes a couple of weeks ago has since settled down nicely and effectively.

With Pudge sitting every other day, the extra rest seems to have invigorated him. Since the platoon with Inge went into effect, Pudge's average, and more importantly, his OBP, have been steadily on the rise. Hey, his OBP is over .300, what more do you want?!

Really, it was too much to expect any 36 year old catcher, even one as prideful as Pudge, to play everyday. With Inge FINALLY coming to his senses, the Tigers are set for the season at catcher. Pudge is more productive, Inge is playing on a regular basis, everybody's happy!

Why did it take so long to give Marcus Thames a shot?

Christ, the blogosphere has been saying the same thing for a couple of seasons now. Actually, if "The Hammer" (As Ian has taken to calling Thames) were a left handed bat, he would have been in the starting lineup that much sooner. We never would have lived through the Jacque Jones era, short as it was...

Henning has his own theories...

This is an easy question with complex answers. The biggest reason a guy who seemingly hits home runs every other time at bat hasn't played regularly in his four years with the Tigers is because he has indeed tended to wear down (check second-half season statistics). But that might have been then. What's happening now is that a 31-year-old Hercules is about as dangerous and as energetic of a slugger as there is in baseball.

Yes, we all know Thames tended to come back to earth later in the season. But don't forget, he was playing the best baseball of his career last August before he hurt his hamstring. Thames had showed no signs of slowing down before the injury.

Henning looks back to a past Tiger comparable to Thames, Ben Oglivie. He was another late bloomer who had his best years after the Tigers gave up on him.

Then the Tigers traded Oglivie to the Milwaukee Brewers ahead of the 1978 season. Oglivie hit 29 home runs in 1979, 41 in 1980 and 34 in 1982. Note that he turned 31 ahead of the 1980 season -- the same age as Thames in 2008.

Appears to be an apt comparison to me.

The Tigers traded Oglivie to Milwaukee for starting pitcher Jim Slaton. Oglivie went on to become an important part of the "Harvey's Wallbangers" Brewer teams, having his best pro seasons in his early to mid 30's.

Despite Oglivie's sucess, it still would have been a fair trade, as the younger Slaton, a former All-Star in his contract walk year, won 17 games in his first season in Detroit. But his first season was also his last season as a Tiger, as Slaton immediately re-signed with the Brewers when he became a free agent. (This was back in the days where the Tigers weren't exactly players in the free agent market.)

If Thames is even close to the power threat Oglivie wbecame, and all signs point to YES (YES, YES, a thousand times, YES!) ,the Tigers will be just fine in left...As long as there is a decent outfield glove backing Thames up, that is...

1 comment:

  1. To be fair, I believe I picked up "The Hammer" from Rod Allen. But I'm happy to take credit for it.

    Glad to see you back. We all need an occasional break from the grind.