Cats Without Bats? A comprehensive map to the Tigers offseason

Last year was supposed to be different…

The rebuild was coming to a close. The Detroit Tigers addressed nearly all their glaring needs in the offseason. Former General Manager Al Avila identified assets through trades and owner Chris Ilitch authorized some free agent splashes. (Javier Báez, Austin Meadows, Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Chafin and Tucker Barnhart).

After two decades with the organization, Avila earned his chance to command the ship. Concluding eight lackluster years at the helm, the Tigers were left with nothing to show for their rebuild but a heap of losses. In a year where they were thought to turn the corner, the archaic roots of the organization burst at the seams…

Farewell, old friend. (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

There was little life at the ballpark, and just mere pockets of meaningful baseball in 2022. (Hey, at least Miggy hit 3,000!) The team ranked last in Major League Baseball in walks and home runs. A tidal wave of injuries hobbled the roster. Half the lineup hit below the Mendoza Line for half the season. After five months of catastrophic failure, Avila was fired Aug. 10. 

Enter new President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris. The former San Francisco Giants executive from the Theo Epstein tree took over Sept. 19. He sung a tune of modernity for Tigers baseball, summarizing his vision in three concepts during his inaugural press conference Sept. 20.

“We need to acquire, retain and develop young players,” Harris said. “We need to create a culture of development. We want to dominate the strike zone on both sides of the ball.”

The only thing that saved the Tigers from the eighth 100-loss season in franchise history was a last-ditch effort to stomp out season-long embarrassment. Whether it was the new flare of Harris, or simply a change in culture, things immediately took a turn for the better on the field. 

Detroit tied a season-high six-game win streak Sept. 23-29 and won 11 of its last 16 games. The team narrowly eclipsed the Kansas City Royals by one game, finishing in fourth place in the AL Central with a 66-96 record.

New mantra, new leaders

After taking the reins, Harris cleaned house. The up-and-coming executive delivered with a decorated staff that carries a track record of success across many different levels and organizations in professional baseball.

As the first big hire, Rob Metzler was named Vice President and Assistant General Manager Oct. 25. Metzler joined the Tigers after spending the last 15 years in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. For the past seven seasons, he served as Senior Director of Amateur Scouting and led the Rays’ MLB Draft process.

Following the firing of longtime Scouting Director Scott Pleis, Mark Conner was named Amateur Scouting Director Oct. 30. Conner spent the last 13 seasons with the San Diego Padres and eight seasons as the team’s Amateur Scouting Director. He helped the Padres transform their farm system into a warehouse of young talent that propelled them into World Series contention.

Perhaps as Harris’ most important hire, Ryne Eubanks, signed as the team’s Head Athletic Trainer Nov. 15. He spent the past nine seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks in various medical trainer roles, most recently serving as Assistant Athletic Trainer at the MLB level for three seasons. Eubanks is tasked with keeping an injury-plagued roster on the field and healthy in 2023.

The core of the coaching staff hired by Avila remains in place. A.J. Hinch is the Manager. University of Michigan product Chris Fetter returns as Pitching Coach, as well as Assistant Pitching Coach Juan Nieves. Gabe Ribas remains as Director of Pitching. Former Los Angeles Dodgers First Base Coach George Lombard stays as Bench Coach. Base coaches Alfredo Amezaga and Gary Jones will also retain their roles.

The Tigers made one addition to the pitching side of the coaching staff. Robin Lund joined Nov. 15 as Assistant Pitching Coach with a data-driven approach. (I mean, just scour his Twitter feed. It is a gold mine.) Lund adds to the Tigers Big Ten coaching talent, spending the last four seasons at the University of Iowa. He has a doctorate in exercise science and will assist Fetter and Ribas in further modernization of the Tigers pitching lab.

Finally, while revamping a historically anemic offense is no easy feat, a trio of candidates with a strong resume in development also joined Nov. 15. Michael Brdar and Keith Beauregard were named dual Major League Hitting Coaches. James Rowson will work under them in an Assistant Hitting Coach role.

Brdar, another U of M product, was the Padres hitting coach last season. San Diego’s offense ranked sixth in walks and posted the ninth-least strikeouts en route to an NLCS appearance. 

Beauregard spent the last four seasons with the Dodgers organization. Rowson has two decades of professional coaching experience, most recently serving as bench coach for the Miami Marlins.

MLB Draft

The first annual MLB Draft Lottery took place Dec. 6. Despite finishing with the sixth worst record, fortune favored the Tigers and they climbed to pick third overall. While official draft financials are not currently available, Detroit significantly improved their bonus pool for the 2023 Draft. This has major implications for the money the Tigers can spend in the first 10 rounds. It had the potential to make a major impact in the early rounds as Detroit has four selections in the top 75, and three in the top 50 (No. 3, 37, 45 and 75).

The easiest bonus pool explanation comes from the Tigers 2021 MLB Draft. For example, Avila and co. picked RHP Jackson Jobe third overall in 2021. The slot value for the pick was just over $7.2M, but Jobe signed under slot at $6.9M. With the money saved on Jobe, the Tigers were able to land RHP Ty Madden at No. 32 in Competitive Balance Round A for over slot value. 

Madden was thought to have the talent of an early first round pick, but fastball metrics shied some teams away from a hefty price tag. The slot value for No. 32 was about $2.2M, and the Tigers used the $300k they saved on Jobe to land Madden over slot at $2.5M. Time will tell what Harris and co. have planned for next summer’s draft, but extra bonus pool money creates all the more flexibility on Draft Day this summer.

The Tigers selected sixth overall in the Rule 5 Draft Dec. 7. Detroit picked RHP Mason Englert from the Texas Rangers in the Major League portion of the draft. Englert must spend the full season on Detroit’s 26-man roster or he will be returned to the Rangers organization. He slots in as the team’s No. 26 prospect.

