who goes there......?
Is that a reader...?
Come closer into the light, see I've been blogging for nearly six years, which equates to about 300 years in real life and due to spending an ungodly amount of time over the years staring at the computer screen my eyes aren't what they used to be. It's nice of you to stop by because, you see, I don't get as many visitors as I used to. When you get to be my age in blogging years it gets to be awfully lonely, most of the friends who were the reason why I started this silly little hobby have passed me by, evaporating into the ether of Tigers lore. Why it seems only yesterday that I was singing the praises of a young fireballer named Wil Ledezma or jumping up and down on my futon cheering a homerun robbing catch made by wiry, speedster Nuke Logan. I can't believe years have passed since Jason Grilli would drive me into a alcohol fueled rage by coming into a game, allowing every inherited runner to score with ease, walking the bases loaded and then leaving the mound to a chorus of boos covered in his disgusting flop sweat, while I frantically searched my apartment for anything to help me drink away the trauma of another Cheese-man experience. This would also help explain the chemical dependency I have for store brand cough syrup mixed with Olde English and the delusions where I see Grilli's head on my cats body, but I digress. Now in my advanced blogging age I have noticed it takes me longer to recover from tough losses and distressing transactions. I remember my early days as a strapping young blogger, back when I was a just sickly underweight, ghostly pale and could survive on a diet of Sour Patch Kids, chocolate milk and burritos that I could buy and microwave at a gas station. Back in those days a Todd Jones blown save would just lead to a string of curse words and a few holes punched in the wall. As the heartbreaking losses mounted over the past few seasons my erratic behavior escalated. Soon I was drinking vodka from a Dora the Explorer sand pail and training a pack of wolves that I would unleash to terrorize my neighborhood after I was angered by Brandon Inge flailing at a face high fastball for strike three with runners on base. However after the double whammy of the Tigers painful loss in their one-game playoff against the Twins and the trade of fan favorite Curtis Granderson I finally became unhinged. I wandered out of my Flint apartment in a haze, wearing only a silk bathrobe and leaving behind a whole harem of beautiful women who had been gifted to me out of thanks by the locals for agreeing not to release my wolf pack anymore. For days I ambled along the streets disoriented, covered in feces, talking to myself and threatening strangers. Since this was Flint, I was able to blend in with the rest of the homeless and mentally ill for weeks before I finally collapsed in defeat outside of Halo Burger. The once proud, feared, underweight, ghostly blogger Beefshower was now just a sad, broken down, emaciated and translucently pale shell of a man.
It took months to recover my physical and mental health after the loss to the Twins and the trade of Granderson to the hated New York Highlanders. Intense therapy that allowed me to finally see the name Carlos Gomez or Alexei Casilla and not want to vomit in rage or to think about Zach Miner without turning into a homicidal maniac, not unlike Officer Matthew Cordell in the Maniac Cop series of movies. I know I'm not all the way recovered from those terrible events of last fall, but I do feel as though I'm 95 % of the way back and my memory is still as sharp as ever. Why I still remember where I was when I heard that Magglio Ordonez had just edged out Nap Lajoie for the first Tigers batting title since Ty Cobb was the oldest batting title winner in major league history as a sixty-nine year old in 1955. I listened live on the radio as famous Detroiter Louis Whitaker fought and defeated the ghost of Primo Carnera and helped boost U.S. morale in the fight against the spread of fascism. I even served as Luis Pujols' second in his famous duel in the Caucasus where he killed Phil Garner while protecting the honor of Wendell Magee. Yes, so many memories and so many great moments following a team with such a rich and storied history, and to be honest that is what baseball is all about and what drew me to becoming a fan at such a young age. The chance to watch the unknown, to potentially watch history be made, to see something that I've never seen before, or to see a player that I will tell my grandkids about someday, that is if hours sitting in front of a computer screen hasn't left my testicles withered and sterile. That is what has me so excited for the beginning of the season tomorrow afternoon in Kansas City. Kansas City was where that magical 2006 season began, when untested rookies Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya helped propel a team of new faces to the Tigers first World Series appearance in 22 years. Who knows, maybe tomorrow we could see a new set of untested Tigers in Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore along with veteran free agent signings like Johnny Damon help propel the Tigers to a division title and October baseball.
Enough with the intro though, here is part one of my Tigers season preview.
