By: Eric Thomas
A consensus is emerging among those paid to talk about the Tigers. The chattering class wants starting pitching because pitching wins championships because defense wins championships and defense defense defense. The team appears to agree, according to one source aggressively perusing a shiny new starter. I normally would nod like a drinking bird toy. When Tigers needed a starting pitcher bad last year, they got one in Doug Fister and that decision sent them going vaulting over the saw horse into the playoffs (sorry… Olympic fever). The Fister call turned out to be a panacea, and with the collected Tiger nation panting like a junkie for another playoff fix, it’s only natural to do the same thing that worked last time.
This year is different. They have problems in different places. The pitching is better than it was at this time last year. As bad as the Tigers have been in stretches, the pitching has rarely been the problem. They have certainly had their Porcello and Scherzer and now Turner abominations, but overall the staff has been decent.
Statistically, they rank in the middle of the pack as far as ERA but that doesn’t really tell the tale. Baseball nerdery has produced some statistics that remove fielding from the stats. It’s called ‘Fielding Independent Pitching’, and the weighted version even takes into consideration what league you play in and the size of your home ballpark. I see your eyes glazing over, so I won’t get too detailed here. The point is that when you separate the Tigers incapable infield, a far better team is revealed. This is at least from a statistical standpoint. It’s also noticeable if you watch the games every day. In addition, these are only statistics where Ryan Dempster has struggled this year. It’s like buying Dracula a wooden stake necklace.
The relief pitching has been exceptional. They seem accustomed to coming in with bases juiced now. They were a little shaky in some stretches, when Luke Putkonen was up, but these days things are pretty solid. Brayan Villarreal has been lights out; Benoit has been exceptional aside from his recent bad habit of giving up one run home runs. Bringing in even a great pitcher would probably only give the Tigers a minimal improvement.
I don’t care if you get Cole Hamels with three arms; if every ground ball gets to the outfield it’s useless. The principle of constant searching for pitching is a default position, but in baseball defense is bifurcated. When one side of the ledger is producing in a manner that ranks them in baseball’s top 5, while the other ranks among the worst, why improve the one that is performing well? Only the Padres, Astros and Rockies boast worse numbers than the Tigers, as measured by ‘Defensive Runs Saved’, which is a … wait! Come back! Sorry, I swear no more nerdery!
The point here is that the Tigers really need some infield defense. They desperately need a 2nd baseman and just about any beating heart will do. They would lose absolutely nothing in the way of bats, as Raburn and Santiago have been basically ghosts. Defensively they have been as porous enough to strain pasta in and turning a double play sends teams of EMTs speeding into the Comerica’s stands with defibrillators. Placido Palanco has been brought up, and I think Tiger fans would welcome him with a USO parade. He hasn’t played 2nd in a while, but he certainly knows where to find it. This makes him better than Raburn already.
Of course, my dream would be to get a shortstop and Jhonny stands on second. Peralta’s bat has come alive as of late, and a he can move to his left as a thank you. He has all the tools to play the position, and I am sure he will be fine. There is always the concern that moving a player from his comfortable position upsets his offensive production but you gotta take what you can get. My stove has better range than Peralta on defense.
To give away the most valuable prospects the Tigers have had in a decade for a starting pitcher when the rewards, in this case, would be mitigated seems like a mistake. Get a guy who can turn a double play and maybe even bat above .200 and this team gets better every day. If they don’t, the problem remains the same.