Detroit Tigers 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 86-75, 2nd in the AL Central. The aging Tigers missed the playoffs for second straight season despite bringing in All-Star outfielder Justin Upton and former All Star starter Jordan Zimmermann in free agency as Detroit was picked by many to win the A.L. Central. The Tigers were able to stay in the Wild Card race for most of the season until falling out the race during the final week of the regular season. This offseason left them with a difficult question, make another run at October or deal some of our aging stars in an effort to rebuild? The Tigers top three players by WAR last season (Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler) were all 33 or older and outside of Rookie Of the Year Michael Fullmer there isn’t a lot of young talent on this squad. The Tigers appear as if they’ll make another run at the postseason after doing very little this offseason, but if they get off to a bad start they could be a really interesting team to watch come the trade deadline.

Offseason Moves:

Significant Additions: C Alex Avila, OF Mikie Mahtook

Significant Subtractions: OF Cameron Maybin, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, INF/OF Mike Aviles

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. 2B Ian Kinsler
  2. RF JD Martinez
  3. 1B Miguel Cabrera
  4. DH Victor Martinez
  5. LF Justin Upton
  6. 3B Nick Castellanos
  7. CF Tyler Collins
  8. C James McCann
  9. SS Jose Iglesias

Oldies but goodies is the phrase that probably describes this Detroit lineup best as the first five hitters in the Tigers lineup are all 29 or older and all have career slugging percentage of .450 or higher. I have real concerns about the bottom third of this lineup’s ability to provide significant production during the season, making it hard for Detroit to repeat their offensive success from 2016 (2nd in the A.L. in team OPS). One way for Detroit to overcome a well below average bottom third of their lineup is to get Justin Upton back on track after maybe the worst year of his career. Upton’s strikeout rate ballooned to a career high 28.6% and his walk rate dropped to his lowest since his rookie season. The only thing that saved Upton’s season at all was him popping 13 homers in the last month of the season or we could be talking about one of the worst seasons anyone has had with a new team in a long time. I’m confident Upton will regain his All-Star ways, but there is real cause for concern if I’m a Tigers fan. They need Upton to produce.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation-

  • RHP Justin Verlander
  • RHP Michael Fulmer
  • RHP Jordan Zimmermann
  • LHP Daniel Norris
  • RHP Anibal Sanchez

Bullpen-

  • RHP Francisco Rodriguez – Closer
  • LHP Justin Wilson
  • RHP Alex Wilson
  • RHP Mark Lowe
  • RHP Bruce Rondon

There’s a lot of talk about how Justin Verlander was robbed of the 2016 A.L. Cy Young (and rightfully so) but what gets lost in all the Tweets about the controversial award race was how dominant Verlander was in 2016 and how he essentially saved his career by re tooling his arsenal on the fly. After a bad 2014 and an injury plagued 2015, Verlander came back with a bang in 2016 posting the second highest strikeout rate of his career (10.04 per 9 innings) looking like an ace again. The one Tigers pitcher to actually win an award was Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer who used a nearly 50% groundball rate and solid control to make it look easy his first time through the big leagues. Outside of Fulmer and Verlander, it was a complete disaster for the Tigers rotation in 2016. Veterans Anibal Sanchez (5.87 ERA) and Mike Pelfrey (5.07 ERA) were terrible then eventually moved to the bullpen while free agent Jordan Zimmermann really struggled with injuries and adjusting to pitching in the American League. Sanchez and Pelfrey are easy to replace, but with the contract he’s currently under the Tigers need Zimm to rebound. The Tigers pen is pretty middle of the road as they return most of the same group from last season. If the Tigers do try and make a playoff push this season they will likely need another quality arm in front of closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Fantasy Analysis:

Stud: 1B Miguel Cabrera. After a power dip and injury issues in 2015, Miggy slugged out 38 bombs in 2016 and proved all his doubters wrong that at age 33 he is the best pure hitter in all of baseball. Cabrera is currently going between the end of Round 1 and the beginning of Round 2 as he is one of the safest bets in all of sports right now.

Sleeper: SP Daniel Norris. Norris has had an up and down career which includes being traded for David Price, countless minor league promotions/demotions, and he even beat cancer during all of that. Norris has made just 27 starts in his career, but since coming to Detroit has posted an 8.3 per 9 strikeout rate and a walk rate of 2.5 per 9. Norris is currently going as the 77th starter off the board and with a rotation spot essentially guaranteed the young lefty represents great value at the end of your draft.

Bust: SP Michael Fulmer. A lot of Tigers are priced correctly right now so I had to pick someone. I like Fulmer long term but for this year I could see the Tigers trying to keep him around 180 innings after his 159 innings as a rookie. There a few guys going around him who have a real shot at 200 innings this season that I would likely take over Fulmer (Gausman, Keuchel, Stroman). That’s basically it, I like Fulmer just don’t love him.

2017 Record Prediction: I have a lot of doubts about this TIgers team heading into 2017 as they desperately need to infuse some young talent into their organization. Their studs will continue to be studs, but it’s the complete lack of depth throughout the organization will be their downfall. 80-82, Third in the AL Central.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo credit: USATSI

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 3/15

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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