Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Sixth Annual Authoritative Detroit Tigers Season Preview Vol. 2

I've lived in Flint, Michigan for a little over a year now and it has been interesting to say the least. I know Flint has a bad rap as it annually tops lists for most dangerous city, most depressing city, most violent city and city most likely to be overtaken by rats and turned into a highly intelligent rat society Secret of Nimh style. I mean there was even a list that came out this past winter of the worst places to live and they didn't even bother listing Flint because they said nobody would ever willingly move there. However, my experiences living in downtown Flint has led me to believe the city has gotten a bad rap over the years. Sure the violent crime rate is through the roof, unemployment levels are around 25%, it has more foreclosures than any place in the country, an arsonist is currently running amok, bankruptcy looming and weekly human sacrifices to appease the bum god Hobonicus but the city is not without its' charms.

For example there is this kickass takeout Chinese restaurant located in the heart of the most dangerous part of the city. There would never be any reason to travel to this part of the city unless you were looking to tweak on meth, get stabbed and have your shoes stolen or buy a giant Tweety Bird rug from the back of some serial killers van. However this Chinese food is so amazingly good that it's worth the risk it takes to go get it, even if a person has to armor up like they are going off to fight Predator just to pick up some Cashew Chicken. The people that work at the takeout place are amazing too. The place is run by an old Chinese lady who hardly speaks any English and a teenage girl that wears a different terrifyingly graphic "Cannibal Corpse" t-shirt and helps translate for the lady as well as prepare the food. Where else on Earth would you find a business like this? Some sixty year old Chinese lady screaming at costumers in Mandarin while some pimply faced teenage girl in an oversize black t-shirt that says "Hammer Smashed Face" on it scoops out chicken fried rice as costumers keep glancing nervously back at their car to make sure someone isn't murdering someone in it.

Why am I writing about this? Because I ate it this evening and it was so transcendently delicious that as I was eating it I could see through time and space. Yes, as I was eating it I suddenly got the sensation of floating through the fourth dimension, passing by grandfather clocks with the hands spinning out of control, math equations sailed past me, neon colors flashed and I think I saw Kirk Gibson making out with a bear, but that might have just been another fantasy dream I had. I was fascinated to see where I might end up when my journey through time ended. Sometime during the French Revolution? Maybe a thousand years from now in a utopian world where everyone had hovercrafts? No, instead I ended up in September of this year looking at Tigers statistics and what I saw surprised me. I woke up on the floor in a puddle of sweet & sour sauce with my cat licking my face, but I rushed to the computer to write down what I saw. But since I wrote this long ass introduction I forgot everything from my vision and now I have to make up all this stuff as I go along. Crap.

Regardless here is volume two of my season preview focusing on the infielders.

Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera famously finished last season on a sour note, when reports came out that he spent the night before the most important game of the season getting shit-faced with a few White Sox players, including former Tiger Freddy Garcia at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. He then got into a violent argument with his wife, had the police called out to his house, blew a .26 and then topped it off with a night in the drunk tank to sleep it off, before Dombrowski picked him up in the morning and drove him to the ballpark to get ready for THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON!

That's the part of the story that cracks me up I always picture Dombrowski as a dad from an 80's movie, mostly because of his haircut and wardrobe of blazers over turtlenecks. I just picture him showing up at the jail with a stern look as Cabrera looks on sheepishly before Dombrowski cracks a boys will be boys smile and promises not to tell Mom of all the trouble Miggy cause as he slaps him on the back and they walk out of the police station as the credits roll. Of course in the movies Cabrera would've showed up in time to hit the game winning homerun and as Cabrera celebrated with his teammates he would take a quick break to giving a knowing thumbs up to a smirking Dombrowski in the croud.

Not surprisingly, in real life, Cabrera put up an oh-fer in that game and generally play like a guy who was working off a hangover. Of course people were annoyed by Cabrera's unbelievable immaturity and it was the latest incident in a long line of childish behavior that has followed him throughout his career. Even with his huge statistics last season (.324/.396/.547) it seems as though Cabrera is seen as a mild disappointment mainly because he hasn't improved much statistically from his early numbers with the Marlins. This may be true but I think most people, myself included, forget that he is just now entering his prime years as he doesn't turn 27 until the 18th of this month. Even with all the tales of immaturity off the field and some goofy baserunning mistakes on the field from all accounts he is a tireless worker who has put in a ton of work in trying to make himself a solid defensive first baseman. Also there were reports that he went to alcohol counseling and received mentoring and is working to control whatever problems he has with booze. It seems like Cabrera is someone who wants to learn from his mistakes and continue to make himself a better player or, who knows, maybe he peaked early and he didn't have any projection left in him from when he was tearing it up as a 22 year old, but at least he's working to maintain that still extraordinary level and I wouldn't be surprised if he had a breakout season during his peak age 27 season.