Justin Verlander: Verlander has had an excellent beginning to his still young career. A.L. Rookie of the Year and a World Series appearance in 2006, a no-hitter and increase in his strikeout rate in 2007, followed by a wildly inconsistent 2008, that looked like it could have been a major step backwards for the young ace. But for all the promise Verlander showed during his first three full seasons, he was still frustrating because it seemed like he hadn't filled his considerable promise yet. I was worried that he might be one of those players who coasted by on his tremendous natural skills such as his effortless velocity and the sharp break of his curveball. Not that I would ever begrudge somebody for coasting because given the opportunity to be very good with almost no effort or transcendently great with a lot of hard work and effort, I would choose very good a thousand out of a hundred times. But that's just because I am apathetic and lazy, in fact if I had to pick the one thing that I probably am fantastic at it would be by apathetic laziness of "lazithetic" as I like to call it because I'm too lazy to say both words. Last season though the Tigers finally got to see Verlander put everything together and put in a truly dominant Cy Young caliber season. After a rough start Verlander pitched lights out baseball for nearly the remainder of the season, putting up quality start after quality start and once again overpowering hitter with a fastball that routinely touched the high 90's again after a year where his velocity dipped noticeably. By the time everything was said and done, Verlander had paced the A.L. in strikeouts and posted his best statistical season yet, and if you believe the stats Verlander may have been a little unlucky and could still see room for improvement if his BABIP comes into line. He parlayed this success into a much deserved 5 year deal worth $80 million and if he pitched like he did last season over the life of the contract he has a very good chance of going down in history as the greatest Tigers pitcher ever. Now for the bad, Verlander pitched the most innings of his career last season by a wide margin and also threw more pitched than anybody in baseball, even more than traditional workhorses like C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Oliver the pitching Tennessee Walking Horse that was found on the Carnival Circuit and pitched 43 straight complete games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Also, even though Verlander earned the money of his new contract, the Tigers recent history of doling out big money contracts for pitchers is discouraging. Now, granted, Verlander has much more talent and a better track record than Bonderman, Robertson or Willis but having lived through that trio's history of injuries and ineffectiveness I can't help be wary of big money contracts given out to pitchers wearing the Olde English D.
Rick Porcello: With Porcello last season I was expecting the worst. I thought he was being rushed, I thought the Tigers were sliding down a slippery slope that they had fell down once before with Bonderman and I was certain that Porcello would struggle mightily. After a shaky first month to his career, (with the exception to his superb second start against the Mariners) I was concerned the Tigers might be doing irreparable damage to their young prospect who didn't have a start above High-A. It wasn't so much a concern over his ability, which he obviously had plenty of, or even his health as the Tigers were doing everything possible to protect his arm and limit his innings. Instead I was more worried about damage that might be done to him psychologically. Not to read too much into a players psychological makeup because everyone is different, but I think back to when I was 20 and my lack of maturity in handling adversity at such a young age. Back then if I asked a girl out and she said no, I usually started hyperventilating, crawling about the floor gasping for air as tears filled my eyes. I had essentially the same reaction if I did poorly on a test or ran out of Count Chocula, so I couldn't imagine struggling on such a big stage, with so many of your peers relying on you. Obviously there are more differences between 20 year old Porcello and 20 year old Beefshower than 40 miles per hour on a fastball. Porcello settled down in May and easily established himself as the Tigers third best starter. The one bugaboo with Porcello was his alarmingly low K rate, striking out only 4.7 batters per nine innings, which is about as low as a pitcher can be without being knocked out of the league. All the signs were there that Porcello had the capability to be a high strikeout pitcher, the mid 90's fastball and assortment of filthy off-speed pitches but he wasn't putting hitters away and was relying predominantly on his low 90's sinker to induce groundouts. However in the 163rd game against the Twins Porcello finally cut loose and showed the kind of dominating pitcher he could be, striking out eight Twins in 5 2/3 innings and keeping the Tigers in a close game. Of course we all know how that ended, Leyland brought in Zach Miner who promptly shit all over himself. But focusing just on Porcello in that one game playoff, it was amazing to see such a poised, young pitcher giving it his all with the season on the line and putting his team in the best possible position to win. It exceeded all of my wildest expectations and I'm excited to watch Porcello over the next several seasons fulfill his potential as one of the best young players in the game. What do I expect for the upcoming season? Well, for one I think we will see more of the eight strikeout version of Porcello as the Tigers turn him loose a little bit. Sure they will still protect the hell out of his arm, as they should, and they aren't going to rely on him for some kind of Old Hoss Radbourn workload but I think the kid gloves will come off and he'll be allowed to tap a little deeper into his arsenal. I'm of the opinion that there is really nothing a team can do to protect a young arm, for example the Tigers did everything right with Bonderman and he still broke down, it just seems like some pitchers are pre-disposed to injury, whether it be because of reliance on a high stress pitch or some violent mechanics but from everything I've read Porcello doesn't have either of those issues. Whatever happens I just want Porcello to stay healthy and productive as baseball has seen to many promising your pitching careers ruined by injury. Jesus this paragraph turned into a rambling mess, I shouldn't have drank that bottle of Listerine, I think my cat could write more coherently than this by just walking across the keyboard.