The 23-year-old had an encouraging season in High-A Hickory before getting a brief taste of Double-A at the end of 2022. In 103.1 innings with the Crawdads, he posted a 3.57 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 26 walks. He was bitten a fair amount by the long ball, however, surrendering 15 home runs. 

The 6′ 4 righty primarily features a mid-90s sinking fastball and a sweeping slider. Fangraphs assessed a 55 future value to both his slider and changeup. Most notably, Englert’s 35 rated command has an FV of 60. With a few tweaks from the coaching staff and some fortuity, the Tigers may find much needed starter depth with Englert in 2023.

Rounding out the Minor League side of the draft, Detroit lost third baseman Dane Myers to the Marlins and picked up right-handed relief prospect Layne Henderson from the Houston Astros. No Tigers players were selected in the Major League portion of the draft.

More roster additions

It seemed like only a matter of time before Harris started to dismantle the bullpen for future success. Later Dec. 7, he did just that. For the first time in what seems like a long time, the Tigers leveraged an asset to acquire a close-to-MLB-ready hitter. Baby steps, but nonetheless steps forward for an organization devoid of offensive production.

RHP Joe Jiménez was sent to the Atlanta Braves for 3B/OF Justyn-Henry Malloy and LHP Jake Higginbotham. Malloy is the headline of the package with an advanced approach at the plate and added defensive versatility. While the defensive side to his game is work in progress, Harris stated Malloy was a personal long-term target and will help reshape Detroit’s offensive identity.

Malloy climbed three professional levels in 2022, slashing .289/.408/.454 in 133 games. The 22-year-old was the top remaining position prospect for the Braves (No. 6 overall) and posted an impressive 16.4% walk percentage throughout the year. His advanced approach and knowledge of the strike zone should pay dividends in the future, and possibly at some point in 2023. All signs point to him starting this year’s campaign with Triple-A Toledo.

What may have contributed to the Tigers sinking ship in 2022 was a lack of veteran pitching depth, and too heavy a reliance on the youngsters. Rodriguez was the only true veteran starting pitcher on the roster, and he only tossed 91 innings due to a two-month personal hiatus on the restricted list.

The Tigers first move in free agency was reuniting with LHP Matthew Boyd to address this issue. He signed a one-year, $10M contract Dec. 14. Missing nearly all of 2022 with injury, Boyd returns to Detroit healthy and ready to assume a role in the starting rotation. The intangibles of the signing are to note, as Boyd was regarded as a terrific mentor for young pitchers during his six-year stint with the Tigers from 2015-2021.

An old friend returns. (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

Concluding additions to the starting staff, Detroit agreed to a one-year, $8.5M contract with RHP Michael Lorenzen Dec. 20. The 30-year-old started 18 games with the Los Angeles Angels in 2022. While his walk and strikeout rates left much to be desired, Lorenzen posted a respectable 4.24 ERA across 97.2 innings. Dipping 15+ starters into the depth chart is DEFCON 5 for any Major League organization, and this certainly serves as insurance. (I hope we never have to witness something like that again…)

If last year’s starting pitching reality was DEFCON 5, the offense could only have been a full-blown nuclear apocalypse. While much of the fanbase (and the writers of this website) were hoping for the Tigers to make further splashes to address the fallout, it appears Harris is interested in taking a different direction in 2023.

“One thing we won’t waver on is we’re going to invest in our young players,” Harris said Dec. 5. “We are going to earmark at-bats and innings for our young players.”

With the non-tendering of Jeimer Candelario, Willi Castro, Harold Castro and a few others, the Tigers will undoubtedly invest in the youth moving forward.

Jeimer’s tenure has ended. (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

Whether it is to create every-day starters, develop trade chips or simply to save money, Detroit’s young core will take up a significant portion of at-bats next season.

Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson will be everyday players. (No, there’s not a 1B failsafe. Tork will be fine.). Akil Baddoo is positioned to get a healthy dose of at-bats in the corner outfield positions. Barring any further roster additions, Ryan Kreidler is thought to be the team’s Opening Day third baseman. Kerry Carpenter’s power surge in 2022 likely earned him an outfield role. Kody Clemens will get additional time to prove himself. 

If he continues to build on a terrific 2022 season, Parker Meadows will enter the outfield mix at some point in 2023. He will join his brother, Austin, on the Major League roster. It will mark the first time brothers are MLB teammates since B.J. and Justin Upton on the Braves in 2013.

(Look, it’s probably not exactly what you wanted, but it’s what you’re going to get. At least we didn’t get lumps of coal. (*Cough* Royals *cough*)

Reinforcements inbound

A handful of players are set to return or make their Tigers debuts in 2023. Following Tommy John Surgery, RHP Spencer Turnbull and catcher Jake Rogers will provide a much-needed boost to the MLB roster on Opening Day.

Jake Rogers is on his way back. (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

LHP Tarik Skubal had a breakout 2022 and was definitively Detroit’s most valuable pitcher last season. He underwent flexor tendon surgery Aug. 17 and is set to return around mid-season in 2023. 

While a late-season return from Tommy John is in the realm of possibility for RHP Casey Mize, it is more likely he does not pitch again until 2024.

Several up-and-coming prospects will get a crack at the Majors in 2023. RHP Wilmer Flores, the Tigers No. 3 prospect, comes off a dominant 2022 campaign where he was named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He will need some refinement in Toledo, but he will certainly get a call to the Bigs in the near future.

RHP Reese Olson, acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Daniel Norris at the trade deadline in 2022, serves as further pitching depth. Olson took off after joining the organization, posting impressive strikeout rates across High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie. If his skillset continues to grow, the No. 10 prospect will debut with the Tigers later in 2023.

