By: Brian Chapman
Time to grade the Tigers at the unofficial midway point of the season. This is a long post so I’m not going to bore you with a long introduction. Here are my grades:
Rick Porcello: A-. Porcello was not an All Star and was not snubbed, but so far he is having the best year of his career and is exceeding my expectations. I never wanted the Tigers to trade him when so many did a few years ago because I thought he was just too young to give up on and I thought a year like this was possible. He is not leaving as many sinkers up around the belt this year which has led to a big decline in extra base hits by opponents, two complete game shutouts and dreams of perhaps making his first All Star Game in 2015.
Anibal Sanchez: A. Sanchez is the best starting pitcher on the team and should have been an All Star, but somehow he continues to get overlooked by the local media, national media and his fans. I will not overlook him. Through 16 starts he has given up more than three earned runs only twice and more than six hits only twice. His only soft spot is that he is on pace for his worst strikeout rate since 2007. It has dropped from 9.99/9 IP last year to 6.66/9 IP this year which is alarming. How he has vaulted himself to the ace of the staff despite that makes his start all the more remarkable.
Max Scherzer: A-. Scherzer is the second best starter on the team. He bounced back ferociously after a rough period of six games from late May through the middle of June, but that part of the season counts too and it prevents him from getting an A or an A+. He finally pitched his first complete game, continues to be a strikeout machine and should put himself in position to get more than $144 million this offseason.
Drew Smyly: B-. Smyly faded coming into the break, but he’s been a solid No. 4 starter (ahead of Verlander) the year after pitching out of the bullpen. Up until his last three starts he was pitching almost exactly how I thought he would: great control, nasty slider, mastery over left handed hitters, looking like a great No. 2 starter for years to come. If I wasn’t such a big believer in Smyly, I’d give him a B+, but I expect more out of him and I think the Tigers will get it over the last two and a half months.
Justin Verlander: D-. Among qualified MLB starting pitchers he ranks 7th worst in ERA, 7th worst in WHIP, 10th worst in opp BA (.278 BA) and he has given up the 11th most walks. Put it all together and he’s been one of the 10 worst SP in the majors this year (among qualified starters.) It’s extremely uncomfortable to think about Verlander like this, but sometimes the truth is more than uncomfortable. Sometimes it hurts. Originally I was going to give him an F, but Cabrera claims that Verlander is still not 100% after his core muscle surgery and I believe Miggy. So I’m cutting Verlander some slack, but not much.
Al Alburquerque: B+. The numbers suggest Alburquerque has had an outstanding year, but that 2.91 ERA is deceiving. He’s allowed eight inherited runners to score this year which is higher than normal. Aside from that and the occasional home run, Alburquerque’s first half has come pretty close to matching the excitement of his flair after a big strikeout.
Joba Chamberlain: A. A friend of mine, who roots for the Evil Empire, laughed when he heard the Tigers signed Joba. He congratulated the Tigers for signing the pitcher with the straightest fastball in the majors and predicted Joba would have a terrible season. I didn’t know what to expect when he signed, but I surely didn’t expect him to be the best right handed reliever on the team. I also figured he’d give up more than one home run in his first 41 appearances. Guess who’s laughing now.
Phil Coke: C-: Coke hasn’t allowed a run in his last ten appearances and the Tigers look smart for hanging on to him, but unless they know something I don’t know (and they probably do) he should have been released. No one should be allowed to hang on as long as he did without being held more accountable. If he keeps up the momentum from the last six weeks, perhaps no one will remember the first two months come October.
Blaine Hardy: A-. He hasn’t been around long, but he’s been a fantastic lefty out of the pen in twelve games. I am very interested to see if he can keep this up in the second half.
Ian Krol: B. He was very good until just before he went on the disabled list. I believe the Tigers will see the healthy Krol for the rest of the season.
Joe Nathan: F. Just awful. Every time he enters a game the entire Tigers fan base is put on a Jones-Valverde Warning. Sometimes the storm passes with no damage, but too often fans see a trail of destruction in the aftermath. Even when he doesn’t blow a save, he gets dangerously close to doing so. For $10 million he has to do much better and if he doesn’t he should not be on the playoff roster.
Evan Reed: F. He was designated for assignment and investigated for sexual assault.
Alex Avila: C+. The .230 BA is terrible. The 86 strikeouts are even tougher to stomach. What aggravates me most are the runs driven in. Only 24. He’s had two Martinez’s and Cabrera in front of him for most of the season and they get on base. He should have driven in twice as many runs. Luckily he does a good job with the pitching staff and draws a lot of walks.
