In what can be described as a sweet-and-sour offseason, The Detroit Tigers have been the most talked about ball club this winter. After an energetic post-season charge towards the AL crown fell short, this team was left for dead after the news broke that Victor Martinez would miss the entire year. Then, unexpectedly, Prince Fielder decided to take his talents to the Motor City. Now Detroit is a favorite to win the AL Central for the second straight year. Let’s look closer at this Detroit team with the top five questions for 2012:
5. Is Prince Fielder worth $216 million?
Everyone knew Prince Fielder was leaving Milwaukee, no one knew where he was going. The baseball world was shocked when Fielder signed a 9-year $216 million contract with Detroit. From a fantasy perspective, there’s a lot to get excited about. Let’s break down Fielder:
Last year, Fielder boasted a .299 average with 38 home runs. The split between the NL an AL, however, paints a more realistic expectation for the upcoming year. In 96 career interleague games, we see a significant decrease batting average to .269 (versus a .282 career mark). We also see a switch to Comerica Park, where left handed hitters have a depressed home run rate when compared to Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
Put it all together, and you’re looking at his 2011 stats as the ceiling for Fielder’s on-field production. He’ll still net you close to 90 runs and 110 RBIS. When drafting, however, expect a batting average closer to his career numbers and no more than 35 home runs. He’s still an elite player and a top five first baseman. He may not return the $216 million investment and luckily fantasy owners don’t have to worry about that aspect of the game.
4. What happens to Miguel Cabrera?
The true buzz of the Fielder signing occurred when Miguel Cabrera relocated to third base. We now see a 240-pound player manning the position, sparking concerns about a lack of defense from this Tiger squad. When you draft Cabrera, you draft him for his offensive consistency on an elite level, not his defense, so don’t be distracted by that claim. With the addition of Fielder, we now see Cabrera go from fourth to third in the lineup. You can expect a high number of runs, but the RBIs are going to drop slightly since there are no longer any true OBP guys in the first two slots of the lineup.
Cabrera has always shown consistency in health, but there is a slight uneasiness knowing the physical requirements that are associated with third base. He will be the second heaviest player at third (behind Pablo Sandoval) in the majors. All it takes is an awkward pivot after a hard line drive, and 240-pounds will not be too forgiving on his ankles or knees. Will his weight cause injury concerns this season? Don’t be shocked if it does.
3. Can Justin Verlander repeat the Cy Young award?
Everything came together for Verlander last year. He led the league in innings pitched at 251, posted a league best 24 wins, and produced an insanely low WHIP of 0.92 and a 2.40 ERA. It was a very good year to be Justin Verlander, indeed. If you look at the surface stats a regression is coming.
First is an uncharacteristically low BABIP of .236 (career average of .285), which explains a low ERA. Next is a huge slash in his BB/9 figures, from his career level of 2.81 down to 2.04 walks per nine. That means his WHIP is going slightly northward.
Verlander is still a good pitcher on a good team so another Cy Young could be a possibility. But winning the award has helped to artificially inflate his draft day value. You can still expect strong numbers from him again this year, but expect stats closer to his 2010 season and you won’t be kicking yourself if you take him as the first pitcher overall in your draft.
2. Will Max Scherzer get back on track?
On the surface, Max Scherzer had a horrible year. His 4.43 ERA and 1.35 WHIP were the worst in his career, he dipped slightly on his strikeout rate and his high win total was mainly due to a powerful offense behind him. Now, we open the 2012 season focused on a potential bounce back. If you look deeper into his stats, you’ll notice some reason for optimism. His xFIP was a more palatable 3.70, indicating some bad luck on his pitches. His walk rate actually went down to 2.58 BB/9, which means his WHIP will most likely rebound as well.
With his poor ERA and WHIP easily explained as fluky and unlucky, you can see a great buying opportunity in your draft. If he can build upon his control and get a couple good breaks on his balls in play, don’t be surprised if Scherzer compiles an ERA in the upper-threes and a WHIP closer to 1.25. Couple that with another 175 strikeouts and 15 wins and feel free to target him a couple rounds early.
1. With this stacked lineup, can we find any under-the-radar guys?
At Mock Draft Central, there are three Tigers’ players drafted in the top 16. The next player isn’t found until Alex Avila at 111. This truly is a top heavy Detroit team. But even after Avila, there are a couple of players worth keeping an eye on:
Austin Jackson is expected to bat leadoff for the Tigers again this year. If he keeps his strikeouts down and gets on base at a decent clip, Jackson could get 35 stolen bases and 100 runs in the late rounds.
Delmon Young is another player who benefits from Fielder’s presence. He is slotted to bat fifth in the order and with both Cabrera and Fielder posting OBPs’ near .400 he will see a significant increase in RBI opportunities.
Finally, we come back to Alex Avila, who blasted onto the scene last year with a .295 and 19 home runs. The power seems legit, but a high BABIP means that the average probably won’t be sustained.