2013 American League Preview: Detroit Tigers

Jonathan Daniel

Let's Go Tribe's look at the Indians' competition around the American League continues with the Detroit Tigers, the Central's defending champs and heavy favorites to win it again.

Detroit Tigers

2012 Record: 88-74 (1st in A.L. Central), 8-10 vs. Cleveland

726 runs scored (6th of 14 in A.L.), 670 runs allowed (5th of 14 in A.L.)

The Tigers entered 2012 as the biggest favorite to win their division of any team in baseball. They'd won the Central by 15 games in 2011 and then went out and added Prince Fielder to their already talented roster. The question for many wasn't if they'd make the playoffs, it was whether or not they could win their first World Series since 1984 once they got there. As is often the case though, the season didn't turn out quite as expected, and Detroit found itself in an uphill fight to get back to the postseason.

When the Tigers won 9 of their first 12 games, the season seemed headed to its foregone conclusion. They lost 7 of their next 8 though, falling back to .500 and out of 1st. They hovered there for the next couple months and were sitting on a 39-42 record at the midpoint of their schedule. WIth two weeks left in the season, the Tigers (who'd briefly climbed into 1st for a couple days earlier on) were still 3 games behind Chicago, but at that point the White Sox collapsed while Detroit got its act together and took the division title.

Detroit got by Oakland in the ALDS on the back of an incredible performance from Verlander in Game 5 (a complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts against just 4 hits). They then swept the Yankees in the ALCS (a series that surely divided the emotions of many Tribe fans) and headed to the World Series, where they were favored against the San Francisco Giants. Favored or not, Detroit was on the losing end of a sweep in that series, leaving them just short of baseball's ultimate crown.

2012 good news:

Miguel Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown, putting up a .330 batting average, with 44 home runs and 139 RBI. He used that feat and the Tigers' division title to win the AL MVP.

Prince Fielder put up a line of .313/.412/.528 in his first year as a Tiger. Austin Jackson took a big step up and became a star, with a 131 OPS+ and high quality defense in center field. Alex Avila and Andy DIrks both out up strong seasons too.

Justin Verlander was once again the best pitcher in the league (though with only 17 wins, he wasn't deemed worthy of the Cy Young Award). Few pitchers have had back-to-back seasons as good as Verlander's 2011 and 2012.

The rest of the rotation was great too. Max Scherzer stumbled in the first half but dominated as the season went by, ultimately leading the league with 11.1 strikeouts per 9 innings, Doug FIster showed that his surprising success in 2011 was no fluke, and Anibal Sanchez (acquired from Miami in July) gave them a fourth very good starter.

2012 bad news:

Delmon Young was suspended for 7 games during the season after drunkenly yelling anti-Semitic slurs at strangers in New York. To make matters worse, he was allowed to start as the DH in 116 other games, despite being a below average hitter.

Ryan Raburn hit just .171 in the 66 games he played. The Tigers got weak production from Brennan Boesch in right field. Miguel Cabrera started kind of slowly and probably didn't deserve the MVP he won. Detroit didn't score the 1,000 runs some people (foolishly) predicted they would. Um... Gosh, I don't know, there's wasn't a lot to complain about with this lineup.

As good as Max Scherzer was in the second half (and he was probably better than Verlander after the break), his first half was a mess, with a 4.72 ERA. Which version shows up for 2012?

One year after going 49 for 49 in save opportunities, Valverde blew five of them in 2012 and saw his ERA climb to 3.78. Things turned even worse in the postseason. He entered Game 4 of the ALDS looking to close out the series, but allowed 3 runs and lost the game instead. In the 9th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS he allowed a pair of two-run home runs, tying the game (Detroit won in extra innings). He was then removed from the closer role, but managed to allow 2 runs in middle relief work during his only World Series appearance. Valverde's contract was up at the end of the year and he remains unsigned.

Key off-season additions:

Torii Hunter (OF)

Key off-season departures:

Brennan Boesch (OF), Jose Valverde (RP), Delmon Young (OF/DH)

2013 Payroll: ~$150 million

Projected 2013 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Alex Avila

3

1B

Prince Fielder

4

2B

Omar Infante

2

3B

Miguel Cabrera

7

SS

Jhonny Peralta

2

LF

Andy Dirks

2

CF

Austin Jackson

4

RF

Torii Hunter

2

DH

Victor Martinez

1

TOTAL

27

Indian Killers:

Victor Martinez - 108 PA, .358/.398/.611, 1.009 OPS, 4 HR, 19 R, 25 RBI

He's put a hurting on the Tribe since his departure. Not cool, Victor.

Miguel Cabrera - 421 PA, .335/.409/.599, 1.007 OPS, 26 HR, 69 R, 82 RBI

Prince Fielder - 102 PA, .338/.451/.550, 1.001 OPS, 4 HR, 13 R, 21 RBI

These numbers, though not far off, are both even better than each player's career rates. Those 26 home runs Cabrera has hit against the Indians are his most against any opponent.

Projected 2013 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

Justin Verlander

6

2

Doug Fister

3

3

Max Scherzer

4

4

Anibal Sanchez

3

5

Rick Porcello

2

RP

Bullpen

2

TOTAL

20

Team Projections:

PECOTA: 90-72 (1st in Central), 824 runs scored, 725 runs allowed

Cairo: 87-75 (1st in Central), 800 runs scored, 735 runs allowed

2013 Outlook:

The Tigers are again strong favorites to win the Central. Their main competition in 2012 (Chicago) seems to have gotten weaker over the offseason and the rest of the division was so far back that even improved rosters in Cleveland and Kansas City seem well short of Detroit's talent. The Tigers have the best rotation in the division and probably the best lineup too. If you could take the White Sox pitchers and the Indians position players, you'd have a team that might be favored over the Tigers, but last I checked, neither front office plans to trade its best players to the other.

The bullpen is a concern, with the untested (and often inaccurate) Bruce Rondon the closer for now. A bad bullpen can submarine an otherwise successful season, but that and injuries seem the biggest obstacles in Detroit's path, not any of their direct competitors. They upgraded their other two weaknesses, with Torii Hunter taking over in right field and Victor Martinez returning after missing all of last year with a torn ACL and his knee and slated to DH.

Chicago played about as well last season as any of the other teams in the division are likely to in 2013, and the Tigers still found their way into 1st place. Anything but another division title would be a major letdown for Detroit and ownership and fans all have their sights set on a much bigger prize, the one they came four wins short of last October. The baseball playoffs are a crapshoot, so it's hard to say who should be favored in that environment, but the Tigers are likely to find themselves there again this fall and their talent should give them as good a shot as anyone at winning it all.

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