Catcher Dillon Dingler, Detroit’s No. 11 prospect, is another intriguing option for depth at the catcher position. The Tigers expressed interest in the free agent catcher market, but opted not to ink names like Willson Contreras and Christian Vázquez. With the return of Rogers and the steady bat of Eric Haase, Dingler will have plenty of time to refine his skills in the Minors before breaching the Show.

On the position player side, a few young prospects and a waiver claim make their way to the 40-man to solidify infield depth. Zack Short is set to contribute in a bench role. The versatile Andre Lipscius and contact machine Wenceel Perez round out the young prospects. Andy Ibáñez was claimed off waivers from the Rangers Nov. 10. The 29-year old added another corner infield option to the roster as he posts low strikeout rates.

Potential remaining free agent targets

It is unlikely the Tigers make a splash, but there may be a move or two remaining. This offseason, Harris mentioned the need for a right-handed outfield bat and a left-handed infield bat to improve the MLB roster. Internal candidates may be favored in the long haul, but these on-record needs are yet to be properly addressed.

A pair of 34-year-old outfielders could be potential fits. A.J. Pollock comes with relevant AL Central experience and a track record of success. He strikes out at a low rate, but a power sap in 2022 with the Chicago White Sox combined with career-long injury concerns could turn Detroit the other way. Adam Duvall is still available and checks some boxes for the right-handed role. His high strikeout and mediocre walk rates may also deter Harris from signing him.

Tommy Pham is another outfield option, and Trey Mancini is still on the table. Mancini also comes with experience at first base, potentially serving as a backup plan for Torkelson. (Again, I don’t believe the Tigers are interested in insuring Torkelson’s role much.)

Former Marlins 3B/OF Brian Anderson fits the profile of a Harris target. However, he is primarily a third baseman and is a right-handed batter. He is a great defender, posts good walk rates and strikes out at about a league-average clip. He struggled a bit offensively last season, but still would have been one of Detroit’s top offensive contributors with a below average 90 wRC+. 

Finally, 3B/1B Edwin Ríos could provide some desperately needed pop to the Tigers offense. The 28-year-old was non-tendered by the Dodgers after battling injuries. He strikes out a ton, but has immense power from the left side that would have no trouble clearing the long fences of Comerica Park.

Potential trade targets

None of the aforementioned names feel like strong fits to Harris’ philosophy and the 2023 plans. It appears more likely by the day that a trade would better address needs. If the Tigers are to make additional moves, most signs point to it coming from the block.

The bullpen is still stocked with talent. All-Star closer Gregory Soto, Alex Lange, Jason Foley and Will Vest should all be dangled as trade chips to improve the offense.

Perhaps left-handed (or switch hitting) infielders like Ketel Marte, Tommy Edman, Jazz Chisholm, Eduardo Escobar or J.P. Crawford could be trade targets. The Tigers would likely have to unload some of the bullpen, along with a young starter or two. Madden is the most movable starting prospect to make a splash. Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo may be trade bait if they return to form following injury.

Financial freedom awaits

At long last, the 2024 Tigers may be free from the shackles of any long-term investments. Miguel Cabrera, who makes $32M in 2023, announced he will retire following the season.

Miggy bids adieu in 2023. (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

Jonathan Schoop’s contract also comes to a close. 

If this year’s winter frenzy is any indication where the market is headed in the future, the Tigers could be departing with Rodriguez and Báez, too. Both have opt-outs following 2023, and will certainly exercise them with any semblance of a productive season. Báez fell off a cliff last year, but steadily improved and turned into a solid performer in the second half.

In the eyes of most baseball minds, there is no such thing as a bad one-year deal. The Tigers plugged some holes with temporary options until Harris develops a broader vision of the organization’s future. When the 2023 season comes to a close, it is likely there is not a single long-term contract on the 2024 payroll. Spend away, Ilitch. Opportunity awaits.

Wrapping up… it’s Christmas after all

With a deep-dive analysis, 2023 feels more like a one-year retool than a true effort to compete for the World Series. Financial flexibility looms on the horizon. Enforcing a new identity of strike zone dominance will take time, so it is understandable why the Tigers may be reluctant to take an over-aggressive approach to roster building.

Harris needs to flesh out what the Tigers are working with, and the players will get all the opportunity to show him. It will be sink or swim for the young guns, and the roster churning has just begun.

Rebounds by Schoop and Báez open a treasure trove of middle-infield trade options. Dealing Rodriguez may give the Tigers much needed offensive depth. Parting with some top-tier farm arms could gift a young, offensive star-in-the-making to Detroit.

While the entirety of the AL Central sits on their cheap asses (excuse my language), it may not be crazy to think the Tigers can approach .500 ball with an overhauled culture in 2023. Then again, maybe the Kool-Aid is extra flavorful this winter. Either way, a new era of Tigers baseball is brewing, and 2023 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Tigers show interest in Jon Gray

This article is more or less going to be an “I have thoughts and they’re a bit everywhere” post rather than a full analytical breakdown of Gray and I think that’s a good thing.

I’ve been championing the idea for the better part of the last couple months. Gray was a near can’t miss prospect, an absolute beast with a slider that a scout told me was “one of the best pitches I’ve ever seen in college.”

The Tigers’ organizational philosophy has progressively caught up to the league and surpassed most of it. They’ve recently hired a stream of pitching coaches and coordinators who are well respected by the entire league and are at the forefront of using video for changes to grips and mechanics, to get the most out of their pitchers.

This isn’t something new to baseball, of course; technology has just provided the ability to perfect old school teachings. We see that in how Avila has talked about the scouting department’s reports on Pelfrey; they believed that simple adjustments in grip and mechanics, which I’m guessing was tunneling, could’ve led to Pelfrey being a major contributor.