Miguel Cabrera: B. Initially I gave Miggy a B- because he has nowhere near the power that we’re used to seeing out of him and his batting average is about 40pts lower than usual making him nowhere close to an MVP candidate. When you make as much as he makes, fans (and the team) need more than a singles and doubles hitter out of the three spot. But then Miggy admitted (then denied) that he’s still dealing with the effects of his core muscle surgery. I buy the excuse and I’m cutting him some slack. Plus, 75 RBI at the break isn’t bad.
Nick Castellanos: B. Coming into the year, I figured he’d be one of the worst defensive third basemen in the AL and he his. Among qualified third basemen his -1.7 WAR is by far the worst in the AL. Fortunately, he was always looked at as a more of a hitter than a defensive wizard, he has been solid at the plate and is a line drive machine (3rd highest line drive percentage in the AL, according to FanGraphs.) Good start to his MLB career.
Rajai Davis: A-. He was just supposed to be a platoon left fielder who couldn’t hit right handed pitching. Instead, he’s made a lot of people forget about Andy Dirks, he’s a solid .256 against righties and he’s providing a ton of speed on the base paths for a reasonable price. Now if only he could stop getting picked off.
Bryan Holaday: B. A lot of people have been calling for Holaday to start over Avila because he’s hitting .278, can bunt and handles the staff pretty well. I’m not going to go that far, but for an inexpensive backup catcher he’s giving the Tigers a lot more than should be expected.
Torii Hunter: D. His offensive production has been up and down, but overall well below last year’s production. His defense continues to plummet and is among the worst in baseball. Overall, he’s a great presence in the clubhouse, unreliable presence at the plate and completely washed up in right field. For $14 million, he’s not giving the Tigers nearly enough and needs to be lifted for a defensive replacement late in games for the rest of the year.
Austin Jackson: C-. Lately Jackson seems to have found a nice home at the top of the order and early on in the season he seemed to fit well in the middle of the order, but other than that, it’s been a down year for A-Jax at the plate. Either power or a high on-base percentage is necessary and he’s giving the team neither. Unless his momentum at the top of the order continues (and because he is such a streaky hitter, I’m guessing it won’t) that 2012 season will be the outlier on his baseball card. He’s also been a very average defender which is still hard to understand.
Don Kelly: C+. He’s a backup utility player with only four RBI in 97 AB. That’s not good. He’s hitting .258 and hits left handed. That’s respectable. He has only committed one error. That’s great. All in all, he’s been okay for a backup utility player.
Ian Kinsler: A-. I should probably give Kinsler an A+ just because he’s not Prince Fielder and he made the 2014 All Star Game. I’m not going to go that far, but there’s a lot to like about him. He’s given the Tigers power, speed and a lot of runs at the top of the order. Leaving Texas and leaving his forced leadership role seems to be just what Kinsler and the Tigers needed.
JD Martinez: A+. He made a change to his swing in the offseason, the Astros did not care to see it and somehow the trash of a 100-loss became the treasure of a World Series contender. He’s hitting in the middle of a great lineup for power, at a near .350 clip and he’s clutch. Don’t be surprised if he makes his All Star debut in 2015 at this rate.
Victor Martinez: A+. He’s has no speed and doesn’t play defense very often, but he’s hitting with more authority than Cartman this year. I was concerned coming into the year about the amount of protection for Miggy with Prince Fielder’s trade to Texas, but V-Mart and JD-Mart seem like an upgrade over what we’ve seen out of the No. 4 and 5 spots in recent years.
Andrew Romine: C-. Romine has not been a star, but he wasn’t expected to be. He was traded from the Angels for Jose Alvarez to be a respectable backup infielder and maybe contend for the starting shortstop job. He failed in his attempt to win the starting job, he’s hitting .217 and he’s committed seven errors, but considering his role, he’s serviceable.
Eugenio Suarez: B. Great first week. Good 32 G for a rookie. He hasn’t done enough to make me forget about Iglesias, but he has done enough to make me forget about trading for a shortstop at the trade deadline.
Overall: A-. When you are in first place by six and a half games, you’ve clinched your 4th straight division title, you’re 15 G above .500 and you have the 3rd best record in baseball, you deserve a high grade. If they wanted an A+, they needed to stop that skid at about 12 to 15 games, not 29 and they needed to look like the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series. Right now they are just in the mix for the World Series, which is good for an A-.