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 Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09

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PostSubject: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Thu Feb 05, 2009 1:12 am

Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09

By Gerry Fraley - SportingNews
12 hours, 41 minutes ago

When the Tigers arrive at spring training, manager Jim Leyland will be looking at more than the physical condition of his team.

Leyland wonders about the mental state of his club. Is it still paralyzed by the crisis of confidence that ruined last season, or are this group beyond that and ready to carry itself like a contender again?

“We need to get that confident but professional swagger back,” Leyland said. “We lost that last year.”

Under Leyland, the Tigers have been a mystery team. They overachieved in 2006, his first season, and reached the World Series. They flopped in 2008 and finished at the bottom of the American League Central with the third-worst record (74-88) in the league. Detroit will start the 2009 season as unknown quantity again. The Tigers could be as good as the 2006 club, or as bad as the 2008 club. There will be no in-between.

Detroit’s performance last season serves as a textbook example of what a bad bullpen can do to a team’s psyche. From opening day, when Jason Grilli blew a save opportunity in a loss to Kansas City, Detroit’s bullpen was a mess. The problems included—but went deeper than—closer Todd Jones, who struggled before a shoulder injury basically ended his season in late July. Injuries to righthanders Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya robbed the bullpen of depth.

Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski tried but never could fix the bullpen. Detroit had the A.L.’s worst record (58-13) when leading after seven innings. In comparison, the Yankees were an A.L.-best 73-2 in those situations, while the A.L.-champion Rays were 75-5.

Detroit’s players recognized these shortcomings, and the panic that accompanies a bad bullpen soon settled in with the club. The offense was acceptable, finishing fourth in the A.L. with 5.07 runs per game, but it was nowhere close to the powerhouse it was expected to be.

Blame that on the bullpen, too. When a club wonders how many runs it needs to score to have a safe lead, it invariably struggles offensively.

“We had too many times last year when we didn’t hold leads,” Leyland said. “I’ve always said that’s the most discouraging thing that can happen to your ballclub. It just tears your heart out.

“But everybody has to get over that. … We have some issues, but we’ve got potentially a very good team.”

With Rodney and Zumaya still health concerns, free agent addition Brandon Lyon likely will get the first shot at closing. With Arizona last season, Lyon had 26 saves in 31 chances but lost the closer job in the final month of the season. Lyon has the heart of a closer but not the stuff; opponents will put the ball in play against his sinker.

And putting the ball in play isn’t such a good thing.

Detroit was also a bad defensive team last season because it had too many players out of position. The left side—third base, shortstop and left field—dragged down the club with its poor play.

The Tigers plan to move Carlos Guillen out of harm’s way this season by having him move from third base to left field. With Guillen committing 14 errors in only 89 games at third base last season, the Tigers had the A.L.’s second-highest error total (28) at the position.

Brandon Inge, forced back to catcher from third base last season, will return to third base this season and should improve the defense—but his bat is a liability. Inge’s average has dropped in four consecutive seasons, bottoming at .205 last season. The Tigers brought in a glove, Adam Everett, for shortstop. The combination of Inge and Everett will get to more balls than last year’s pairings, but it will produce limited offense.

Leyland believes Guillen will be an upgrade over the other seven players who started in left field last season. The Tigers’ left fielders committed a league-worst 12 errors in 2008.

Leyland will use the spring to decide who will join the rotation behind righthanders Justin Verlander and Armando Galarraga. Having righthander Jeremy Bonderman back at full strength following shoulder surgery would help the rotation. The same holds for the offense with sore-shouldered designated hitter Gary Sheffield.

Dombrowski has put Leyland in a lame-duck spot by not extending his contract. Leyland will operate in the final year of a contract, something no manager wants to do because of the lack of security.

“No matter who you are, if you do good, you stay,” said Leyland, trying to dismiss contract talk. “If you don’t, at some point you go.”

Leyland is at a crossroads this season: He has a team that can go in any direction and has no contract for 2010. Watch this team closely.