The Tigers have fully embraced the Dodgers’ and Rays’ philosophy of high spin sliders and hard fastballs, and Gray fits this mold so well. Fetter getting his hands on a pitcher like Gray, whose slider ranked amongst the league’s best with a near 39% whiff rate and a run value of -13, placing him above guys like Gerrit Cole and just below de Grom (this was found thanks in part to Rogelio Castillo), is a damn dream for the Tigers future. Gray still averaged 95.5 on his fastball, has an above average changeup, and a good cutter. Colorado sucks for pitchers so his numbers are really to be taken with a grain of salt. Fetter has shown an ability to develop changeups at the major league level for his pitchers too, with Lange a primary example of this. A jump in Gray’s cutter and changeup, under Fetter’s tutelage, wouldn’t be a shock either.

Moving Gray into a bigger ballpark that typically plays closer to league average than pitcher friendly, is going to help Gray immensely. It’s no secret that the Tigers need another pitcher, and quite frankly, I’d love to have three new pitchers join the rotation until Turnbull and Boyd return. The team is right on the edge of competing and Gray is one of those pieces that can turn into a key cog in the rotation for the future and recreate the four headed monster that the Tigers used to have.

I would also have zero qualms about trading for Luis Castillo and I would be checking in on that price and see if Joey Wentz and Jose De La Cruz + would be enough for him. This would also make trading Manning for a hitter with control, a la the Jazz Chisolm and Zac Gallen trade, a possibility.

Gray is such a perfect guy to throw 3 years 27 million at. Also, Carlos Rodon got non tendered too and I would be throwing 3 years, 50 million at him to see if that could entice him into signing. Rodon fits in that same mold as Gray, and every pitcher that the Tigers drafted in 2021. I have my doubts over whether or not Rodon would take that but his injury history scares me too much to go long term with him.

I Want Candy…To be a part of the future in Detroit

(For educational purposes a key is included at the end of each section for all sabermetrics and non-routine lingo referenced in this article. For further reading on what these stats are, what they mean and how they are calculated please visit

Jeimer Candelario is steadily improving. (photo by Alexandra Simon)

July 31, 2017 – The Chicago Cubs were on a win-now playoff push with the corner infield positions anchored by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Meanwhile, prospect Jeimer Candelario was in AAA for the Iowa Cubs, nearly ready to play every day in the big leagues. With his positions blocked on a team looking for immediate upgrades Candelario would have to get his opportunity with a new club. The Detroit Tigers acquired Candelario and Isaac Paredes from the Cubs in exchange for veterans Justin Wilson and Alex Avila.

Candelario’s first full season with the Tigers showed a lot of promise. At age 24, he slashed .224/.317/.393 with 19 HR, 54 RBI and a 93 wRC+ in 2018, the production of a hitter 7% below league average. Combined with his defensive value at third base his production netted 2.4 fWAR, the total of a solid MLB regular. It appeared the Tigers acquired an average-to-slightly-below-average power hitter with good defense to help the rebuilding efforts.

The 2019 season did not go as smoothly for Candelario, however. His strikeout and walk rates stayed about the same but the power had disappeared. In 94 games he slashed .203/.306./.337 with 8 HR for a wRC+ of 72, the production of a hitter 28% below league average. Only Candelario’s defense saved him from posting net-negative value with 0.2 fWAR, or in other words: a replacement-level player. Candelario went from a promising young prospect to a potential bust in just a calendar year.

Key: Slash line – batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage. wRC+ – weighted runs created plus. fWAR – FanGraphs formula for wins above replacement. Replacement-level – the statistical value of a fringe major-leaguer

The Paradox

SeasonK%BB%AVGxBASLGxSLGExit Velocity

On the surface these numbers are very similar. Many of the categories that would need improvement had improved from 2018 to 2019. Here is an extensive but not comprehensive list: K%, BB%, xBA, xSLG, EV, HardHit%, xwOBA, ZoneSwing%, LineDrive%, and a decreased GroundBall%. The results of 2019 do not make much sense on paper compared to 2018. Candelario became a better baseball player with worse production.

While it is likely true Candelario suffered from bad luck that impacted his production in 2019, Statcast is not a religion. As opponents learned more about Candelario they learned how to get him out more frequently. His skills were improving under the current approach, but this did not transition to results on the field. Something had to change.

Key: K% – strikeout percentage. BB% – walk percentage. xBA – expected batting average. SLG – slugging percentage. xSLG – expected slugging percentage. Exit Velocity (EV) – average speed of baseball in mph off the bat. xwOBA – expected weighted on-base average. ZoneSwing% – swing rate at pitches inside the strike zone.

The Framework and the Breakout

With his career on the line, Candelario erupted in 2020. Across 52 games in the pandemic-shortened season he slashed .297/.369/.503 with 7 HR, 29 RBI, 136 wRC+ and a 1.5 fWAR. To understand what led to this breakout, it first needs to be understood what makes him unique.

Jeimer Candelario’s plate discipline skills have been a highlight of his play since his prospect status. After becoming an everyday player in 2018, Candelario’s plate discipline transitioned well into the Major Leagues. This skill has been the framework to his success ever since. Each year he has placed himself well above the league average in pitches per plate appearance (Pit/PA) and posted solid walk rates. His 4.10 Pit/PA in 2021 ranks 30th of all qualified hitters in Major League Baseball.

Candelario vs league average among qualified hitters according to Baseball Reference

SeasonJeimer Candelario Pit/PAPlayer League Average Pit/PA*
*Player league average Pit/PA is calculated per 600 PA on bbref

As his plate discipline improved Candelario has seen fewer pitches without sacrificing walks. His 2021 walk percentage is currently the highest of his career at 11.2%. This can be explained by improved pitch recognition and contact skills. His strikeout percentage has decreased each season since 2018 and currently sits at 21.8%. This is the lowest mark he has posted since becoming an everyday player and sits below the league average of 23.5% in 2021. To further explain, here is a batted ball profile of Candelario from FanGraphs.


