Baseball Prospectus’ Pre-season Projection: 79-83, third place
Actual record: 86-77, second place

This one will be hard to get past.

Keith Law of’s Take

What went wrong: Detroit’s lineup looked like a contender’s this spring (and last spring as well), but it turned out to be far less productive than management anticipated. The Tigers finished 10th in the AL in runs scored, and were worse after the break, scoring fewer second-half runs than Kansas City and Baltimore. They received virtually no production from four spots on the field, disappointing output from their DHs, and Curtis Granderson‘s inability to hit left-handed pitching was as bad as Gigli. The rotation was their strength for the season’s first half, but Edwin Jackson‘s lack of command caught up with him, as he posted a 5.07 ERA after the break, also allowing 17 homers in just 92 innings. Trade deadline acquisition Jarrod Washburn imploded on arrival, throwing up a 7.33 ERA in eight starts. And yet, despite all of this, the Tigers had multiple chances to sneak into the playoffs, but Jim Leyland mismanaged his pitching staff through the one-game tiebreaker to the Twins, pulling Rick Porcello too soon and leaving Fernando Rodney in too long.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: Not to excuse Leyland’s bumbling steerage on Tuesday night, but the Tigers’ bullpen was shaky all year and two of their primary guys are headed for free agency in Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney. Rodney has the closer’s mantle but not closer-quality command-and he has proven that he can’t work four-inning stints, which is apparently something Leyland demands of his closers once in a blue moon. Ryan Perry has closer-level stuff and should eventually take on that role, but his control isn’t there yet, and sliding him into the ninth inning just leaves a void in the seventh and eighth if Lyon and Rodney leave. They do have some power arms in their system, including Cody Satterwhite and Scott Green, but they’ll need to add at least two arms to have a playoff-caliber bullpen in 2010.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

The Tigers took a page for the Rays‘ playbook by aiming at defensive improvements, adding shortstop Adam Everett and catcher Gerald Laird, and improving the team’s D from the bottom 10 in Defensive Efficiency in 2008 to the top 10 in 2009. They also made like the Rays by going straight to the originals, shoring up their rotation by trading for a frustrating power right-hander. Just as Matt Garza proved to be an understated blessing for the Rays in ’08, Edwin Jackson provided a breakout campaign, finishing with a .567 SNWP that was good for 25th in the majors, a mark that Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland would have broken out the Brut for if they knew before the season that’s what they were going to get. They also reached down to A-ball to propel Rick Porcello into the rotation, and
on the strength of their improved defense and their fearsome threesome in the rotation, the Motor City Kitties got out to a seven-game lead with 26 games left to go, seemingly with the White Sox dispensed with and the division theirs to lose. The Tigers had their share of bad luck down their final stretch, especially with the failure of the moves made in-season to prop up a decent club; trading for Jarrod Washburn didn’t help once Washburn came over and promptly started breaking down, and lineup reinforcement Aubrey Huff‘d in and promptly evaporated. The Tigers went 11-15 from that high-water mark, still enough to coast to a win in the AL Central-except that the Twins went on an incredible, improbable 11-1 kick right after shutting down Justin Morneau for the year.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

Key stat: .252

That’s the team-wide Equivalent Average, tied for just the 11th-best offense in the American League. Since they finished 11th in runs scored per game, they can’t blame their park. Rookie Alex Avila behind the plate
came up too late to fix at least one the club’s three major lineup sinkholes, as the Tigers next to nothing after the break from Everett (.207/.248/.287) and Laird (.205/.282/.265)-and Brandon Inge, who flailed at a .186/.260/.281 clip. The Twins have been criticized for having nothing in a third of their lineup, but the Tigers were no better, and when Washburn imploded and Edwin Jackson struggled, they had neither the Twins’ rotation depth, or a star player as good as Joe Mauer.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus Rumor Central

Free agency: Buster Olney recently polled six GMs regarding what the Tigers might do regarding Type-A free agent Placido Polanco. The Tigers’ second baseman is valuable, but at his level of production, it may be more of a fondness for the man than a valuation of his production that would keep him around. If they want to keep him, the Tigers figure to shell out between $6-7 million, a big chunk of change for a guy that won’t sniff 10 home runs and figures to simply battle away at around .280 hitting second. The GMs were split, but we think there’s a good chance Polanco walks.

Moves: When you have $18 million pegged to Magglio Ordonez and $12 million aimed at Dontrelle Willis, your flexibility is a bit stilted. The Tigers could lose both Rodney and Lyon from their bullpen, leaving a gaping hole in the eighth and ninth innings. That said, this is a franchise that rode the eminently-hittable Todd Jones to a World Series. They know closers gain value because the idea of a great one is overrated to begin with. With Bonderman back in the rotation, along with ace Justin Verlander, Jackson, and Porcello, look for the Tigers to mine their own system, or go out and grab some bullpen help on the cheap and have an arms race for closer in the spring.

