On Tuesday, USA Today released their annual win predictions for the 2020 Major League Baseball season, and somewhat predictably, the Tigers were projected to be the worst team in baseball with a 54-108 record. After losing 114 games in 2019, largely thanks to one of the worst offenses in the history of baseball, the idea that Detroit will be awful is a pretty safe take.
A bright spot (Photo by Alexandra Simon)
However, historically bad teams are hard to actually build. Last year was largely the result of a perfect storm of horrible: regression by Miguel Cabrera, Josh Harrison, and Jeimer Candelario; injury issues on the part of Jordy Mercer, JaCoby Jones, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, and Michael Fulmer; and historically bad performances by rookies like Grayson Greiner and Christin Stewart.
Two good things happened to the Tigers at the major league level last year, and their names were Matthew Boyd and Niko Goodrum.
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At some point, someone here at Glass Half Fulmer will pen an elegy for the 2019 season. I’m pretty sure readers can predict the major beats of that story: the farm got better, the major league club was abysmal, the future will probably be better. You’re going to read that piece in varying degrees a lot this offseason.
I’m not here to write that piece. I’m here to focus on something that Tigers fans seem to know but also tend to overlook in favor of focusing on the farm system and player development.
It’s time for Chris Ililch to spend money. Continue reading
One of the side effects of spending way too much time on Twitter is that you find some interesting questions about baseball to write about. Today’s comes from Jerry Mackinnem, who asked a good question about valuing trade chips at the deadline. Normally for big trades, good analysis would use future projections of WAR/$ (essentially, valuing players at the going rate of $9 million per WAR they expect to put up) and compare that to prospect valuations to try to work out fair trade value. The wrinkle that Jerry adds is an interesting one: how do you value a low WAR player at the trade deadline? Obviously someone like Shane Greene isn’t going to post gigantic WAR totals, but he’s a coveted trade chip. Can we do the math to figure out what he’s actually worth?
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Major League Baseball is about three weeks out from the trade deadline, and the Detroit Tigers, with one of the worst records in the league, have some assets to deal.
Will he stay or will he go? (Photo by Alexandra Simon)
Shane Greene, the All-Star closer, will almost assuredly be traded, while a team desperate enough for offense (like, say, the Cleveland Indians) might be willing to pay for Nicholas Castellanos.
But the real prize on the Tigers’ roster is Matthew Boyd, who has broken out to the tune of a 3.56 FIP/3.34 xFIP season. Boyd has been worth 2.8 fWAR in the first half, making him the fifteenth most valuable pitcher in baseball. However, given that Boyd is under team control through 2022, the price tag is sky-high. Complicating things is that the Tigers want an elite bat in any trade package, limiting the number of teams that have the ability to acquire the new Tigers ace.
Thanks to Chris Brown (via Twitter) we know that Boyd is worth roughly $65 million in surplus value. That’s enough to return one elite prospect, in the top 10 range, or a package including a top 25 prospect and a top 100 prospect, with maybe a throw-in or two. Given that the Tigers want an elite bat, though, not ever team is going to be able to pay the specific asking price they’re interested in. Let’s try to piece together what those trades might look like from every contending club. For this exercise, I’ll be using Fangraphs’ THE BOARD!, recently updated post-draft. I’ll toss in some scouting reports here and there, but this one’s gonna be long, so they’ll mostly be for key pieces.
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Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers signed Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos for a reported $3 million bonus, the largest international bonus in club history. The $3 million bonus comes off of last year’s signings of outfielder Jose de la Cruz and shortstop Adisino Reyes, the #15 and #19 ranked prospects on MLB.com’s Top 30 International Prospects list for 2018-2019. Those signings were complemented by the $1 million bonus given to shortstop Alvaro Gonzalez in the 2017-2018 International Free Agent class.
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With the first ten rounds of the 2019 MLB Entry Draft in the books, the Tigers have bucked their trend of pursuing hard throwing SEC pitchers in favor of bats. Given that this class, shallower than most, was deep in good college bats, that was probably a wise decision. Combined with the Tigers’ weak pool of position player prospects, the emphasis on offense and power made total sense. But what about the individual players themselves? How did the Tigers do overall? Let’s take a look at each of the ten picks Detroit made in the draft this year, and look at their overall strengths and weaknesses.
With the 47th overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, the Detroit Tigers selected third baseman Nick Quintana, a right-handed hitter out of Arizona State. Quintana is an elite college bat with plus power and plus defense at third base. He does have some issues with making contact, but he’s a high-upside player who has a real chance to start.
Of note, Quintana helps fill a major gap in the system, which is currently weak on corner infield bats and power.
Breaking a trend of selecting hard-throwing pitchers, the Tigers have selected prep outfielder Riley Greene at #5 overall in the MLB draft.
Greene, a left-handed hitter, is the impact bat Tigers fans have been craving. At 18 years old, he’ll take a little more time to develop than one of the college bats might have. Currently, he has elite contact skills and possesses an advanced approach at the plate, with plate discipline beyond his years. Greene projects to hit for power to all fields, though he still has to grow a bit more into his frame, as he’s more a line drive hitter right now.
Greene’s biggest weakness is on defense, where his athleticism and weak arm project him to either left field or first base. Granted, if he hits his ceiling with regard to power and patience, his defensive home won’t matter so much, but don’t expect Greene to be a wizard in the field.
As a high-school hitter, Greene will take some time to reach Detroit, but if all breaks right, expect an elite power threat who can hit in the center of the lineup for years to come.
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Scouting Report at Bless You Boys
The Tigers’ offense has been abysmal this year. Detroit ranks 29th in fWAR and wRC+, and 28th in wOBA, all metrics used to roughly evaluate raw offensive output. Offensive black holes like Josh Harrison and Grayson Greiner litter the diamond, and with Miguel Cabrera showing his age and Nicholas Castellanos not flashing any power, the position players look anemic at the plate. But there has been one bright spot in Niko Goodrum.
Goodrum, of course, doesn’t look like he’s done particularly well, hitting .213/.311/.341 in 190 plate appearances. He’s defensively useful, since he can play both outfield corners as well as either first or second base, but a cursory look at his 0.1 fWAR makes Goodrum look like yet another scrub in a bad lineup.
So why is the young utility player a bright spot? A deeper examination of Goodrum’s hitting stats shows that he’s been very unlucky, and that he’s not only due for a rebound, but hitting the ball better than last year. Let’s dive into some numbers and see why.
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