Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Detroit Tigers. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Tigers players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Kansas City Royals.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The 2011 Tigers hovered just over .500 for the first half of the season before hitting the gas and leaving their divisional opponents in the dust. The AL Central race was probably over by the time they rattled off 12 wins in a row in early to mid September, but it sure didn't hurt. In the end, they sported a 95-67 record and won the division by 15 games. After defeating the Yankees in 5 games, they ran into the Texas Rangers, who won the ALCS in 6 games. On top of the success of the team, Justin Verlander took home both the Cy Young and MVP, while Miguel Cabrera won the batting crown.
Over the offseason, Detroit emerged as the mystery team in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, inking him to a staggering 9 year, $214 million contract that screams "We want to win now." Detroit will once again benefit from playing in arguably the weakest division in baseball, and it would be a severe disappointment if they were to miss the postseason tournament, like they did in 2008, when they were favored by many to contend for the title and instead finished last. There's no rational reason to expect a repeat of that outcome, but if they are to be taken seriously as frontrunners for the pennant, they will need increased production from the mid-rotation starters while the bats fight regression. They'll also have to do it without Victor Martinez, who has already been ruled out for the season with a torn ACL.
Comerica Park is a pitcher's park, but the effect of the stadium on hitters is commonly overstated due to previous struggles by high-profile players (like Juan Gonzalez) and the deep center field fence. In fact, it's played as an almost-neutral field over the years. The park is somewhat generous in the corners (345 in left, only 330 in right) and there's a 365-foot power alley in right center that can be exploited by left-handers. In other words, Prince Fielder may not hit as many home runs at home as he used to, but the dropoff will probably not be as dramatic as you might think.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Jim Leyland is one of those guys with a reputation for getting guys to play hard. He's a smart guy with good in-game decision making and he doesn't typically monkey around with the lineup too much. Good for the Tigers and good for your fantasy team.
Obligatory: Leyland smokes with cigarettes. It's fun to do bad things!
Expected Position Battles
When Jacob Turner went down with shoulder tendinitis (it's not currently viewed as a serious condition) last week, he wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire and forcing Jim Leyland to pencil him in as a fifth starter, but with him out of the picture, the race is even more wide open. The 4 definite starters are all right-handed, which means seemingly every candidate for this job is not. Names being tossed about include Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly, Adam Wilk, Duane Below, and Casey Crosby. Incredibly brief summaries for each player:
Oliver: Crazy control issues, but still projectable with a decent pitch mix. Worth a look if he starts to prove he can avoid walks, but otherwise not worth the risk.
Smyly: The youngest of the group (not counting Turner) and he's not on the 40-man, so there's little chance the Tigers will hinder his development, especially when there are 4 candidates for the job. However, if he does earn a spot, he may be a cheap source of strikeouts (but he looks more like an inning-eater). Could we see him in September?
Wilk: Had a cup of coffee last year and did not impress in a small sample size. He's a soft-tossing lefty who seems more suited for the Twins than the Tigers. There's not a ton to like here. Guys like him should be ground ball machines (not that the infield in Detroit is going to knock down a ton of balls).
Below: The oldest of the group. Many have him projected for the long reliever role, which seems to suit him. No strikeouts and not a lot of upside for contribution to rate stats.
Crosby: Control issues, but he can also miss bats. He's not quite as young as Smyly, but it seems as if he could benefit from more time in the minors. Why not let him figure out AA first?
Of course, there's always a chance that Turner's injury really is just a minor setback and he takes the job in mid-April. In that case, he's worth a speculative pick for sure.
Clete Thomas is out of options, so he's expected to start in left field over Andy Dirks, even though it's generally accepted that Dirks has more upside.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Austin Jackson - CF
Brennan Boesch - RF
Miguel Cabrera - 3B
Prince Fielder - 1B
Delmon Young - DH
Alex Avila - C
Jhonny Peralta - SS
Ryan Raburn - 2B
Thomas/Dirks - LF
The Tigers don't seem to have a true second baseman. Ryan Raburn has played just over 20% of his games at the position and he's not considered a good defender there, but he's expected to get the majority of the starts. Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago will get looks there as well.
Justin Verlander | Max Scherzer | Doug Fister | Rick Porcello | Oliver/Smyly/Wilk/Below/Crosby/Turner
I don't want to overstate this, but the Tigers infield defense is terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad. That doesn't mean you should avoid Detroit pitchers by any means, but a slight bump in BABIP may be in order.
Jose Valverde converted every save opportunity that he was given last season, but you know what they say about relying on repeat performances from closers (they say not to do it). We live in a fantasy era where seemingly everybody knows not to be fooled by those numbers, so it almost seems as if the overrated label has been attached to Valverde so much that he's now underrated because of it. Almost.
Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel are a fantastic set-up tandem, and it will be interesting to see how Leyland deploys them. It's hard to say at this point which one of them would be in line to vulture saves should the opportunity arise, so monitor this situation. Both will provide Ks and WHIP while not killing your ERA.
Potential Fantasy Sleeper
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
I have an irrational hatred of Jhonny Peralta, and a lot of it has to do with his silly, silly name. Apparently I'm not the only one, because he's currently going 15th among shortstops. We can expect some regression to his stats after he bounced back in 2011, but not enough that a guy with 21 home runs and a .353 wOBA that plays the weakest position in fantasy should be getting drafted as a bench player.
Spring Storylines to Watch
Isn't it fun to watch Miguel Cabrera take grounders at third?
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Jason Beck (Blog | Twitter)
Detroit Free Press: Blog | Twitter
Detroit News beat reporter: Tom Gage (Blog | Twitter)
Oakland Press beat reporter: Matthew B. Mowery (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: Bless You Boys (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.