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The Tigers started to come out of their rebuild a year ago, with their best season since 2016, with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal getting established, with Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo putting up a strong season. That laid the groundwork for an offseason in which they delved into the free-agent market, and not the generic aisle, adding Javier Baez to upgrade the defense and Eduardo Rodriguez to give Baez grounders to scoop.
This spring, the Tigers have taken the reins off top prospect Spencer Torkelson, and might well have done so with Riley Greene had Greene not suffered a broken foot late in spring training. They’re behaving as a team that is ready to compete for a spot in the expanded playoffs.
So why do I have them at 79-83? Losing Greene dinged them a little just before I set the standings (and the acquisition of Austin Meadows happened after I did so). Concerns about the team OBP are real -- it was .308 last year and only the addition of Torkelson is an upgrade to that figure. The catchers, Jonathan Schoop, Miguel Cabrera, even Meadows project to below-average OBP figures. (Platooning Meadows would help in this regard.) I have them scoring 716 runs, 19 more than a year ago, but I think there’s more downside in that figure than upside.
Rodriguez, Skubal, and Mize will be the best top three the Tigers have had in quite some time. Skubal, in particular, seems ready to take a big step forward, maybe even be the best of this trio in 2022. The pitching thins out after that, though. Matt Manning has struggled to establish himself around injuries and the lost year, and the Tigers don’t have very much behind him at all. The bullpen is similarly thin -- you’re sick of hearing this, I know -- with most of the group that had the highest walk rate in the AL (11%) back for another year. The Tigers were also a bit fortunate last year, going 77-85 with the run differential of a 75-87 team, so the projection above reflects more improvement than it seems.
As with the Royals, you can paint a pretty picture. The top three starters pitch at the tops of their ranges, Torkelson slugs .520, the bullpen doesn’t blow the whole thing up. I think the Tigers have a narrower range on both ends than do the Royals, though, and I expect them to have a fairly quiet season. Come 2024, maybe even 2023, these two teams could be putting on quite a show.
Random Player Comment: Miguel Cabrera will get his 3000th hit sometime in the next few weeks, making him the seventh player to produce 3000 hits and 500 homers, As some players have done, he’s limped to both milestones, being basically a replacement-level player since 2017. At some point after he gets that hit, around the time Greene returns, the Tigers are going to have a decision to make. Cabrera will simply not deserve playing time over the players around him. Here’s hoping it doesn’t get ugly; Miggy is one of the greatest hitters we’ve ever seen, one of the best players of this century, and deserves a clean ending.