WOULD A HEALTHY VMART HELP OFFENSE? MAYBE!

By:  Kurt Snyder

Remember the sweep in Baltimore last season? Who can forget it. Remember the implosion in the bullpen, the leads blown, the playoff run that never got started? Yeah, unfortunately, the wounds still sting.

As a result, fans were enraged. Everyone seemingly knew that if there was one thing we needed to do in the off-season, it was fix the bullpen. It had failed this team all season, and it was almost fitting that it would be our undoing in the playoffs. But no one thought it would cost us so soon.

But in the spring, even before the bullpen could be addressed, there was some more pressing housekeeping that the organization needed to take care of. The Tigers knew and most fans agreed, that if there was one free agent that needed to return to the Tigers, it was Victor Martinez.

There was no choice. In an off-season where the Tigers were at risk of losing their top starting pitcher in Max Scherzer, they certainly could not risk losing someone who had finished runner-up in the AL MVP voting.

Victor Martinez had been the perfect complement to Miguel Cabrera. He made teams pay over and over for walking Cabrera. And when Cabrera struggled with more injuries, VMart was there to pick up the slack. Something Prince Fielder could not do in 2013 when Cabrera was hurt.

In 2014, VMart became the team’s MVP, and nearly won the League MVP as he put up career numbers. They were ridiculous really. After a career spanning over a decade, Victor hit a career high 32 homers, drove in 103 runs and struck out only 42 times.

So even at 35 years old, Victor had put himself in a situation where he was going to get paid one more time. But he really had no interest in getting paid by anyone but the Tigers. He wanted to stay, told Illitch he wanted to stay and Illitch obliged him.

That’s your little history lesson on VMart. We knew what the ramifications would be if the 2015 Tigers had a lineup without Victor Martinez. The offense would take a dreadful hit. It was something no one wanted to envision. So you better believe, if the Tigers did anything in the off-season, they were going to sign the league’s best DH.

So as we sit here today, with VMart hurt and on the DL, the Tigers have struggled offensively. And for some odd reason, no one can seem to figure out what the problem is.

Personally, I thought, in the short-term, the Tigers could take advantage of this situation and really start putting their speed to good use. We could certainly win in other ways, the team was rebuilt to win with speed that could supplement a lineup anchored by Cabrera and VMart.

But it hasn’t worked out that way and we can now quit scratching our heads over what on Earth is wrong with the offense. Hasn’t it been blatantly obvious that the absence of a guy, who had just given us over 30 homers, 100 RBI’s and a .335 batting average, might just be THE reason for the struggling offense?

I am a little embarrassed about how puzzled I have been, but I guess it’s the old “out of sight, out of mind” concept. We have forgotten how VMart had impacted the lineup. His position was critical in getting the most out of Miguel Cabrera.  And pitchers certainly attack the Tiger hitters differently now without Martinez.

Sure we moved up some pretty good hitters into the #4 and #5 spots in JD and Cespedes, but these are guys with holes in their swings. They have their fair share of strikeouts. They are the opposite of what VMart gave them behind Cabrera. It was what makes him so valuable. Pitchers now, when faced with the heart of the lineup, not only know they have the ability to get out of innings with minimal damage, they actually have a real shot at getting out of jams altogether.

Victor prolonged innings, made pitchers work, drew walks, and rarely struck out. Not to mention the fact that it was a fair bet he was going to hurt you. And all of this is contagious. Hitting can be extremely contagious. And I can’t tell you how valuable it must be just for Tiger hitters to be able to watch how Victor works at the plate. And they don’t have that luxury right now. He’s a hitting coach on the field.

So there are many VMart factors that have contributed to the anemic offense we have seen for most of the month of May. And don’t expect it to get consistently better until Victor returns with the hitting prowess we have come to love about him.

He’s the reason, folks. So we will have to battle with good pitching and some unexpected contributions across the board to compensate. We can stay in the race without Victor. But we can’t win it.

As ugly as May has been, the Tigers should actually be applauded for not being 7 or 8 games out of first instead of 3. They have kept themselves in it, despite a starting rotation still waiting for even 1 inning from JV and also without that huge hole in the lineup that most seem to be ignoring.

QUICK HITS

By:  Holly Horning

I’ve amassed quite a collection of random stats and interesting observations that fall outside of our general blog parameters. I’ve also started keeping count of some interesting patterns exhibited by our team. All of this not covered by the traditional media. Join me in a few raised eyebrows of this potpourri of potential pitfalls and some possible positive points to ponder.

BASES LOADED AND UNABLE TO SCORE – The count is up to 13 times so far this season. Three more were added this week.

TIGERS QUOTED AS SAYING “THAT’S BASEBALL!” – 9 this year, including Brad (multiple offender), Alex Avila, Wally Joyner, Ian Kinsler, Joe Nathan, Angel Nesbitt, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and JD Martinez. Maybe more but I don’t know the Spanish translation of the phrase.

UM, WRONG PLAYOFF GAMES – After the last game with Oakland, at least 8 or 9 Tigers stayed in town instead of traveling with the rest of the team to Anaheim. They attended the Golden State Warriors basketball playoff game.

