DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers failed to deliver on its promise of better baseball this summer, collapsing even faster than most other seasons during the lengthy rebuild. But is there any hope that this will change next year?
The team currently has 15 games below .500 and double-digit games out of division runs and wildcard runs. The rebuilding was supposed to be complete, but instead, 2022 turned into another disaster.
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So, once again, Tigers fans are forced into “maybe next year” mode. But what is there to expect?
From the very beginning of this rebuild, the Tigers have gone all-in on starting pitchers. They used their first-round picks on right-handers in back-to-back drafts from 2016 to 2018.
Well, starting to pitch is about the only bright spot (we use that term loosely here) coming out of this season, but, ironically, those first three rounds don’t have much to do with it.
Matt Manning’s mix of injuries sidelined him for three months. Alex Faedo has allowed 17 earned runs in his last 15 innings and has fallen out of favor. Casey Mize likely won’t be a factor until 2024 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
But still, the pitching team managed to stay afloat, even though offseason rookies Eduardo Rodriguez (shortlisted) and Michael Pineda (injury) missed most of the first half.
Tarik Skubal once looked like a budding ace for the young staff. In 11 starts, he had a 2.33 ERA, 2.08 FIP and struck out more than one batter per inning. Unfortunately, his last five outings have been abysmal: 9.00 ERA, 6.03 FIP, 1.024 opposing OPS, and a much lower strikeout rate.
He’s not as bad as his last five outings suggest, but Skubal might not be an ace either. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Beau Brieske was the Tigers’ 2021 minor league pitcher of the year, but his first taste of MLB wasn’t as smooth. While the surface numbers are respectable — an MPM of 4.54 and a WHIP of 1.28 — its underlying metrics are alarming.
Brieske ranks in the bottom 10% of MLB in expected ERA, expected batting average against, and expected slugging percentage against. His walk rate is average, but the withdrawal rate and the quality of the contact numbers are both very concerning.
There’s a chance Brieske could be a decent pitcher in the major league, but he needs to get better — a lot better.
Monday’s Cleveland double sweep began with an encouraging start from Garrett Hill, who allowed just two hits, a walk and a run in six innings for his first win. Hill has been incredibly dominant in the minors, so there’s hope he can contribute to MLB’s rotation this year.
Long story short: The Tigers have plenty of options to fill their five starting rotation spots next season – the question is whether those are good options.
Skubal, Rodriguez and Spencer Turnbull, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, will likely be at the top of next year’s rotation. Manning, if healthy, will join them. Brieske, Hill, Faedo and Joey Wentz are also in the game.
Without at least one free agent signing, the Tigers are likely looking at a below-average starting rotation next year. It’s possible to win with this group, but the offense and bullpen should carry the load.
Yeah, that’s where it gets a whole lot worse. Other than Riley Greene, there haven’t been many positive offensive developments for the Tigers this season.
No one is giving up on former No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson, but his rookie campaign has been, in a word, disastrous. He doesn’t ride on base, he doesn’t hit for power, and he doesn’t even do damage on 90s fastballs in the middle.
Even though Greene and Torkelson both prove to be mid-range bats, an unprecedented regression from veterans Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop has created two new holes in the lineup, and Akil Baddoo no longer looks like a solution. infallible in the long term.
Where can the Tigers turn?
Javier Baez has been playing better lately, but his OPS is still hovering around .600 and strikeouts are as bad as ever. It’s entirely dependent on opposing pitchers making mistakes because if they don’t throw pitches into the strike zone, Baez will surely be fine.
Austin Meadows got off to a good start, but was out of the squad for weeks due to various issues. Oh yeah, and he unfathomably hit zero home runs in 128 at-bats.
Eric Haase, meanwhile, is once again proving to be a valuable actor in various roles. He may not be the team’s favorite as an everyday receiver, but he’s been the top option two seasons in a row. Tigers can’t really afford to be picky.
So, tentatively, six of the nine starting spots in 2023 could be filled like this:
First base: Torkelson
Center field: Greene
Right Field: Grasslands
Designated hitter: Miguel Cabrera
But what about the rest of the range? Will we have yet another year of Willi Castro, Harold Castro and Victor Reyes?
Maybe Kody Clemens or Ryan Kreidler will take control of the open spots on the field. Daz Cameron deserves an opportunity to play every day in the outfield after showcasing some of his tools ahead of an IL stint. Maybe Baddoo will find his Triple-A swing and get back into the mix.
But aside from a few weeks of Greene, the Tigers haven’t produced much exciting offensive potential within the system, and there’s certainly no history of developing that from unexpected sources.
Michael Fulmer is a free agent after this season and is likely to be traded at the deadline, but otherwise Detroit’s strong bullpen could remain virtually intact for 2023.
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Gregory Soto can be frustrating, but he’s mostly reliable in the role of closest. Jose Cisnero is on his way back from injury and will join an excellent end-of-round corps of Alex Lange, Joe Jimenez, Will Vest and Andrew Chafin.
The bullpen could take a few hits before the trade deadline this month, but the group as a whole should still be doing well for next year.
Is there hope?
If you were hoping to see playoff baseball return to Detroit before Cabrera’s contract expires, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Even if many of those dominoes fall in favor of the Tigers – and that’s a big “if” – the starting rotation and offense will only be solid. There aren’t many potential difference makers on the doorstep.
The 2022 season was a huge disappointment on its own, but the damage done to the team’s future could be even greater. All the high draft picks, prospect development and salary cap maneuvers of the past six years have piled up so far, and it doesn’t look like the Tigers are in a position to capitalize on them.
The tide can turn in a hurry for MLB franchises, so don’t give up hope. But it sure looks like 2022 will end up being more than just a speed bump in the Tigers’ quest for discord.
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