Who 2 Watch 4: Scott Sizemore, 2B

An expiring contract could mean the end of the Polanco era in Detroit, as Sizemore is ready to step in and seize the second-base job. A fifth-round pick in 2006, Sizemore is one of those professional hitter types who might not be a future star, but after putting up a .308/.389/.500 year between Double- and Triple-A, scouts project him to be a well-rounded offensive second baseman who should be able to hit .280+ with 12-15 home runs, 60 walks and 15-20 stolen bases annually.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap

Signed: 25 of 50
Spent: Just over $7 million.
Hits: Jacob Turner, RHP (269th overall); Andrew Oliver, LHP (58th): Turner had the draft’s best pure arm this side of Stephen Strasburg, and Oliver is a good bet to develop into a solid left-handed starter, despite a poor junior season.
Miss: Daniel Fields, SS (180th): Fields is a multi-tooled shortstop to whom the Tigers gave $1.625 million in the hope that he maximizes his physical gifts. It’s a lot to invest in such a raw talent, but GM David Chadd is gambling that Fields’ pedigree and makeup remove some of the risk.-Jason A. Churchill,

The Bottom Line

The Tigers have a lot of big-money contracts to live down, with no certainty about what they’ll get for the money-Ordonez’s option for 2010 vested, but there are also Carlos Guillen ($26 million for two years for a non-premium left fielder), Jeremy Bonderman ($12.5 million), Dontrelle Willis ($12 million), and Nate Robertson ($10 million), all of whom have had issues with staying on the roster. Those commitments handicap their ability to break out the big-game gun to reinforce a rotation that needs a quality fourth starter, or to improve a bullpen that was mediocre at best. Perhaps most depressingly, they lack flexibility to improve a generally-lean lineup. While in-house fixes like Sizemore and Avila will help, they need a major upgrade at DH or left if they’re going to offensively afford themselves a luxury like a punchless plus defender at shortstop, let alone Inge’s modest contributions.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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Dan Duquette = Dave Dombrowski
I could be wrong, but I would have sworn that Jacob Turner went about, or, 260 picks higher than 269th?
how is signing a toolsy SS with "physical gifts ... pedigree and makeup" a "miss"? That seems 2 stupid 4 words 2 describe. *you get it, I used "2" instead of "too" and "to" and "4" instead of "for" because they sound the same and because I'm edgy and hip*
Surely you can't fault the Tigers for not having "a star player as good as Joe Mauer"? Nobody besides the Twins and Cardinals can boast such a player.
That statement wasn't faulting the Tigers. It was simply saying that the Tigers don't have an offensive star big enough to cover up their weak lineup. Something Mauer seemingly was able to do.
Oops, yeah you're right - I misinterpreted that phrase. Thanks!
Hopefully they can rely on Verlander next year. The dude threw 498 pitches more than the #2 and racked up nearly 3x as many pitcher abuse points as #2. I believe Timmy the Freak Linceum was #2 on both.
Inge might not be such an inheritently bad player. He was an all-star in the first half and hampered by knee problems in the second half. If that can be corrected, he may not actually be an all-star, but he wouldn't be such a sink-hole. Likewise, if Carlos Guillen could return to full health, he could be an above-average leftfielder. I recognize that injury proneness is part of a player's talent base, but I'm just trying to point out that there is at least some chance of a little impact there. The back-ups Raburn & Thomas weren't so shabby, well, at least not Raburn. Aubrey Huff and Marcus Thames should have been adequate at DH. Huff was awful, but can provide impact in a good year. Is Adam Everett still a plus defender? Isn't Ramon Santiago the better all-around shortstop now? Yes, that is a bit of a hole especially with Cory Inge have a disapppointing year. However, Santiago might deserve a full time shot next year.
GM David Chadd? Dan Duqette? Jacob Turner 269th overall? Methinks this article was rushed.
I'm glad they got some commentary from Keith Law though.
Yes, especially the timely Gigli reference. Apparently Ishtar wasn't available.
Ishtar was a good movie... nor am I the type to use one word/reference to dismiss an entire section without just cause, especially if the alternative is an agreeable sock puppet (Olney).
Good article. The Tigers have a lot of issues to deal with in the offseason, from whether to resign Rodney and/or Lyon, the Polanco situation, and the dead contracts on the team. Detroit needs a major infusion of starting offensive talent, especially in the outfield and one of the infield positions other than first. The Detroit Tigers also needs to improve the pitching staff, from adding another quality starter, to stabilizing the bullpen. The Tigers could use another left hander in the bullpen, because while Ni was valuable, he's only good for a couple of batters. Whether they can accomplish these badly needed upgrades in the offseason remains to be seen. I wish Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski the best, because it won't be easy for him to do this.
Is their collapse worse than the Mets two years back? (I'd like to pass that onus on to some other fanbase)
It's easy to forget that almost no one seemed to give this team a chance of even playing .500 ball this year (I'm looking at you, BP). I don't remember a single publication or TV pundit that paid any attention to this team. They had a good pitching staff, played good defense, and couldn't hit a lick. They may be headed for a down season in 2010, owing to the heavy contracts that are winding down. But their minors seem to be producing some players that can give them some hope. Their arms should stay good. But for now, let's give some credit where credit is due. The team outperformed expectations, even if they didn't make it to the playoffs.
Except that a 79-83 projection is essentially a projection that says this was a .500 team, you've got a good point. Speaking as one of the few who liked the Jackson/Joyce deal from the Tigers' perspective, several things went their way. Ideally, they'll shore up the offense, with Avila and Sizemore of course, but also ideally not just settling for promoting those two into regular roles.