On the most basic level Candelario is swinging the bat more often each season. Unlike the previous three seasons in which his contact rate decreased in each subsequent season, Candelario is now making more contact than ever before. His in-zone contact percentage has increased each season, too. The most notable change in this graphic is Candelario’s in-zone swing percentage. Without sacrificing walks or increasing strikeouts he is significantly more aggressive attacking pitches in the strike zone.

For my non-baseball-savvy readers, here is the summary: More walks, more swings, more contact, more power, more aggression and less strikeouts. The foundation of a complete hitter.

Wait, foundation? What could be missing from the puzzle that has not yet been covered? The most important piece of all: launch angle.

Key: O – outside of strikezone. Z – inside of strike zone

The Final Form

For those who have followed baseball over the past decade, the launch angle revolution transformed the 2010s. In general, hitting the ball in the air more frequently resulted in better offensive production and more home runs. The thing about baseball is that there is no rule of thumb to hitting. Each player possesses a unique profile that contributes to their success or failure.

After his promising first full season the Tigers and Jeimer Candelario had reason to believe their approach combined with his skillset would produce power. They were wrong. The game adapted to this model. The more Candelario put the ball in the air with his swing path, the more outs he made. In 2020, this model was scrapped for a new one. By changing the trajectory of the baseballs Candelario hit, the Tigers changed the trajectory of his career.

Batted ball data from Statcast Baseball Savant

SeasonGroundBall%FlyBall%LineDrive%Average Launch Angle

After having success with 19 home runs in 2018 the Tigers and Candelario attempted to build on this by hitting more fly balls. His average launch angle and fly ball percentage increased from 2018 to 2019. While Candelario steadily improved his underlying skills, he was not meant to play under this model. His production plummeted and soon prognosticators were talking about Candelario like his days as a Tiger might be numbered.

Searching for answers amidst the launch angle revolution, Candelario and the Tigers went in the opposite direction, literally and figuratively. From 2020 to present day, Candelario’s new approach paid huge dividends. His game power manifested with a lower launch angle focused on hitting line drives. Attempting to hit fly balls for power was no longer at the forefront of his approach. With his skill improvements, this change in approach quickly lit up the stat sheets.

Across a larger sample in 2021 this approach has been tweaked. However, it is proving 2020 was no fluke. In 110 games Candelario is slashing .279/.363/.433 with a 120 wRC+ and 2.3 WAR. His 32 doubles are tied for second in all of baseball. The most value was found in Candelario’s play by harnessing his skills to create gap-to-gap power, especially in Comerica Park.

The Future

On a non-statistical note, it is becoming a lot of fun to watch Candelario play. His personality is a fan favorite, his confidence is soaring with consistent production on the field, and he is showing emotion more consistently and controlling it to get the most out of his game. It seems the best days of his career are ahead. It would be a mistake for the Tigers to let those happen anywhere other than Detroit.

Spencer Torkelson likely gets a crack at third base in 2022, Candelario’s primary position, but positional versatility is more important than ever in today’s league. Candelario already has experience at first base; he and Torkelson being able to play both corner infield positions will add more flexibility to the roster.

Candelario is set to hit free agency in 2024. With Miguel Cabrera approaching the end of his career, the Tigers will most likely need to fill a corner infield position in 2024, if not sooner than that. Spend money, Chris. #ExtendCandy.

Much Maligned Broadcaster Suspended, Tigers Fans Finally Free (For Now)

Bally Sports Detroit color commentator Jack Morris has been suspended following a major faux pas in last night’s Angels/Tigers broadcast. During the sixth inning of last night’s broadcast, Morris performed a piss-poor caricature of an Asian accent during Shohei Ohtani’s at bat, which soon prompted an apology… of sorts:

We’re not here to speculuate about what Morris’ intentions might have been or debate whether or not he was trying to imitate a cartoon character (who has no relevance to Ohtani). The fact he apologized later on in the game, on air, seems telling. The fact Bally Sports responded swiftly and decisively, also seems to speak volumes:

It’s simple: Morris messed up. It is unacceptable, especially for someone in his elevated position, to do this. Ohtani is having an MVP-caliber season and we’ve now had multiple instances of broadcasters and sportswriters lashing out with racist comments and culturally insensitive jokes rather than celebrating his considerable talents.

This is not an example of so-called “cancel culture” taking down a good man for no reason. This is an example of a man who committed an error in judgment and is now facing the consequences of his actions. Morris should take the time to reflect on why he chose to do what he did and why his behavior was inappropriate and potentially hurtful. If he’s given another chance with Bally Sports, one can only hope Morris uses this experience to grow as a person.

SchoopIN’ the Future

Schoop is sticking around. (Photo by Alexandra Simon)

Good news everyone, Chris Ilitch has made his first foray into extension-land, backing his words that the Tigers were going to spend money this offseason. Today the Tigers announced they’d re-signed fan favorite second baseman Jonathan Schoop to a two year deal worth 7.5 million a season with an opt out in 2022 (much to the chagrin of a VERY vocal minority that wanted him traded for a 40 FV prospect).

Schoop, 29, was likely days away from getting DFA’d in May after hitting a paltry .180/218/243 for a .461 OPS from opening day to May 8th. He has now found himself as the focal point of the Detroit offense. Schoop is a key cog in the rebuild machine as he’s brought his statline up to a cool .289/.333/.468 for an .801 OPS, with 18 homers and a nice 2.6 bWAR.

Since May 10th, Schoop has torn the absolute cover off the ball, hitting .328/.374/.549 for an incredible .923 OPS. This move allows the Tigers to let Paredes cook in Toledo for another season and let him develop instead of thrusting him into the lineup and counting on him to be an immediate producer for the ballclub.