Max Scherzer: Scherzer famously has two different colored eyes a medical condition technically known as "What the hell is wrong with your eyes". I have a friend Josh who has this same condition and my friends and I still aren't entirely convinced that Josh is not some sort of werewolf. We've shot him with silver bullets, covered our houses with mountain ash and even stabbed him with a knife covered in wolfsbane and he's always reacted like a human would but there have been signs of an underlying werewolf, namely stemming from events during late night games of Risk that involved rage, lashing out at the game board, growling and possible transformations. I'm sure the Tigers put Scherzer through a battery of tests to see if he suffered from lycanthropy before they traded for him but we won't really know the story until we see if there is a sudden rise in attacks throughout the city. Seriously though, I love the Granderson/Jackson trade from the standpoint that flipping a possible fluke season by EJack into a 25 year old strikeout artist under team control for several more seasons was a stroke of genius on Dombrowski's part. I've always been a big Scherzer fan and think that adding him to a rotation already featuring Verlander and Porcello gives the Tigers a devastating short rotation that would make them a difficult out in the playoffs, if they are fortunate enough to get there.
Jeremy Bonderman: I'm going to use Bonderman's spot to talk a little about the Nate Robertson deal that went down last week. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of this deal. Neither Bonderman, Robertson, nor Willis are great options for a long relief mop-up duty spot on the roster let alone the final two spots in the rotation. I have zero faith in Willis and I think his whole spring has been a mirage. Best case scenario for him would be a five inning pitcher w/ a 5.00 ERA who has the occasional wild outing and worst case scenario is he reverts back to the mechanical disaster who walks every other batter and is a complete mental train wreck to boot. Bonderman is supposedly healthy but his spring has been less than encouraging and he was a guy who relied completely on his slider for any kind of success and that pitch is supposedly a shadow of what it used to be. He might have the same velocity but the bite on the pitch is lacking from all the reports I've read. Robertson has some utility and he did pitch relatively decent down the stretch last season after he came back from injury. He also is the only guy who probably had any trade value so I see how he was easily the choice to go if he didn't win a roster spot. I could see taking a token prospect like Voss if the Tigers got a little salary relief from it but they didn't, they are still on the hook for everything they would have paid if they just released him outright, and if you are going to release someone outright just get rid of D-Train and keep Galarraga (I can never spell his name right) or Bonine as the 5/swingman. Also I don't see the need for another lefty in the pen, which is surely what Voss' role would be if he made it to the big leagues, the Tigers already have decent younger guys for that role in Ni, Coke and Thomas. Maybe Voss' ceiling is Clay Rapada's role, which isn't that exciting.
If I were in charge I would have either cut Willis outright anticipating him blowing up eventually and being useless and giving him a chance to change scenery and get his career back together and thrown Bonderman and Robertson in the 4/5 role and kept Bonine/Galarraga in reserve. Or I would've given Robertson the 4 spot Willis the five, moved Bonderman to the bullpen and see if his two pitch repertoire and short outings might make him an effective middle innings reliever and have Bonarraga ready to step in.
Dontrelle Willis: I feel like I pretty much covered my feelings on Willis in the previous section under Bonderman, but like any well prepared and thorough person I always come up with a plan B. If Willis turns out to be an unmitigated disaster for a third straight season I think it would behoove the Tigers to have a clubhouse attendant "discover" a bloody leather apron in Willis' locker, making Willis a prime suspect in the 122 year old unsolved Jack the Ripper murders in London's Whitechapel district. Now obviously Dontrelle couldn't be the murderer unless we get into some kind of weird 4th dimension theory about time and space, but given the physical evidence, the anxiety disorder and the history of pain he has inflicted on Tiger fans who have had to watch him pitch over the past two seasons, I think this is a risk worth taking. The English tabloids would have a field day and the constant inquests and trials would keep D-Train tied up for the majority of the season. As a token of gratitude I will offer to serve as his barrister for a minimum fee, although with my lawyering skills I would probably end up just getting him put into stocks at Trafalgar Square or something, so he probably wouldn't want that. In all honesty though, I am rooting for Dontrelle and I hope that even if he doesn't get his career back going he can at least be happy with his personal life.