Gerry Fraley, a free-lance baseball writer based in St. Louis, is a regular contributor to Sporting News.
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Thu Feb 05, 2009 6:45 pm

Tigers are gonna roar in 2009



GO TIGERS GO
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 5:39 pm

Watch out! The Tigers are ready to pounce on their opponents. LETS GO TIGERS!! I'm ready for some baseball!!
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 6:35 pm

pudgemaggs wrote:
Watch out! The Tigers are ready to pounce on their opponents. LETS GO TIGERS!! I'm ready for some baseball!!

Nod
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 7:09 pm

GoGetEmTigers wrote:
The Tigers could be as good as the 2006 club, or as bad as the 2008 club. There will be no in-between.

Wouldn't 3rd place be in-between?


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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 7:59 pm

catbox_9 wrote:
GoGetEmTigers wrote:
The Tigers could be as good as the 2006 club, or as bad as the 2008 club. There will be no in-between.

Wouldn't 3rd place be in-between?

I guess SportingNews only sees first and last as options.... stupid people.
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:10 pm

Other than that it was a good article. That's just a strange statement to make. It's almost worse than getting a fact wrong.


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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 9:58 pm

I emailed Fraley after he wrote that, and he said he honestly doesnt care whether the Tigers do or not.

he said his prediction as of now was Cubs/Yanks in the series.
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 10:58 pm

Saturday, February 7, 2009
Sunday Special
Tiger hitters won't press for success
Leyland says realistic expectations, stable lineup will generate better results in '09
Lynn Henning / The Detroit News

Investigators combing the wreckage of the Tigers' 2008 season concluded there were two major breakdowns in a supposed contender's failed bid to make the playoffs: pitching and defense.

But they also cited another flaw, often overlooked, as a team that was supposed to have been playing in October never came close to the postseason. It turns out the Tigers were solid but unexceptional when it came to their purported strong suit: offense.

The team that added Miguel Cabrera's muscle was pegged to score 1,000 runs in 2008 rather than the 821 it instead rolled up. A team with a batting order that made analysts gasp was no better than fourth in the American League in hitting, fourth in runs, fourth in RBIs, fourth in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging. The Tigers had the fifth-most walks and the fifth-most strikeouts of any American League roster.

In their only area of real achievement, they were second in the league in home runs with 200, well behind the Chicago White Sox with 235.

Clearly, there is room for an upgrade, even as manager Jim Leyland's team has made an on-paper trade at a handful of positions: defense over offense.

"I think last year was a little unrealistic as far as what they (observers) put on our offense to do," Leyland said as he prepared to pack for spring camp, which begins Saturday at Lakeland, Fla. "It probably backfired a little on us.

"Early on, the guys were probably feeling a little pressure. We didn't get off to a good start, offensively. And then people looked for excuses, like the (cold) weather. And I think people underestimate the quality of pitching in the American League.

"That's all part of it, sure, but the biggest thing is to be prepared coming out of spring training. And then to relax a little more. I think last year we fought the pressure when everyone figured we'd come out slugging from Day One.

Multiple problems


In fact, the tone for a tough season had already been set in the waning days of spring training. Curtis Granderson was hit by a pitch during an exhibition game at Clearwater, Fla., and fractured his right middle finger.

He was out nearly a month, which was a neat invitation for the Tigers to start 0-7 and to put together a miserable April that left them playing catch-up the remainder of 2008.

Granderson had allies, of course.

Cabrera, an acknowledged superstar who finished the season with super numbers (37 home runs, 127 RBIs), played like a mortal during the season's first three months: 11 home runs, with a batting average of .270 in April, .283 in May and .288 in June.

Gary Sheffield, a man likely bound for the Hall of Fame, was supposed to have hit close to .300 with 25 or more home runs and close to 100 RBIs. He instead had lingering shoulder misery that made his first half a disaster (.217 average, five home runs). Diminished pain and more mobility helped him to a second-half comeback, but he still finished the year batting an anemic .225 with 19 home runs and only 57 RBIs.

There were other accomplices: Jacque Jones, a presumed improvement in left field, lasted only 24 games with the Tigers, batting .165 with a lone home run before he was released. Edgar Renteria, another flop, batted .255 during the first half with a stunningly low 11 extra-base hits. Brandon Inge, shuttled between positions during an overall miserable year, batted .205 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs, compared with .253, 27 homers and 83 RBIs in 2006.

