clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Learn about the Tigers: A Q&A with Rob Rogacki of Bless You Boys

The Rockies are rolling into Detroit for a series with the Tigers. Rob Rogacki of Bless You Boys gives us a primer on the Central leading team. Are they any good? SPOILER: yeah.

Stephen Dunn

1. First of all, holy crap David Price. You guys now have the winners of each of the last three Cy Young awards. What are your thoughts on the trade?

My initial reaction:

Overall, it's hard to judge a trade like this. While Price is a massive upgrade for the rotation, the loss of Austin Jackson in center field and in the lineup is also big. Jackson has been worth 15.7 WAR since the start of the 2010 season and is one of the best defensive centerfielders in baseball. He isn't irreplaceable by any means, but his short term replacement is Rajai Davis and career minor league Ezequiel Carrera. That's a significant drop-off any way you slice it, especially if Carrera's career .306 on-base percentage is all the Tigers gets.

That said, wow. Price is a gamechanger, and it's not hard to see the Tigers giving him a contract extension after the 2015 season if they fail to re-sign Max Scherzer this year (what a problem to have, right?). Price is arguably the best left-hander in the American League, and he might be the team's third starter in the playoffs, though is probably the best starter on the team right now. Drew Smyly probably wasn't going to amount to much more than he has shown in 2014, and many Tigers fans wanted him relegated to the bullpen as is. Despite losing Jackson and Smyly, I can't bring myself to call this anything but a huge victory for the Tigers.

2. In a similar vein: do you know what the heck is going on with Justin Verlander? How did he turn from an immortal into a guy with a 4.70 ERA? Do you expect him to get better, and if not, what is the plan is for him?

Verlander has been a hot topic for Tigers fans all season long, and there are two main camps. One group thinks that Verlander is washed up due to all the mileage on his right arm. His velocity has dropped over the past couple seasons, and his breaking ball has not been as sharp this season either. He has thrown just 60.3 percent first-pitch strikes and has an 8.6 percent whiff rate, both of which are his lowest since a dreadful 2008 season.

The other segment of the fanbase is taking a "wait and see" approach, and for good reason. Verlander had core muscle repair surgery in January, yet still made a handful of Spring Training starts and took the ball on Opening Day. It's possible that Verlander is still feeling the effects of the offseason surgery -- something Miguel Cabrera has admitted to, after having the same surgery earlier on -- and his mechanics have gotten out of whack. I wrote a piece for SB Nation detailing how Verlander's numbers decline as his pitch count rises, which could indicate a lack of muscular endurance on his part. I'm not worried about him long-term, but it's worth wondering whether he will return to form in time for the postseason.

3. We know Miguel Cabrera is a beast, even if he’s not quite at last year’s pace. But, as we Rockies fans know quite well, it takes more than one guy to make an offense work. Who else has really stepped up for the club?

Cabrera is still the unquestioned centerpiece of the Tigers' offense, but Victor Martinez has arguably been his equal in 2014. The 35 year old designated hitter is batting .324/.385/.564 this year with 21 home runs and 21 doubles. For a couple of months, he was toeing the line between having more home runs than strikeouts. He even went nearly a calendar year without striking out looking (dating back to 2013).

The biggest surprise for the Tigers has been J.D. Martinez, who signed with the team on a minor league deal prior to Spring Training. Martinez hit 10 home runs in 17 games for the Tigers' Triple A affiliate before getting the call to the big leagues, and hasn't slowed down much since. Case in point: after 200 plate appearances, Martinez's wRC+ was higher than Mike Trout's. While the younger Martinez has fallen off a bit lately, he is still hitting a robust .320/.357/.591. His platoon splits are interesting, as he is hitting much higher against right-handers than lefties, but if he sits anywhere close to an .800 OPS going forward, the Tigers found themselves a gem.

4. You guys have a comfortable 4.5 lead on the division. You have a loaded offense and a ridiculous pitching staff...but are you concerned that perhaps it’s now or never time? Your core guys (Cabrera, VMart, Kinsler, Verlander etc.) may be seeing their decline years soon, even if they’re still great now. Is this the year to go all in to get Mike Ilitch that championship?

It's definitely a concern, which is why most Tigers fans were ok with moves like blatantly overpaying for Joakim Soria eight days ago. The Tigers haven't won a World Series in 30 years, and there is a growing concerns that the Tigers' current run will turn into a Buffalo Bills-esque "would've, should've, could've" if they don't win a title. Even the mid-1990s Atlanta Braves won one championship despite winning their division just about much every year of my childhood.

Are the Tigers completely "all-in" though? People (myself included) thought that they would not be able to get out from under Prince Fielder's massive contract, and they picked up an All-Star second baseman in the process. Ever since the Miguel Cabrera trade, the Tigers have consistently had one of the worst farm systems in baseball, yet have been able to stay competitive in their division. Sure, part of that is a lack of serious competition from everyone else, but GM Dave Dombrowski has been able to extend the team's window without sacrificing too much of the future. With so much money coming off the books in the next couple seasons, it will be interesting to see how their roster changes.

5. So the bullpen...what’s going on there? Joe Nathan has had his struggles, but you just nabbed Joakim Soria. Are you concerned about their performance, and do you expect improvement?

The Tigers and bullpens go together like oil and water. Unfortunately, Jose Valverde's meltdown in 2012 and Joaquin's Benoit hanging changeup to David Ortiz in 2013 only scratch the surface of what is an annual frustration for our fanbase. Dave Dombrowski's Achilles heel seems to be relying on an "established closer" and filling the rest of his bullpen from within, a strategy that has cost the team games -- and possibly even a trip to the World Series last season. Many fans wanted to see another low-risk, high-upside move like Joba Chamberlain last offseason, and were incensed when Dombrowski had to trade promising right-hander Jake Thompson to the Rangers for Soria. While it's not out of the question that he acquires another arm during the waiver trade period, odds are that the Tigers' fate rests in the hands of Nathan, Chamberlain, and Soria.

Well, unless David Price throws a complete game every time he takes the mound.