Cleat Geeks

Tiger Time: A Disappointing, Silver-Lined Season

Before the 2016 season I made the prediction that the Detroit Tigers would be in contention for a playoff spot with the off-chance of winning the division. 161 games plus spring training later, it turns out that my prediction was dead on. Just not in the way that most Tigers fans would have hoped.

Beginning with the off-season signings of Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann things immediately looked to be on the up-and-up. Add in a trade for former top prospect Cameron Maybin, bullpen arms like Mark Lowe, Justin Wilson, and Francisco Rodriguez, as well as young talent such as Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris and things really looked good.

Miguel Cabrera was fully healthy going into a season for the first time in a while and Nick Castellanos was showing signs of a breakout after the 2015 all-star break. J.D. Martinez was coming off of a career season, providing hope of what could be in 2016.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

Well, let’s take a look.

anibalsanchezThere was one signing that made little sense in the off-season: the addition of veteran starter Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey, though showing occasional flashes of brilliance, was a liability in the fifth spot of the rotation, failing to record his first win of the season until his 11th start. On June 4th. Injuries took away his entire August and half of his September. He was ineffective upon his return and finished the season with a 4-10 record, posting a 5.07 ERA and a WHIP of 1.731. He surrendered 76 runs (67 earned) over the course of 119 innings.

Anibal Sanchez struggled so much that he was eventually relegated to a bullpen role and bounced in and out of the rotation for the rest of the season. In the end the eventual reliable top-of-the-rotation starter turned out worse than Pelfrey: 7-13, 5.87 ERA, 1.461 WHIP, surrendering 108 runs (100 earned) while giving up a career-high 30 home runs.

Bullpen pieces that were intended to help what had been the club’s Achilles heel in seasons past proved to be anything but the relief they were supposed to bring. Justin Wilson, while showing more reliable than not, hit rough patches during the season, including implosions that occurred at the most inopportune of times, that elevated his ERA to a somewhat misleading 4.14 mark for the year.

Mark Lowe got off to a solid start, but consistent shelling during the middle months of the season rendered him largely obsolete in close games in which he was intended for use. Francisco Rodriguez, the most reliable closer the Tigers have had since Jose Valverde, broke down in a key game against Kansas City and during other key moments, but he overall served his purpose, notching 44 saves with an ERA of 3.24.

Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Perhaps looming largest of all was subpar division play and the bite of the dreaded injury bug.

The Tigers managed just four victories in 18 contests against the Cleveland Indians, the eventual victors in the AL Central division (thinking of them clinching at Comerica Park to the cheers of the visiting Indians faithful still stings). They fared slightly better against the Royals, going 7-12 while dropping many contests late due to Kansas City’s small ball approach.

They handled the White Sox and Twins much better than that, going 12-7 and 15-4, respectively. But poor play in key moments against the Royals and Indians proved fatal. Opportunities to gain ground in the playoff race were squandered in close games that should not have been close, including a series split late in the season at home against the Twins.

maybincabreraThe injury bug is something that no team wants to face. Just ask the defending World Series champion Royals about that this season. The Tigers were no different. Cameron Maybin missed the first month of the season with a wrist injury and was sidelined at various points during the rest of the season due to a recurring thumb injury. Nick Castellanos missed most of the last two months of the season after suffering a bone fracture in his hand during an August series against the New York Mets. Ian Kinsler missed a few key games down the stretch due to concussion-like symptoms. Jordan Zimmermann suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome from June until early August, only to be sidelined with an oblique strain, this time until early mid-September, shortly thereafter. Mike Pelfrey, at the height of his effectiveness, was shelved with a back injury. Perhaps most key of all was a nearly two month stretch in which the team was without J.D. Martinez, losing their all-star right fielder to a non-displaced fracture to a bone in his arm.

Despite nearly 700 words of negatives there was just as much to view optimistically from this season.

Miguel Cabrera was Miguel Cabrera. After a slow start Miggy put up a season typical of what we’ve come to expect: .316 BA, 38 HR, 108 RBI, .393 OBP, .563 SLG, .956 OPS. Ian Kinsler made a case for Tigers MVP, batting .288 out of the leadoff spot with power while scoring 117 runs and driving in 83 of his own. Justin Upton, following a slow, strikeout-laden start, proved to be just what the Tigers had hoped for when he signed in the winter, socking 31 home runs with an average just south of .250 to go with solid defense in left field. J.D. Martinez, despite injury, managed a .307 average with 22 home runs. Victor Martinez, while dipping slightly in average, provided power out of the cleanup slot with 27 home runs (including 3 of the clutch, pinch hit variety).

The starting pitching was, by and large, what kept the Tigers in contention up to the last day of the season. Justin Verlander was back in ace form, following a rough start, posting a 16-9 mark with an ERA just over 3.00, striking out an AL-leading 254 batters with a WHIP of 1.00 even. Daniel Norris, despite an inflated ERA and shorter outings due to higher numbers of strikeouts, proved to be dependable down the stretch. Matt Boyd, despite an elevated 4.53 ERA, was one of the club’s best starters after the all-star break, minus a rough outing in his last start of the season, posting a 3.86 ERA while going 6-3.

Photo By: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Photo By: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Fulmer, all bias aside, is the front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award in the American League. Arriving a bit after Opening Day, Fulmer took the league by storm before coming back down to earth near the end of the season. He went 11-7 in 26 starts, finishing with an ERA just a shade over 3.00 with a WHIP of 1.12, as well as posting the longest scoreless innings streak for a rookie in franchise history. Alex Wilson proved to be Mr. Reliable out the bullpen, save for a late-season collapse against Kansas City, as did lefty Kyle Ryan.

For all injuries and misfortune that befell them Brad Ausmus still managed the Tigers to 86 wins, even with the hand he was dealt (not without bad decisions, I’ll agree. There are quite a few that stick out quite prominently). While a good amount of Tigers fans sing his praises, just many cry for his head on a platter following a second straight season of being on the outside and looking into the playoff picture. Some see the issue as one of the front office, citing Al Avila and his approach. Reports are that Ausmus will be back as manager in 2017 though nothing is confirmed at this point.

Consensus: While disappointing, this is still a ballclub in which the city of Detroit can take pride. Undoubtedly, Avila and company have their work cut out for them going into the off-season and looking ahead to 2017. But until then we can rest a little easier amongst the disappointment after seeing a small glimpse of the future and seeing key veterans return to form.

Comments? Dissenting opinions? Post them below!

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