Any assessment of the Tigers' 2008 numbers would suggest pitching and defense aren't the only areas due for improvement in 2009. The hitting can -- and probably must -- be better.

Will bottom be up?

Leyland says his main adjustment in 2009 will be a more regular lineup. He believes it will help players such as Inge, who is all but cartwheeling to spring camp as he settles in for a year as Leyland's happy new third baseman.

Carlos Guillen, who had 21 home runs and 102 RBIs in 2007, felt to 10 home runs and 54 RBIs in 2008, although he played in 38 fewer games because of injuries. The Tigers believe his shift to fulltime work in left field will be a batting boost.

On the down side, age was probably a factor in some 2008 falloffs. Guillen is 33. Placido Polanco, also 33, slipped from .341 in 2007 to .307 last year.

Magglio Ordonez, now 35, had an anticipated drop in 2008 after winning the 2007 American League batting championship. He slid from .361 to .317. His home runs and RBIs had a relative decline, as well, from 28 and 139 to 21 and 103.

Another concern heading into 2009 is the likely bottom third of Leyland's lineup. Pudge Rodriguez has given way at catcher to Gerald Laird. Renteria, for all his ills, is being replaced by an acknowledged light-hitter at shortstop: Adam Everett.

Inge moves to third with some obvious baggage: his lousy 2008 numbers.

Leyland is undaunted.

"I think we're gonna have a little more production than people think at the bottom of our lineup," he said. "Not necessarily home runs. But we'll do a better job there of baserunning, and moving along runners, and getting two-out hits.

"I think Brandon Inge is a big, big key there. He actually didn't have a bad ratio of RBIs to at-bats last year (51 in 347 at-bats), and I think we're going to get him to where we think he can be.

"That'll be a big help."


Working out the kinks

Inge believes an extended January session at Comerica Park's indoor batting cage with Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has allowed him to iron out some kinks in his swing. A new zeal for playing baseball, set in motion by his return to third base, has melded with McClendon's words to convince Inge that he will at last become the hitter he and the Tigers have always thought he could be.

Leyland says little will otherwise change during spring camp. He was satisfied last spring that players got their proper preparatory at-bats. He believes calmer nerves and a healthier Granderson and Sheffield could make all the difference in 2009.

"We put too much pressure on ourselves," Leyland says of 2008. "I want to make sure everyone's relaxed enough going into the new season."


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 11:02 pm

Tracking trends
    Three-year statistics for the Tigers and key players:

    TIGERS

    2006: .274 BA, 203 HR, 785 RBI, 430 BB, 1,133 K, .329 OBP, .778 OPS
    2007: .287 BA, 177 HR, 857 RBI, 474 BB, 1,054 K, .345 OBP, .803 OPS
    2008: .274 BA, 200 HR, 780 RBI, 572 BB, 1,076 K, .340 OBP, .784 OPS

    MIGUEL CABRERA

    2006: .339 BA, 26 HR, 114 RBI, 86 BB, 108 K, .430 OBP, .968 OPS
    2007: .320 BA, 34 HR, 119 RBI, 79 BB, 127 K, .401 OBP, .966 OPS
    2008: .292 BA, 37 HR, 127 RBI, 56 BB, 126 K, .349 OBP, .886 OPS

    PLACIDO POLANCO

    2006: .295 BA, 4 HR, 52 RBI, 17 BB, 27 K, .329 OBP, .693 OPS
    2007: .341 BA, 9 HR, 67 RBI, 37 BB, 30 K, .388 OBP, .846 OPS
    2008: .307 BA, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 35 BB, 43 K, .350 OBP, .767 OPS

    CARLOS GUILLEN

    2006: .320 BA, 19 HR, 85 RBI, 71 BB, 87 K, .400 OBP, .919 OPS
    2007: .296 BA, 21 HR, 102 RBI, 55 BB, 93 K, .357 OBP, .859 OPS
    2008: .286 BA, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 60 BB, 67 K, .376 OBP, .809 OPS
    Guillen played in 113 games in 2008 after averaging 152 for 2006-07.