Avila landed himself a Schoop. (photo by Alexandra Simon)

All in all, this is tidy work from Avila. Mutual interest from Schoop wanting to stay and Avila wanting him back likely kept the VAUNTED Scott Boras from capitalizing on Schoop’s blistering last three months of baseball and is hopefully a sign of things to come from Chris Ilitch’s wallet and into our hearts.

Jobe Well Done

Oh now I know writing this article is going to be very fun given how Tigers Twitter reacted to the drafting of Jackson Jobe, so why don’t we get right into it. This might’ve been the best start to a Tigers draft that we’ve seen in a very long time. In drafting Madden and Jobe, the Tigers have seemingly selected two frontline starters that can help the team compete for years to come.

Jackson Jobe, 3rd overall

The controversial pick, the pick that’ll have Tigers Twitter ranting and raving about for the foreseeable future just like a certain Tigers writer has done for last three years about Mize and Kelenic.

Prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer was available for the Tigers at three. Mayer would’ve filled an organizational role that the Tigers desperately needed, and they still passed on him to get the guy they felt most comfortable with. This is where the disconnect is, with scouts and experts raving about the Jobe selection while Twitter goes on about how much this pick sucks and how Jobe is an abject failure from a lame duck GM. The actual scouts that work in baseball for a living did nothing but rave about how talented Jobe is and how this pick was utterly fantastic, crediting the Tigers for sticking to their guns and listening to the scouting and analytics departments about Jobe.

Avila and co. got the guy they wanted (photo by Alexandra Simon)

To quote what a scout told me about Jobe: “I love Jackson Jobe. He’s the best prep arm I’ve ever scouted but taking prep arms that high is historically, objectively risky. That’s just the facts… but Jobe is the arm in this class who could be SPECIAL.”

This is pretty in line with the scouting report we got in this tweet from Brian Sakowski:

Jobe features a potential 70 fastball and a 3200 RPM slider that’s a potential 80 (the max on the 20/80 scale), and two above average pitches in his change and curve, 55 on that scale. The wide array of pitches make his arsenal an absolutely elite and eclectic mix, a mix that will keep hitters from being able to sit on certain pitches because the others in his arsenal lag far behind. With an underslot value for Jobe at that, it was the perfect fit for them and helped set up their next pick.

This isn’t a make or break pick and the Tigers have had great success with prep pitchers, more specifically in flipping them, and his profile is completely different than Beau Burrows’ was. Jobe is a window extender, possibly. They’ve really pushed their elite talents through the farm to the show fast in the past when they’ve felt it necessary, with Porcello and Turner both within two years of draft, but if they slow play it he could be to the Tigers what Dustin May and Walker Buehler are to the Dodgers: window extenders.

Ty Madden, supplemental A, Pick 32

And to the steal of the draft, Ty Madden. What an outrageous fall for Madden, for reasons that range from signability concerns to data driven concerns that MLB Network mentioned about his fastball, though no one is completely sure. The Tigers will take this and run laughing all the way home yelling “no take backs.” Ranked #9 by MLB pipeline, he’s got a prototypical pitcher’s frame at 6’3 and 220, and is an absolute unit on the mound with a high 90’s fastball and a good slider.

Brian Sakowski has another great succinct report:

Madden may need work on a change-up but it doesn’t seem like it’s that far behind and the Tigers have shown the ability to help pitchers develop a third pitch, especially changeup (remember Michael Fulmer?) so there are a lot of encouraging signs here and a lot to like about these top two picks. Some publications have concerns that Madden may be a reliever long-term with his limited arsenal but other reports that are floating out there are very encouraged by his changeup, even with his limited use of it.

The Tigers are able to replace two elite graduating pitchers in Mize and Skubal with two incredibly elite arms, and one of them has flat out, seemingly, Cy Young-caliber potential. It’s time for Chris Fetter to work his magic in the offseason with these guys, and the rest of the Tigers coaching staff in the minors to assist him and the players and turning them into the best possible versions of themselves.

I’ll Start Caring About the Tigers When Chris Ilitch Does

For those of you who have made the unfortunate decision to follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I don’t think Al Avila is all that bad a General Manager. He’s no Dave Dombrowski (which, to be fair, nobody is Dave Dombrowski, the greatest general manager of his generation), but the guy was tossed into a bad situation and has mostly done what he’s needed to do. The farm system has gone from terrible to very good, with most services having it ranked in the top five. The Tigers have bolstered their analytics department, have hired a new-school manager in AJ Hinch, have moved in on big names in the international market (Cristian Santana being the most recent), and have fully embraced pitching analytics with the hiring of Chris Fetter.

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Tigers Trade Targets: Could Andrew Benintendi Be a Fit?

With the news of Boston’s intent to trade Andrew Benintendi, this a player the Tigers should see as a prime trade target to bolster a team, and outfield, desperately in need of an injection of talent. The Tigers are rolling into 2020 with an outfield, but what the outfield actually is nobody knows.

JaCoby Jones, a personal favorite, always seems to be on the cusp of a realization of potential until a freak injury happens, while Victor Reyes tears the cover off the ball and had a good 2020 but whether he can piece it all together in a full season remains to be seen. Newcomer Robbie Grossman and holdovers Daz Cameron and Christin Stewart round out the outfield options and I’d expect a heavy rotation of all 3 of those last options.

Could the Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi be a good fit for the Tigers? (photo by Alexandra Simon)

This is where Benintendi can bring stability and talent to the roster. Andrew is a former top 10 pick, former top prospect in baseball, and a player that had a tumultuous 2020 during the pandemic that turned up to the season TOO in-shape, may be looking for a change of scenery according to Marlins reporter Craig Mish.

AJ Hinch has stated that the Tigers are looking for a players that hit righties well and Benintendi does just that. With a career OPS of 821 against righties and a wRC+ of 115, and a 10.5% walk rate against both handedness, he’s the perfect injection of offense that the Tigers need. Not an overly powerful guy, he does give you 15 to 20 homers a year with good gap power, a future table setter for Torkelson that can also drive runs in when needed. Athletic and agile with an average arm, he’s perfect to patrol one of the corners in Detroit.