Alex Avila: Avila jumped straight from AA Erie to the majors and in seventy-two plate appearances gave the Tigers nearly as much value with the bat as Laird had over an entire season. Avila is a little rough defensively as he's only been playing the position regularly for the past few seasons, but his switch-hitting bat carries enough promise that if he can just become an average defensive catcher he would provide a tremendous value to the club at a nice cost controlled price. My ideal scenario for Avila this season would be for him to split the job with Laird at the beginning of the season and slowly taking over the lion's share of the playing time as the season progresses with an eye towards Avila being the starting catcher from the outset of the 2011 season, leaving Laird and his good defensive skills and weak bat to test free agency. I know this is likely what the plan is going to be and I'm not breaking any new ground with this prediction but I just have this nagging feeling that Laird is going to be a Tiger long past his utility as Avila scuffles to find regular playing time. Hopefully I'm wrong on this one

Gerald Laird: Something about Laird is off-putting and I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's his goblin like face, or the fact that his legs look to skinny for the rest of his body or the fact that his batting stance looks like he's straddling over one of those weird European toilets that requires a person to poop in what is essentially a tiny whole in the ground. It also could be that his bat was completely absent for most of the season and it seems like he came up to the plate time after time in big situations only to end up striking out swinging at a pitch high in the zone or skying harmless flyballs into the infield. There is no question that Laird is a great defensive catcher and that is where most of his value lies but as I laid out in the Avila paragraph above I hope that Laird slowly gets replaced by Avila and by the end of the season is used exclusively in the short side of a platoon or as a defensive replacement for Avila in the late innings.

Scott Sizemore: Sizemore is an intriguing prospect replacing the popular and uncannily consistent Placido Polanco. I don't know much about Sizemore other than that scouts love him and project him to be a solid .270 hitter with 12-15 homeruns and solid defense. If he comes close to that and gives the Tigers a solid #8 hitter to break up the whirling, infinitely dark swirling vortex of suck that are known as Gerald Laird and Adam Everett than I will be happy. Whenever I see Sizemore's jersey out on the field I think of Detroit native Tome Sizemore playing for the Tigers and think of the team's second baseman as a surly, chain smoking, prostitute banging, Passenger 57 co-starring menace out there. Hopefully Scott Sizemore's personality is much different than his Hollywood namesakes.

Adam Everett: It's a toss-up between Everett and Laird for the title of my most hated Tiger. This is a very prestigious title as the winner would join the likes of Bobby Higginson, Juan Gonzalez, Todd Jones, Roger Cedeno, Jason Grilli, Mike Moore and the granddaddy of them all Chad Kreuter, (as a quick aside when I was a kid I had an irrational hated towards Chad Kreuter because 1) he looked like a douchebag before I even knew what a douchebag was and 2) I saw his as the usurper to Mickey Tettleton's rightful position on the team as starting catcher. It made no difference to the nine-year old me that Tettleton was still in the lineup every day as the DH or that Kreuter was a better defensive catcher because I was playing catcher in Little League for one reason only because it was the position Tettleton played, not because of Chad Effin Kreuter. It would also explain why Rich Rowland and Phil Clark received misspelled death threats written in crayon imploring them it was in their best interest to not make the team out of spring training.)

It seems Everett is living off a defensive rep that has long since been untrue. It's not that he is a Yuniesky Betancourt level disaster in the field, it's just that he seems only average at best and not noticeably better than Ramon Santiago out there. His arm seems a little weak out there as it seems like he really has to load up on his throws to get it across the diamond. Also his bat is completely non-existent almost on a Ray Oyler level of uselessness, especially against right handed pitching. I never thought I would ever see a Tigers shortstop that made me long for the Edgar Renteria era but Everett's helpless flailing at the plate made me misty eyed for the days when the Tigers had a shortstop who could ground out solidly to the shortstop with regularity.

The problem with hating Everett is that he seems like a likable enough guy and he's making near the minimum for a veteran and there were no expectations of greatness when he signed as a free agent. In fact he was supposed to be a one year patch for an organization that had shockingly little depth at the position unless you're one of those people who believed Cale Iorg would be anything other than a below average Double-AA player, and I think the only person who believed in that scenario was Cale Iorg and maybe Iorg's mother.

Brandon Inge: After struggling mightily at the plate the past two seasons as well as bouncing around the field in a utility role and playing some catcher at the end of the 2008 season, Inge had a surprisingly great start to last season hitting 20 home runs in the first half and even getting an invite to participate in the Home Run Derby. Inge went homerless during the derby and then fell off a cliff during the second half of the season. Honestly if Inge had actually fallen off a cliff in real life it would have helped explain away his atrocious second half. Of course in real life Inge was playing with two wrecked knees and it made him a completely useless hitter in the second half (.186/.259/.279).

Not only was he ineffective at the plate was his amazing defense in the field fell precipitously in the second half as he went from being a highlight a night player at third making plays and showing range that no one else in the league could match to just being an average defender who looked like he was wearing concrete shows during some games. Not only did Inge struggle at baseball but he also alienated his fan base of 40 year old moms who thought he was hot and would go to the games with their girlfriends get drunk and yell out things about Inge's ass as their husbands silently stewed at being so publicly emasculated, by getting those gigantic forearm tattoos of his kids names. I feel like that was the real turning point of the season for Inge. However Inge did have offseason surgery on both of his knees and claims to be feeling 100%. If he can just return to being a .250 hitter with 25 homeruns and play some spectacular defense at third he could remain a valuable part of the team while setting himself up nicely for someone other than Detroit to over pay for his decline when he becomes a free agent after the season.

Ramon Santiago: Santiago has made a nice little career for himself as a utility infielder. Pretty amazing if you can remember how overmatched he was during his rookie year on that atrocious 2003 Tigers team that was full of overmatched young players. As I said in the Everett paragraph I kind of hope that Santiago can take over the job as the everyday shortstop or at least the starter against all right-handers given Everett's severe limitiations against righties.


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Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the season in review post! said...

oh I just realized this is the preview of the Vol. 2, I will try to find the preview of the Vol. 1 or if you give me the link, it would be superb, thanks in advance! :D