    CURTIS GRANDERSON

    2006: .260 BA, 19 HR, 68 RBI, 66 BB, 174 K, .335 OBP, .783 OPS
    2007: .302 BA, 23 HR, 74 RBI, 52 BB, 141 K, .361 OBP, .913 OPS
    2008: .280 BA, 22 HR, 66 RBI, 71 BB, 111 K, .365 OBP, .859 OPS

    MAGGLIO ORDONEZ

    2006: .298 BA, 24 HR, 104 RBI, 45 BB, 87 K, .350 OBP, .827 OPS
    2007: .363 BA, 28 HR, 139 RBI, 76 BB, 79 K, .434 OBP, .929 OPS
    2008: .317 BA, 21 HR, 103 RBI, 53 BB, 76 K, .376 OBP, .870 OPS

    GARY SHEFFIELD

    2006: .298 BA, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 13 BB, 16 K, .355 OBP, .805 OPS
    2007: .265 BA, 25 HR, 75 RBI, 84 BB, 71 K, .378 OBP, .840 OPS
    2008: .225 BA, 19 HR, 57 RBI, 58 BB, 83 K, .326 OBP, .726 OPS
    Sheffield played in 39 games in 2006; averaged 123 games in 2007-08.

    BRANDON INGE

    2006: .253 BA, 27 HR, 83 RBI, 43 BB, 128 K, .313 OBP, .779 OPS
    2007: .236 BA, 14 HR, 71 RBI, 47 BB, 150 K, .312 OBP, .688 OPS
    2008: .205 BA, 11 HR, 51 RBI, 43 BB, 94 K, .303 OBP, .672 OPS
    Inge played in 113 games in 2008 after averaging 155 games in 2006-07.

    GERALD LAIRD

    2006: .296 BA, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 12 BB, 54 K, .332 OBP, .805 OPS
    2007: .224 BA, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 30 BB, 103 K, .278 OBP, .627 OPS
    2008: .276 BA, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 23 BB, 63 K, .329 OBP, .727 OPS
    Laird played in 78 games in 2006, 120 in 2007, and 95 in 2008.

    ADAM EVERETT

    2006: .239 BA, 6 HR, 59 RBI, 34 BB, 71 K, .290 OBP, .642 OPS
    2007: .232 BA, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 14 BB, 31 K, .281 OBP, .599 OPS
    2008: .213 BA, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 12 BB, 15 K, .278 OBP, .601 OPS
    Everett played in 150 games in 2006, 66 in 2007, and 48 in 2008.

    KEY

    BA -- Batting average
    HR -- Home runs
    RBI -- Runs batted in
    BB -- Walks
    K -- Strikeouts
    OBP -- On-base percentage
    OPS -- On-base plus slugging percentage
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Sun Feb 08, 2009 11:16 pm

gdennis59 wrote:
I emailed Fraley after he wrote that, and he said he honestly doesnt care whether the Tigers do or not.

he said his prediction as of now was Cubs/Yanks in the series.

At least he's honest :shrug:


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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Mon Feb 09, 2009 8:22 pm

GO TIGERS!
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers are among biggest mysteries for ’09   Fri Feb 13, 2009 11:25 pm


If Justin Verlander and his pitching cohorts can
return to form, the Tigers could do some major damage in 2009.
AP


Posted: Tuesday February 3, 2009 12:04PM; Updated: Tuesday February 3, 2009 12:11PM

Tom Verducci > INSIDE BASEBALL
SI.com

Who will be the next Rays?

Pitchers and catchers.

There, how does that sound as some of you scrape your windshield this morning in a football-less world? Warmth, at least a vicarious kind, is just around the corner. Pitchers and catchers (the words alone can soothe nearly as much as the distinctive popping sound of their collaborative work) start rolling into big league camps next week. Our body clocks reset, and so do the hopes of 30 teams.

The fonts of optimism overflow, especially this particular spring, for one reason: the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, one of the greatest turnaround stories in baseball history. The Rays morphed not only from 96 losses to the World Series, but also from a franchise history without so much as one winning season. The optimism is grounded in truth: Almost every team has a shot at the playoffs this year.

While the Rays' story may be an extreme one, they share a plot line with the 2007 Rockies, the 2006 Tigers and the many other teams in the wild-card, revenue-sharing era that made the playoffs the year after posting a losing record. Since 1995, when the expanded playoff format began, 29 of the 112 playoff teams reached the postseason in the year immediately after a losing season. That's 26 percent of the postseason teams, an average of two turnaround teams every year. Only once in those 14 years, in 2005, has a team failed to make the postseason the year after it had a losing record.

