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Detroit Tigers – 2013 Season Preview

Projected Record: (97-65)

In 2012 the Tigers finished an uninspiring 88-74 despite being tabbed by most to have their way with the weakest division in baseball.  The Chicago White Sox didn’t get the memo, and it took a momentum building late season push to get the Tigers into the playoffs.  They rode that momentum to a 3-2 series win over the A’s in the ALDS, and a 4-0 sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS, only to be swept by the Giants in the World Series following a long layoff between series.

The Tigers enter this year once again picked by most to walk away with the A.L. Central, and be poised to make another strong playoff push in 2013.

Lineup

The lineup was strong in 2012, and it has gotten stronger.  The Tigers 1, 3, and 4 slots in the order will likely remain the same as the previous season, with Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder filling those roles.  Last year’s #2 spot was often occupied by Quentin Berry or Andy Dirks, but looks to be filled by the newly acquired Torii Hunter.  Both Dirks and Berry performed better than could have been expected last year, but if Hunter can perform close to what he did with the Angels last season, this will be an upgrade for Detroit.  The 5 hole, previously filled, by the departed Delmon Young, and will be occupied by Victor Martinez as he looks to make a successful return from the knee injury that cost him all of last year.  Young’s performance for Detroit in the postseason was good, but in the regular season, his play was average at best. Martinez brings some superior hitting skill and should be another upgrade for Detroit.

Additionally, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, and Brennan Boesch all had disappointing results in 2012, and any sort of rebound will only further enhance the tigers chances to outperform last season.

Miguel Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastremski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown by leading the American League in batting average (.330), home runs (44), and runs batted in(139) and for that remarkable feat, he was awarded with the MVP award, making it back to back seasons in which the award was won by a Tiger.  He accomplished this while shifting back to 3B for the first time since he was acquired by Detroit in 2008 in order to accommodate fellow slugger Prince Fielder taking over at first… something that some thought might hinder his offensive production.  I guess those folks were wrong.  Tigers fans drooled at what having Cabrera and Fielder back to back int he batting order would do for the team, and with the addition of Hunter, the return of V-Mart, and the emergence of Austin Jackson as a potential top tier lead off man, fans have even more to be excited about now.

Pitching

The Tigers enter 2013 with one of the strongest starting rotations in baseball, anchored by arguably the number 1 pitcher in the league, Justin Verlander.  Shoring up the next 3 spots in the rotation are Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and newly signed Anibal Sanchez.  The final spot in the rotation is up for grabs this spring, and is expected to be either Rick Porcello, who many believe has failed to live up to expectations, despite having had an outstanding career for a pitcher his age, or Drew Smyly, who looked very impressive in just under 100 innings last season.  Barring any undeniable performances in spring training,  I would wager Rick gets the first shot.

Following the signing of Sanchez, however, the Tigers were openly listening to offers for both Porcello and Smyly, however no specific trades ever seemed to gain much momentum, and the Tigers seem happy to have a surplus of options for the rotation.

Perhaps the hottest Tigers topic this spring will be regarding the closer role.  After 3 mostly strong seasons in Detroit, Jose Valverde’s contract expired, and he has yet to land with a team.  Following his rather remarkably horrible breakdown in the playoffs, the team decided it was ready to move on.  There was some talk of Rafael Soriano coming to Detroit, but none of it ever seemed to come from the Tigers front office, and he ended up signing in Washington.  In the end, the Tigers seem set to go with an in house option to open the season.

A lot of the talk centers around rookie fire baller Bruce Rondon.  Rondon is a massive dude with a massive fastball, reportedly with wicked movement to boot, but only 8 innings pitched beyond AA.   He moved rapidly through the Detroit farm system in 2012, beginning the season with A+ Lakeland, ending the year in AAA Toledo, after spending some time in AA Erie.  The closer job is his to lose, though even if it doesnt work out, I still like the Tigers options.  Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, and Al Alburquerque all seem like solid options should Rondon not prove himself worthy.  Out of the bunch, however, only Dotel ever really had the closer role for a significant time period.  Phil Coke closed for Detroit when Valverde failed in the post season, and even Brayan Villarreal boasts a closer-esque K/9 out of the pen.  To many, the idea of a team built to “win now” with a payroll like the Tigers have without having a proven MLB closer going into spring is concerning. I’m not concerned.

Fantasy Outlook

Miguel Cabrera is my personal #1 fantasy player in a re-draft league.  He brings elite production year after year and is about as low-risk, high-reward as you can get.  I understand the allure of a Mike Trout, or the stolen bases a Ryan Braun can offer, but give me the guy who has done it repeatedly, and doesn’t have any PED baggage.

Prince Fielder ranks solidly in the top 3 1B along with Pujols and Votto.  He’s the youngest of the three, and the guy does not miss time, like at all.  He had his lowest HR output (30) since 2007 when he hit 50, and you may chalk that up to Comerica Park, but he actually hit more HR at home, so it could just be adjusting to the American League.  His HRs split 15/15 1st half/2nd half, but he hit .032 points better, and his OBP rose .068 in the second half to .331/.448, so adjustment complete?  If he continued that sort of production into this season he’d be looking at duking it out for MVP honors with Miggy and JV.

Justin Verlander is the #1 pitcher in baseball and fantasy baseball.  He is a dominant strike out pitcher, pitching on a team that will win a lot of games.  He is pitching in front of one of the less formidable defenses in MLB, to put it kindly, but the defense doesn’t have to field what the batter can’t put into play.

Victor Martinez is has potential to be a real value if he is eligible at catcher in your league.  He is not expected to get any time behind the plate this year, but he did play enough there in 2011 to qualify in some formats.  With catcher usually being a difficult place to find an impact bat, V-Mart can offer a lot.

Austin Jackson is a green light away from being a potential breakout player.  After a dissapointing 2011 he stepped up his game in a big way last season, cutting way back on strikeouts, and taking more walks, which translated into a vastly improved AVG and OBP.  He also hit 16 bombs, which is something I did not expect.  The down side is that even with good speed, he was a miserable 12 for 21 in stolen bases, both a career low in stolen bases, and a career high in caught stealing.  If the Tigers can teach this guy to be a base stealer, he could really break out in 2013.

Conclusion

There is a lot to be excited about as a Tigers fan in 2013, and a lot of that is thanks to owner Mike Illitch who has shown a true commitment ($$$)  to building a winning ball club in Detroit.  Though the Tigers barely edged out the White Sox in 2012, I don’t expect Chicago to be quite as competitive this year, and the Tigers will once again claim the A.L. Central crown.

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