Benintendi has 2 years left on his contract at an average of 5 million a year as a 26 year old, an easily affordable contract given that the Tigers are currently 30 million dollars behind in spending this year as opposed to where they were last year. What also makes this attractive is that as a player without a lot of team control and in a market where we just watched Lindor and Darvish be traded for peanuts, Benintendi should come relatively cheaply with Daz Cameron likely being the best piece going back to Boston. If Boston wants a pitcher in return, it’s just as easy to swap Cameron with Faedo and give Packard or Kody Clemens. The Tigers have a top system in the league with good depth to work from that would make a trade like this work well for both sides involved.

World Series Recap: Spend money, Chris.

Game 6: Rays 1, Dodgers 3. LA wins the World Series 4-2

After their conservative approach to game 2, the Dodgers rested their best arms and threw everything at the Rays for games 3-5. Outside of a catastrophic 9th inning meltdown in game 4, the Dodgers were able to secure an advantage in the series 3-2. They won games 3 and 5 after clutch pitching performances from Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. 

Going into game 6, the Dodgers faced an identical matchup to game 2: Tony Gonsolin vs. Blake Snell. Snell dominated in game 2, surrendering only a 2-run home run to Chris Taylor as the Rays went on to win 6-4. In game 6, Snell picked up right where he left off; he carved through the Dodgers’ lineup, striking out five of the first six batters.

The Rays’ Randy Arozarena broke the scoring open in the first inning, taking a slider to the opposite field for a single-postseason record 10th home run. The Dodgers’ game plan was to have Gonsolin function as a regular starter. That plan quickly fell apart as his pitch count elevated and he struggled to throw strikes. Gonsolin exited having thrown just 48 pitches in 1.2 innings. 

Everything changed in the 6th inning for the Dodgers. Battling with a one run deficit, the offense finally arrived. Austin Barnes led off the 6th inning with a single up the middle off Blake Snell. It was just the second hit given up by Snell at that point, on only 73 pitches. With one out and one on in the 6th, Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled Snell and went to the bullpen. 

The Rays turned to reliever Nick Anderson. After missing in location with the first few pitches, he gave up a double down the line to Mookie Betts. With Austin Barnes at third and Mookie at second, Anderson spiked a slider that got away from Mike Zunino and the game was tied. With Corey Seager batting next, he weakly grounded to first and similarly to game 1, Mookie made a phenomenal jump and beat out the throw to score a critical run.

The former MVP came up huge for the Dodgers. (photo by Alexandra Simon)

With this appearance, Anderson had given up a run in his 7th consecutive postseason appearance, breaking the previously held record by José Paniagua with the 2000-2001 Seattle Mariners. As Cash’s plan imploded, so did the Rays’ season. This begs the question, did Kevin Cash cost the Rays a championship? The obvious answer seems to be yes. My answer? No, but he is not free from blame. More on that later.

Mookie again proved why he is worth every penny of his 12-year $365 million extension. He homered in the 8th, extending the Dodgers’ lead to 3-1 and sealing victory for a long-awaited championship in Los Angeles.

In a similar fashion to game 7 of the NLCS, Julio Urías entered the game and pitched 2.1 perfect innings to close out the World Series. The Dodgers bullpen went on to do everything asked of them and Dave Roberts played his matchups perfectly. They threw 7.1 scoreless innings, striking out 12 batters and giving up just 2 singles. The Dodgers won the 2020 World Series and ended a 32-year title drought.

Kevin Cash’s management was less than perfect, but analytics are not to blame.

It seems easy to bash the decision to remove Blake Snell. It prompted an onslaught of anti-analytics rhetoric and how it “ruins the game.” Here’s the breakdown by the numbers.

Removing Blake Snell was the correct analytical decision. Snell last completed 6 innings of work in July of 2019. After hitting the upper 90s with his fastball for most of the night, the last fastball Snell threw was his slowest of the night, registering at 94.3 mph. This season, including the postseason, here are Blake Snell’s splits each time through the batting order entering game 6.

Snell 2020 SplitsBatters FacedOpponent AVGOpponent OPSStrikeout %
1st time144.137.48433.3
2nd time125.295.92528.0
3rd time34.303.96023.5

It is no question Snell’s effectiveness decreases the longer he stays in the game, and with more appearances the opponents’ power jumps off the charts. With former MVP Mookie Betts stepping to the plate for a third time and a lefty/righty matchup, it was the correct decision to end the night for Snell and move to the bullpen. Kevin Cash’s choice of Nick Anderson is where he made a fatal mistake.

Nick Anderson had been dominant in the 2020 regular season posting a 0.55 ERA, a strikeout rate of 44.8% and posting an even 1.0 WAR. The postseason was a different story, however. Entering game 6, he had given up a run in 7 of his 9 postseason appearances, with 6 of those runs allowed coming in consecutive appearances. He posted an ERA of 5.11, had given up 15 hits, 4 walks, 3 home runs and collected just 9 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. To put it simply, he was bad.

Peter Fairbanks or Diego Castillo were better options to face Betts. Cash’s trust in an underperforming Anderson in the biggest moment blew up in his face, and the Rays lost the World Series. This was not an analytical decision. This was a mistake.

This may raise the question, “You argued in favor of Brandon Lowe last article about sticking with the best players in the biggest spots. Doesn’t this contradict the argument?”