So the question this spring is not so much, Is there a 2009 version of the 2008 Rays out there? It is this: Who will be the next Rays? Thirteen teams suffered through losing seasons last year. There is a good chance that one or two of those 13 teams will make the playoffs this year. Who will it be?

First we have to search for clues in the traits of turnaround teams. Some generalities emerge about teams that jump from losing records to the playoffs:

1. Run prevention is more important than run production. The Rays actually scored slightly fewer runs in 2008 than they did in '07. Their improvement in runs allowed, however, was staggering (-273). While four of the 16 turnaround teams this decade made the turnaround while scoring fewer runs, none of them did so without improving their run prevention. And 10 of the 16 teams showed a greater improvement in run prevention than run production. What does that mean? Maybe Derek Lowe makes for a more impactful signing than Adam Dunn.

2. Turnaround teams were not as bad off as they appeared. Eleven of the past 13 turnaround teams underperformed in their losing season, as measured by the Bill James Pythagorean formula. Those 11 teams won, on average, five fewer games than they could have been expected to win.

3. Hope only goes so far. No team made the playoffs the year after losing more than 97 games, which is how far Arizona traveled from 1998 to '99.

So what happens when we apply these loose rules of thumb to this year's 13 hopeful Cinderellas? Forget about Seattle, Washington and San Diego, all of whom lost at least 99 games. Set aside (but don't completely rule out) Kansas City, Texas, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Colorado and San Francisco, all of which met or exceeded Pythagorean expectations last year. Now you're down to four teams who fit the loose profile of the next Rays. I'll rank them from most likely to least.

1. Detroit Tigers. The most expensive last-place team in history ($137 million) is bound to be better. The Tigers ranked 12th in the AL in runs allowed last season. Starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman gave them 21 wins, 441 innings and a 5.33 ERA, vastly worse than the 38 wins, 553 2/3 innings and 4.44 they provided the previous season. Detroit's defense didn't help, either. Only the Rangers, Mariners and Yankees were worse among AL teams at turning batted balls into outs as manager Jim Leyland desperately sought the right combination of players in the right spots. Stellar defensive shortstop Adam Everett, the Tigers' version of Jason Bartlett, will help, as should the return of Brandon Inge to third base and Gerald Laird taking over the catching spot. Still, the season will turn on the rotation, and whether Verlander and Bonderman can return to form and whether Armando Galarraga and former Ray Edwin Jackson can build on their 2008 breakouts. With an improved defense and healthier starters, the Tigers will make a huge jump in run prevention.

2. Atlanta Braves. It's hard to believe that the Braves sunk to 12th in runs allowed, their worst showing in 18 seasons. But they've done something about it. They added three starting pitchers: Lowe, the enigmatic Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami. Jair Jurrjens and Jorge Campillo are fine at the back end of the rotation. Are the Braves short on offense? Perhaps, but they did rank sixth in the league in runs last year, so if the run prevention improves as expected, they still should have enough offense to at least be a contender again.

3. Oakland Athletics. Oakland may be only slightly better at run prevention, if only because they ranked a solid fifth last year and they enter this season without a starting pitcher who has logged 180 innings in a season. Healthy versions of Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez would help the defense. But Oakland may be the turnaround team that defies the conventional profile. The A's figure to make a gigantic leap on the offensive side while needing only a marginal improvement in run prevention. They could very well resemble the 2004 Angels, a turnaround team that improved its run production by 100 with the addition of Vladimir Guerrero, while its run prevention improved by only nine. Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi are the keys to providing a Vlad-like effect for Oakland.

4. Baltimore Orioles. Realistically, they have no shot at the playoffs, not in the AL East. But Baltimore actually has an honest-to-goodness shortstop now, Cesar Izturis, and under Andy MacPhail has a deep collection of young arms that will audition throughout the season. Only the Rangers allowed more runs than the 869 yielded by Baltimore pitchers last season, so improved run prevention should not be too difficult. With an exciting young outfield (Felix Pie, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis) and the next great catching prospect (Matt Wieters), the Orioles at last are on the right track.


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