Well color me vaguely excited, it's time to discuss the Detroit Tigers.
As it stands in the AL Central, the split between contenders and non-contenders is determined by whether a team is actually planning to win in 2011. If you can regularly catch fans of a team speaking in half-convincing tones about how a veteran player still has a year or two of prime production left, then that team is indeed planning to win this year. If the majority of questions at the winter fan convention for a team centered around players who won't make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, well then that team is probably not.
In the case of the Tigers, they kinda can't help it. They have the best pitcher and the best hitter in the division--right in the smack of their primes too--and will have Victor Martinez stroll in, record around 125 wRC+, and save their Catcher position.....or not (24% of potential base-stealers thrown out). Also, Max Scherzer is awesome, and with that in tow, it'd be hard for the Tiggers to not be at least kinda good.
But they are top-heavy, and at this point, I'm no longer heaping praise on the top. How many other 3 WAR players are on this team? Brad Penny's capable if he could stay healthy (his fatal flaw), 37 year-old Magglio could do it if age doesn't rob him of his bat-speed, foot-speed, and health (kinda the inherent risk), and Ryan Raburn could certainly do it if given the plate appearances (the lack of which have been the inexplicable bane of his existence).
Outfielders Raburn and Austin Jackson are the best chance for the Tigers to provide some support to their elite 4. Raburn's 30, so maybe the best years of his life are gone and he's already thrown the most rockin' kegger he's ever going to throw, but he's hit with consistent pop and more familiarity with left-field means he probably won't hurt Detroit out there anymore. Hell, he might even save some runs.
Austin Jackson has the obvious red flag of his .396 BABIP. Ultra-fast guys who hit 48% of their balls on the ground are going to have a nice BABIP, so I'd be more worried about the no-power combined with massive strikeout rates. That uh....needs to change. He'll always be worth it for his defense in cavernous Comerica, but with a high OBP, he could essentially have Alex Rios value. And Alex does alright.
One more positive is Alex Avila. He can't really hit, but...he takes walks, and he can play catcher...I like it.
Both SS Jhonny Peralta and 3B Brandon Inge have never been much for getting on base, but both saw their slugging dip below .400 last season. Some guys were just born to bat 7th and 8th, I suppose. Peralta has accumulated a -32.1 UZR over his career, so while he's bounced back and forth between genuinely poisonous and simply unremarkable, lose any idea he's justifying his bat with his glove. Brandon Inge is a plus-defender at war with time and achy knees.
2nd base figures to be tossed to Scott Sizemore as Carlos Guillen will struggle with injuries for the third straight year. Sizemore is no great gloveman, but mashed in the minors enough to think he's a little better than his 71 +wRC stint in the big leagues.
For the rotation, Verlander and Scherzer should both be outstanding. Verlander because he's hyper-durable and has been under 3.00 FIP the past two seasons. Scherzer because he was a house of fire the moment he fixed his mechanics last season (2.23 ERA his last 14 starts)
After that? Neck-cramps from all the shrugging. Rick Porcello's very good groundball tendencies might help his dismal strikeout-rate (4.67 K/9 for career) if he was backed by a superb infield defense, but as I explained before...Jhonny Peralta...so yeah. He can be league-average, he can post a 4.00 ERA again, but where the phenom talk came from is perplexing.
Brad Penny has plenty of upside, but also has exactly two 200-IP years in 11 seasons. Converted reliever Phil Coke fills out the rotation. He ramped up his changeup use seemingly in anticipation of the move, but unless he can force every batter to hit it to dead center of Comerica, only 2.4% of his fly balls leaving the yard again is unlikely. An uptick might push him toward his 2010 xFIP of 4.68.
The Tigers bullpen isn't quite a strength. The overpaid but superb Joaquin Benoit will be a late-inning staple, while Jose Valverde will try to avoid walking games away in the 9th inning...and mostly succeed. Joel Zumaya starts the season on the DL after the most gruesome army injury I've ever seen last season, so it's a bit of an unknown as far as the rest of his career and where 'effectiveness' will play into things. From there, the team seems to be leaning on youngsters with live arms with 24 year-old righty Ryan Perry, and wild 25 year-old lefty Daniel Schlereth. FIPs in the 4.00s all around, friends!
Obviously, any hit to Detroit's super-production engine of Cabrera or Verlander would be pretty disastrous, and to their credit, they've realized that by essentially assigning a man to walk around with Miggy and say "no" to things. However, the key for Detroit will be getting what they paid for out of Magglio Ordonez and Victor Martinez, and youngsters Austin Jackson, Scott Sizemore, and Rick Porcello progressing into significant contributors. A return to form Brad Penny would be a big boost, but he represents how I ultimately feel about the Tigers, they have a few too many injury-prone guys for a team as lacking in depth as they are.
Could they win it? Certainly, in a easily imaginable way. But without a complete rotation or good infield defense up the middle, one setback might be enough to derail them. More happy days than sad in Detroit this summer, but 90 happy days to only 72 sad ones is probably too much. This is Detroit, we're talking about.
Jim Margalus has Peav-Fever as well...I can't imagine that sentence brings him joy.
Colin examines whether the White Sox are allergic to good BABIP.
Despite their obvious family relation, Mike DePilla is not ashamed to campaign for Alejandro De Aza to make the 25-man Opening Day roster.
Future Sox examines the minor league outfielder crop, and gets downright rosy with it.
Confused? Annoyed? Read my stat primer. It's a fun read...at least as far as stat primers go.