It is a little complicated, but the argument is different for two reasons. First, the Rays do not have many offensive weapons, as the previous article stated. They ranked in the lower half of the league in most offensive categories. Demoting Lowe in the batting order or replacing him entirely likely would not yield different results. Sticking with Lowe in the two hole gave the Rays critical home runs that provided them victories in game 2 and 4. He had proven himself to stay in his role, delivering in the clutch to keep the Rays’ season alive. The second reason is the Rays are known for their arsenal of relief arms. They can plug many different talented relievers in different situations to find success. The difference here is Anderson’s performances had presented no recent signs of success, and his failure cost them the World Series. The Rays had more reliable options to turn to that they failed to use.

So, analytics are not to blame, Kevin Cash royally screwed up and the Rays lost. The blame goes to Kevin Cash, right? Well, again, it’s not so simple.

The Rays have managed baseball games in this style for years, and it rewarded them with an AL pennant, coming up just 2 victories short of a championship. The way the Rays play baseball was a massive success. There was no reason for them to abandon their philosophy with their season on the line. The failure lies within their choice of replacement, not the removal of Snell itself. Cash can be blamed for his mistake, but the holes in the Rays roster that were repeatedly exposed by the Dodgers were out of his control.

Andrew Friedman is a genius and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg cost them the World Series.

Friedman, President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers, previously made a name for himself with the Tampa Bay Rays. As Friedman and Sternberg shared a love for the analytics, they began to mold the former expansion franchise into what it is today. Friedman started his career in their front office in 2004 and became the club’s General Manager in 2005. In 2008, the Rays reached their first World Series. The Rays continued to field successful teams despite coming up against their big money counterparts within the AL East.

In 2014, Friedman left the Rays for the Dodgers, bringing along his analytical model and marrying it with the Dodgers’ big spending ways. Since 2014, the Dodgers have been the most successful team in baseball and show no signs of slowing down soon. 

The problem with Sternberg’s analytical model is his refusal to invest money into the product on the field. Smart spending correlates with winning. Check out this article from GHF in 2019: 

The Tampa Bay Rays were third to last in baseball with a 2020 payroll of $28.3 million. The biggest trick of the league is owners making us believe there are “small markets” and “big markets.” The reality is there are just big markets and bigger markets. The Dodgers had a payroll of $107.9mil, second behind only the Yankees. When one takes into consideration the value of these franchises, the Rays are still not proportionately spending as much on their roster as the Dodgers. They might not be able to afford players like Mookie Betts or Clayton Kershaw however, they can easily afford some free agent upgrades to improve their roster. The highest paid player on the Rays was Charlie Morton at $15 million before pro-rated for the shortened 2020 season. He is one on a very short list of free agents for Tampa Bay.

The Rays offense sputtered in the World Series. Their inability to score runs ultimately led to their demise. The Rays were forced to rely on inadequate offensive options in the face of one of the greatest teams ever constructed. It is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the players and coaching staff that they only fell 2 games short of a title.

The blame for the Rays failure resides with Stuart Sternberg, who refused to invest into his product. With a few offensive upgrades, the current Rays roster likely turns the tide against LA and probably doesn’t end up in the situation of preserving a 1-0 lead to save their season. No manager is perfect. Cash’s mistake was his own doing. Without a lineup to provide any cushion, though, Sternberg created the situation for his manager to fail.

Where do the Tigers end up in all this?

This World Series is a lesson to all that a lack of investment is not enough to win. Against their toughest challenge, the Rays’ formula crumbled. It was not solely because of analytics; it was not solely because of Kevin Cash. It is because they refuse to spend money at the rate of their competition.

What’s next for Al Avila and the Tigers? (photo by Alexandra Simon)

The Dodgers are truly MLB’s model franchise. Their commitment to analytics and a payroll of All-Stars won them a championship. Tigers owner Chris Ilitch is a multi-billionaire. With the Tigers’ commitment to analytics, they are taking the right steps toward success. Since they started their rebuild in earnest in 2017, they have consistently avoided spending money and produced subpar results. This rewarded them with top prospects Casey Mize, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson through the draft. 

Unfortunately, these players won’t be enough to bring a championship to Detroit. As the Tigers emerge from the rebuild, it is time to spend and spend big. Through the Ilitch family, the Tigers have the power to establish themselves as leaders of the new school, marrying the analytical approach with a large payroll. Will they seize the opportunity? Or will greed hinder their opportunities in their franchise’s most important moments? Only time will tell.

World Series Recap: What the Tigers Can Learn as Baseball’s New Era Shines on the Brightest Stage

by Travis Leonardi

It was no surprise to once again see the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. With an extensive number of homegrown All-Stars, a commitment to analytics and a top ranked farm system, they have dominated the regular season for nearly a decade. Although the Dodgers have failed to secure a title, their eighth consecutive division title and third NL pennant in four years somehow feels like just the beginning for Dodgers fans.

Although they held the best record in the American League at 40-20, the Tampa Bay Rays are a different story. Branded as a “small market” team in the AL East, constantly contending with the powerhouse franchises of the Yankees and Red Sox is a difficult feat. However, in the past 3 seasons the Rays’ commitment to analytics and player development is consistently paying off. Their surplus of prospects from their top ranked farm system and bullpen of flamethrowers won them 90 games in 2018, 96 games in 2019 and a .667 win percentage in the shortened 2020 season, second in baseball to the Dodgers.

Though the Tigers became known as an “old-school” franchise that did not rely heavily on advanced analytics, the Tigers have made great strides in modernizing the organization since Al Avila took over GM duties. The franchise has installed Statcast at all their developmental facilities, created their own analytical database CAESAR, and plucked hires from the Driveline talent pool, to name a few. They now find themselves behind only the Rays as the second ranked farm system. Through consecutive top picks and an improved drafting strategy, the Tigers have quickly risen as one of the league’s most exciting groups of young talent. All signs point to following the model of the new-school franchises. As the Tigers emerge from the rebuild over the next few seasons, will this new model resemble the Dodgers, the Rays, or somewhere in-between? Can the Tigers find sustained success?

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