A brief look at an opponent we play this week (and all season).
Offense: Austin Jackson-CF, Brennan Boesch-RF, Miguel Cabrera-3B, Prince Fielder-1B, Delmon Young-LF/DH, Alex Avila-C, Jhonny Peralta-SS, Andy Dirks-DH/LF, Ryan Raburn-2B/DH. Bench: Gerald Laird-C, Ramon Santiago-INF, Danny Worth-2B, Clete Thomas-OF.
In one of the least shocking developments of last season, Austin Jackson regressed heavily. It seems a .396 BABIP is just a bit hard to maintain. While his batting average and OBP suffered, he did recover the homerun swing he had in the minors. His ceiling will probably be around 15 homeruns, but he's pretty good defensively and great on the basepaths. He lacks the plate discipline to become a star, but should be a very useful piece while he's cheap. Small sample size alert and all, but Brennan Boesch appears to be quite the first half player. Until he starts drawing more walks, his game is and will be highly-BABIP dependent. If Jim Leyland lets him play a full season, he has legitimate 20 homerun power. This year is his age 27 season, so combine that with the fact that their lineup is better than last year and you've got a breakout candidate. His bad fielding will hamper his value though.
It's going to be very interesting watching Miguel Cabrera readjust to third base. He's about as graceful as a Wisconsin offensive lineman. If he has all of his off field issues under control and he doesn't take too many more balls off the face, the experiment should work decently for a year or so. If Victor Martinez can indeed come back at some point this season, Detroit will almost be forced into putting out a terrible defense every day. Cabrera is only 29 years old, so there is still time before he becomes the second fattest of all albatrosses. That title will apply to the man hitting behind him about five or six years from now. Cabrera and Prince Fielder are the most terrifying 3-4 duo in the division, and probably the American League for that matter. They're also the heaviest. And both bad at defense. We'll have to see if moving to the Junior Circuit can break Fielder's weird trend of having off years in even-numbered seasons. For the next two seasons, the 500+ lbs of hitters will be terrifying. But after that (and the rest of the lineup)? We'll have to see.
Delmon Young is hitting fifth. I will repeat that, as you may question your sanity and the validity of that statement. Delmon Young, he of the career 4.2% BB% and .323 wOBA, is hitting fifth for the Tigers. Yeah, I don't understand it either. He hits for a hollow high average, lost all the speed he had early in his career, and other than his outlier of a 2010 season, has middling power at best. His bat isn't good enough to have him DH full time, but he's almost Jermaine Dye bad in left field as a 26 year old. There is always the chance that he puts it all together and reaches his potential, but I don't see it happening. This is his contract year. Alex Avila had one hell of a breakout year last season. But like most things, it comes with good and bad news. The good news (for Tigers' fans)? His BB% is right in line with what he did in the minors. The bad news? His power spike was probably a bit too much and I don't know many catchers that can keep a .366 BABIP going. That being said, he's still the second best hitting catcher in the division and that's only because Carlos Santana is so smooth (oh man, that was bad). He's a bit above average when it comes to throwing out runners as well. And apparently Tommy Lasorda is his godfather? Does Lasorda just go around asking to be godfather to every young catching prospect? It's creepy.
Jhonny Peralta somehow shook off his two-year decline phase last season, posting a career high .353 wOBA and playing (according to advanced metrics) good defense. While I refuse to believe the latter is true, the former wasn't entirely shocking. Peralta has a lot of pop for a man pretending to be a shortstop. Having him and Miguel Cabrera play the left side of the infield at the same time will lead to a lot of seeing eye singles and unintentional hilarity. Expect some regression at the plate this year.
Andy Dirks appears to be the other half of the Delmon Young semi-platoon. There isn't much to say about him. He went to Wichita State, thus making him a Shocker. He's also kind of meh at baseball. We're talking fourth outfielder type. The world needs Laynce Nixes too. Ryan Raburn will be playing second base and DHing, depending on the opposing pitcher's handedness. Really, he shouldn't be playing second base. Jim Leyland is trying to either make Rick Porcello and Doug Fister hate their lives or make every other manager laugh hysterically. Raburn could hit over 20 homeruns in a season if he ever stopped being so damn disappointing every time he's given a chance at 400+ at bats.
Pitching: Justin Verlander-RHP, Drew Smyly-LHP, Max Scherzer-RHP, Adam Wilk-LHP, Rick Porcello-RHP, Jose Valverde-CL.
Out of all the pitchers on this staff, Justin Verlander will be the least affected by the (Austin Jackson not included) horrible defense behind him. Verlander hasn't had a bad season since 2008, and that was a fluke. Verlander is a workhorse who has only gotten better with age. He doesn't seem to have any true weaknesses and is an ace in every sense of the word. He throws an upper-90s four seam, a mid-90s two seam, a dominant curve, a filthy circle change, and a strong slider. All five are plus pitches. And then we have Drew Smyly. Smyly is making his major league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays right now. This means I have painfully little data to work with. Smyly dominated A+ and AA last year. The southpaw is only 22 years old. According to today's Gameday, he throws a four seamer in the low-90s, a splitter, a slider, and a changeup.
Max Scherzer is thankfully more of a known entity. Max, whose last name means "sheared", is a strikeout pitcher with good command and control. His main weakness though is the longball. His three year average for homeruns allowed is 23. Unsurprisingly, this makes him a better pitcher at Comerica than away. Scherzer throws a mid-90s four seamer, a slider, and a changeup. Adam Wilk is a slightly less imaginary player than Drew Smyly. Wilk's modus operandi in the minors appeared to be "don't walk anybody". His numbers look like those of a left-handed Josh Tomlin. He throws a four seamer in the upper-80s, a slider/cutter depending on the source, a changeup, and a curveball.
Rick Porcello is technically fifth in the rotation, though only in an attempt to split up the handedness. Jim Leyland likes playing the imaginary percentages. He also may still believe cigarettes are good for you. After all, menthol cools down your lungs. Of all the Tigers' pitchers, Porcello stands the most to lose with the shoddy infield defense. 51.9% of all balls put in play off of Rick have been on the ground. And now he is surrounded by sieves. He'll barely cross the 100 strikeout barrier each year, so he's going to need to start limiting walks even more so if he doesn't want to get papercut to death each start. Porcello's main pitch is his heavy low-90s sinker. He also uses a four seamer, a slider, and a changeup. Jose Valverde was perfect in save opportunities last year. He's already not in 2012. The plump and bespectacled closer is striking out fewer hitters per nine innings, while his walks per nine are beginning to creep up. We're witnessing the beginning of the end of his effectiveness. Big Potato (who should move to Topeka when he retires) throws a mid-to-upper 90s four seamer and a darting splitter.
Outlook: The Tigers are still the class of the divison, but when you look at their defense, complimentary hitters, and top heavy pitching staff, you start to see what could easily go wrong. 8-10 record against Detroit this year.