The Tigers, left for dead after last season, have defied expectations.
The Tigers have to go for it, this year. There’s really no debate here. The aging core of Miguel Cabrera (33 years old, .310 TAv, 2.0 WARP), Justin Verlander (33, 87 cFIP, 2.82 DRA, 3.4 WARP), Victor Martinez (37, .305, 1.3), and Ian Kinsler (34, .303, 2.6) will never be this productive again—even if you figure it’s actuarially unlikely that they’ll sustain their current levels for even the rest of this year. Nick Castellanos (24, .301, 2.1) is having a great season, and maybe it’s the beginning of his emergence into the star slugger the Tigers envisioned years ago—he’s still young. Then again, maybe it’s the juiced ball, or maybe he’s just run into a few balls and generated a transformed batting line that belies relatively unchanged underlying skills. (He still strikes out a lot, and still doesn’t walk very much, for instance.)
Cameron Maybin is having an insane season, riding a carriage that could turn back into a pumpkin almost anytime, but which gives the Tigers a legitimate, well-rounded offense for as long as it lasts. Justin Upton has slowly come around (.246/.319/.434 since June 1), and J.D. Martinez will be back before the end of July (you know, maybe). Wonder of wonders, the Tigers have a competent bullpen right now. Francisco Rodriguez has brought stability to the closer’s role, and working backward from there, Alex and Justin Wilson, Kyle Ryan, and the somehow-only-25-year-old Bruce Rondon have done decent work in piecing together the rest.
The White Sox hit seven home runs, Kevin Gausman and Carlos Carrasco toss four-hitters, and Jose Altuve goes for the cycle.
The Weekend Takeaway
There are no givens in baseball. A 10-run lead can evaporate under the misdirection of a tired bullpen, a no-hitter can be lost on a misplayed fly ball, and a ninth-inning tie can be broken on a walk-off balk. Still, there are certain markers which, once they are passed, provide a feeling of security.
Fielder for Kinsler was supposed to be the fix for both teams' surpluses, but the 2016 season has put the clubs' returns in stark relief.
Three offseasons ago—November 20, 2013 to be exact—Detroit and Texas made a rare one-for-one, star-for-star trade between contending teams, with the Tigers sending five-time All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder to the Rangers in exchange for three-time All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler. In addition to the obvious star power involved, this particular trade had some interesting money-related factors and featured the analytical juxtaposition of a traditional slugger with shiny RBI totals and negative defensive value being swapped for an up-the-middle defender with less of a bat and a far more varied all-around game.
Three-and-a-half years later the trade looks like a blowout victory for the Tigers, to the extent that they added one of the best all-around infielders in the league and saddled the Rangers with a bad player on an albatross contract that runs through 2020 at an annual salary of $24 million. All of which is much different than things appeared around this time last year when Fielder, not Kinsler, was chosen for the All-Star team on the strength of his .339/.403/.521 first half that seemed to be proof of a full recovery from the neck surgery that halted his first season in Texas after 42 games.
Fielder’s production fell off in the second half, as he hit .264/.348/.394, and this season he’s been arguably the worst everyday player in baseball. WARP sees him as producing the sixth-worst overall value, with all five of the lower-WARP players—A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Teixeira, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Howard, Chris Coghlan—playing part-time or sitting on the disabled list. Fielder has started 67 of 72 games for the Rangers, hitting .203/.273/.325 with his usual bad defense and poor baserunning, which is how he’s the lone big leaguer with more than 200 plate appearances and a WARP worse than -1.0. Dating back to last year’s All-Star break Fielder has hit a combined .235/.313/.356 in 140 games.
Michael Fulmer goes streaking, Edwin Encarnacion remembers how to hit home runs, and Cole Hamels tries out a new look.
The Weekend Takeaway
It’s always nice when you can look back on a trade that erased Yoenis Cespedes from your lineup and smile. This was the general feeling on Sunday when right-hander Michael Fulmer dismantled the Yankees with another six scoreless frames, extending his streak to 23 ⅓ innings without a run. It’s a streak worth preserving, and one that’s already made history, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Did Justin Verlander announce his resurgence in a Twitter reply?
Twitter can be a rough, unforgiving place for baseball players. Their mentions stink with fans using the direct line to bombard them with criticism, name-calling, and personal attacks. Players can't reply in tone, of course, so they can ignore, or they can reply with positivity—as Jake Arrieta did, three years ago, in an exchange culminating in a now-legendary tweet.
Arrieta, then with the Orioles, received a tweet from a stranger on the internet telling him “you f***ing suck” and “go back to the minors.” It was April 21, 2013 and Arrieta had just allowed five runs in four innings against the Dodgers to raise his ERA on the season to 6.63 and his career ERA to 5.41.
He was no doubt frustrated and unhappy with how his career was going at age 27. But instead of lashing out (with cause) at a person who had lashed out at him (without cause), Arrieta killed him with kindness. Well, mostly. Arrieta replied: “Agreed. Gotta be better. If we see each other in person, you should avoid me.” That could be viewed as a threat, but it could also just be a factual statement made to a person who said “you f***ing suck.”
After a bit more back and forth Arrieta totally changed the tone of the conversation to the point that the same person who kicked things off by saying “you f***ing suck” was telling him things like “you have great stuff” and “good luck to you.” He even got the guy to admit “maybe I have anger issues.” All of which is interesting in itself, but my favorite part is Arrieta promising,
It was a disaster for the Twins pitcher, just like down the road it was a disaster for the Blue Jays pitcher, J.A. Happ.
The Monday Takeaway
There were eight major-league games played yesterday, and half of them featured a team scoring double-digit runs. Only one of them chased the opposing starter in the first inning, though, and that same team’s skipper was gone by the fourth. That’s ample reason to begin this recap in Detroit, where there was a whole lot offense accompanied by a whole lot of ugly on Monday night.
Jose Berrios took the hill in the last of the first and figured, “Ah, I’ll just groove a fastball for strike one.” Little did he know that Ian Kinsler was locked, loaded, and ready to fire:
Marcus Stroman has a happy birthday, Clayton Kershaw continues to pitch in a class of his own, and Trevor Story finds another way to write himself into the history books.
The Weekend Takeaway
Talent and luck rarely keep the same company, but they found a mutual friend in Jordan Zimmermann on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers’ right-hander polished his ERA to a shiny 0.55 mark with another pristine outing against the Twins, striking out seven in his fifth consecutive win and going seven innings without issuing a walk for the first time since July 22, 2015.
The looming disasters behind the plate in the AL Central.
Disaster comes in many forms. In 2016, one of those forms will probably be catching in the American League Central. There is no other position-division combination which PECOTA projects so poorly in the aggregate: Four of the division’s five teams project to generate 0.4 WARP or less from the catcher position in 2016, and three project to actually lose value (relative to replacement level) from their catchers next year. Cleveland, which has Yan Gomes holding down the fort at the position, is the lone exception to the rule.
In a few weeks, Miguel Cabrera will get the first paycheck under his new contract, an eight-year, $240 million extension that was signed two years ago. At the time, Grantland headlined it “an Unconscionable, Indefensible, All-But-Guaranteed Mistake,” which, yeah, might be totally true. An extension like Cabrera’s can end up being a mistake because the player doesn’t perform as well as the contract supposes, making the player’s value, by a reasonable calculation, less than his compensation. Albert Pujols’ contract with the Angels is a mistake by this standard. Robinson Cano’s with the Mariners, same.