Phil Coke: There was some debate between Dombrowski and Leyland at the beginning of spring over what Coke's role on the team was going to be. Dombrowski wanted him to be tried out as a starter while Leyland was adamant that he remain in the bullpen. In the end the Marlboro Man won out and now Coke joins a whole gaggle of lefties in the bullpen, alongside Fu-Te Ni, Brad Thomas and the now injured Bobby Seay. This seems like lefty overkill for the pen, especially considering the rotation doesn't necessarily have the greatest options at the 4-5 spot, so personally I would have liked to see what Coke had to offer as a starter and maybe even give him a little time in Toledo to see if this is where his potential might lie down the road. Even if he turned out to be only a league average four starter, I believe that would be considerably more valuable than his current role as an above average lefty specialist in a pen that already has three of those including two that are appreciably better in Ni and Seay.
Fu-Te Ni: Ni was a nice surprise last season, as like most people I am are not a hardcore fan of the Taiwan Professional League. I had never heard of him prior to last year and had missed his work in during the World Baseball Classic. Ni quickly turned into one of my favorite pitchers to watch last season as I've always had an affinity for junk balling situational lefties. Ni hardly throws anything above the high 80's and he never throws anything straight. He was absolute murder on lefthanders last season and by the end of the year had earned the confidence of Leyland to pitch in big spots. He played a crucial role in the 163rd game last season against the Twins, effectively shutting down the Twins dangerous left handed heavy middle of the order. Having Ni makes it much easier for the Tigers to stomach the loss of Bobby Seay due to injury and he is a credit to the Tigers eye for pitching talent.
Ryan Perry: Count me among the many who are really excited for Ryan Perry's future as a Tiger. Although he struggled mightily with his control at times last year and was sent down to the minors on more than one occasion to corral his wildness and develop some semblance of a second pitch, Perry's overall numbers at the end of the year were impressive for a young player. The Tigers drafted Perry in the first round two seasons ago because they thought he was major league ready and would move quickly through the minors, however I don't think the Tigers expected him to move this quickly. His fastball is still a little straight and the lack of a consistent second pitch is troubling, but when a pitcher cooks with as much gas as Perry does, high 90's with the occasional triple digit offering, they can afford to have a shall shallow repertoire. My best case scenario for Perry would be for him to slide into the set-up role sometime during this season, find some success in high leverage situations and have him groomed and ready to slide into the closer's role when Valverde's deal expires after the 2011 season.
Jose Valverde: Initially I was pissed at the Valverde signing, since it came right on the heels of the Granderson trade. In an effort to make my monkey brain understand the Granderson trade I came up with the conclusion that the only way to justify it was that it must have been first and foremost a business decision, strictly a cost cutting move because the team was in dire financial straits and all those rumors of the team hemorrhaging money due to the economic collapse were not only true, but possibly even worse than imagined. Then the Tigers went out and spent $14 million on a closer who would make more money over the next two seasons than Granderson would and I was infuriated. It seemed like such an unnecessary signing, especially considering the Tigers had options in-house such as the aforementioned Perry, or maybe they could do some wishcasting and hope and pray that Zumaya would be healthy and effective enough to finally take over the mantle of closer he seemed destined to inherit 3 years ago. In all honesty Perry is probably a couple years away from being crowned closer and expecting Zumaya to ever be healthy enough or dependable enough to be closer probably died with his first serious arm injury, so after I calmed down and realized that the Granderson deal wasn't the worst thing to happen to me since my parents gave away my first dog while I was away at school, I sort of like the Valverde signing. Also after having to sit through years of watching Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney desperately struggle to close games with their differing high wire acts, the money saved on health care and Rolaids and Tums alone would more than make up for the value of Valverde's contract.
Joel Zumaya: I'm putting the over/under on how many innings Zumaya throws this season at 40 and taking the under. I'm also putting a line out there that the over/under on how may years it will be before Zumaya throws a pitch so violently that his arm detaches from his body and makes it to home plate at 2 years and I'm once again taking the under. It truly is amazing that with how many traumatic arm injuries Zumaya has had that he can even throw a baseball much less a fastball that still regularly hits triple digits. However with each injury Zumaya has suffered it seems like he loses a little bit of effectiveness, which is completely understandable. Even though he may look like the same pitcher from his magical 2006 season, when he was living the high life of local sports sensation, folk hero, future closer and Comcast High Speed Internet commercial stardom, a quick look at his statistics for the past three seasons show that the Zumaya of 2006 is long gone and he ain't coming back. I think the only thing to hope for is a full healthy season of Zumaya serving in a late inning role, with an ERA around 4.00 and hopefully some flashes of the dominant fireballer we all fell in love with four seasons ago, but I fear even that is probably asking for way to much.