While players certainly deserve personal time, was it really a good idea to participate in an event that would surely interrupt the amount of rest they needed?  And when the team is really struggling? How much of this was a factor in their flat, listless performance and trouncing by the Angels the next day? Given the overall drop in performance, it’s fair to question their priorities. The next time the Tigers are told they need to make the playoff games, we should be more specific about which ones.

GAMES WITH 2 OR FEWER RUNS SCORED – 11 in April. 15 in May out of 27. That’s 55% of their games! In the last 42 contests, they failed to score more than 2 runs in 24 games. While April showed 17 wins and 10 losses, May’s drop in offense has produced an under .500 record with 13 wins and 14 losses through Friday.

MLB TEAM STANDINGS – The Tigers have fallen from #1 to #14 in team batting (#9 in the AL). Pitching has fallen to #7 in the AL. Defense ranks #6 (#2 in the AL). Only Miggy remains in the top 5 offensive categories and Soria ranks #2 in total saves. Miggy is tied for #1 in defensive stats for both leagues.

And on that positive note, we’ll end here………….

ONE THOUGHT

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Houston came to Detroit this past week with one of the best records in baseball, certainly an unexpected occurrence when you previewed the schedule before the season.

After splitting the series, the Tigers headed to Oakland to face a team going in the opposite direction. So as the Tigers have been spinning their wheels of late, you could easily predict how they would fair.

But what did we notice most? What stood out? Guess you just have to read to find out.


Holly

If another sports writer ever again mentions that the Tigers are an ageing team, I just might implode. Quite the opposite is true and was never more evident than this past week when the Tigers fielded a team where half the team was either farm or fresh (rookies).

The infield is particularly susceptible with 2 veterans and both Iggy and Castellanos only in their second full years. Then you’ve got Romine with a handful of years of part-time bench experience and rookies in Perez, McCann and Machado. This week we saw a couple of games with 4 rookies in the starting lineup.

The bigger issue is how this lack of depth and inexperience impacts the ability of the manager to field a strong team on a daily basis. There is almost no wiggle room for a player to have a day off or to cover in case of injury. We saw how the team struggled when Iggy hurt his knee. Replacing Iggy and Kinsler with Machado and Perez should qualify for jail time.

But players also need to have a day off so they can recharge. Kinsler played every game but one last year and the daily grind affected his bat. We see it happening again this year.

And then there’s Miggy. Give him a day off and who has experience playing first base? And where’s Don Kelly when you need him?


Kurt

I don’t know, what do you make of this team? Against Houston, 2 steps forward, 2 steps back.  I know, a series split against a good team is not the end of the world, but we win the series more than likely without the continued implosion of Anibal Sanchez. His poor pitching is the most disturbing part of the team right now.

Some may disagree and focus on the poor offensive effort, which reared its ugly head again in Oakland. But I think it will come, there is too much talent on this team and we can’t discount the absence of VMart from the middle of this lineup. Luckily for us, the A’s are no longer any good and couldn’t score runs themselves, allowing the Tigers to take the series.

But if the Tigers are going to be a playoff team, Sanchez will be one of several who must lead them. The team has been challenged enough trying to score runs consistently without Victor protecting Cabrera and we continue to hold our breath waiting for the return of a healthy and ready to contribute JV.

But we won’t get anywhere if we offset the return of key pieces with continued poor performances from guys like Sanchez. Anibal has to find it. If this continues, he may have to take a page out of Max Scherzer’s book from a few years ago and work out some kinks in Toledo. We can’t afford for this to continue.

But we couldn’t score a lick in Oakland and actually won a game without a starting pitcher, so it ain’t all bad. All the W’s look the same in the standings, right?

IN THE END, WE ARE ALL JUST TIGER FANS

By:  Kurt Snyder

Every so often, we remind our readers how our writers, Holly and me, are so different, and how our perspectives on baseball come from different inspirations. Holly’s a numbers cruncher and Kurt dabbles in emotions. But together, we are still just baseball fans. It’s a bond that we share.

But there are different kinds of fans. And as we head into June, what kind of fans are we? Below I have outlined 5 factions of fans. You may find you have spent time in each locale. I know I have. Some are nice neighborhoods and others are dumps.

So let’s take a quick tour. But be careful on the way in.


1. The Complainers

You don’t want to be here. There are fans that come here and never leave. In 2015, the complainers have spent the entire season pounding on Brad Ausmus and his perceived inability to manage a baseball team. And I have been one of them. I have spent more time complaining about our manager than I feel comfortable with.

To be fair, I don’t think he was ready to become a manager of a contender, especially a team that has been so close, only to be turned away. We needed a vet to get us over the hump, not a rookie.

See what you do here? It’s just not healthy.


2. The Negative

This is The Complainers’ big brother. Who’s been here? Well, all of us. But, it’s really no fun. The Tigers are never going to win another championship. Not with this manager. Not with Dave Dombrowski. We will never have a good bullpen. Verlander is making too much money. Our offense is so bad.

See, this is an ugly, ugly group of fans. I know them like the back of my hand. I’m leaving but I still have a key just in case.


3. The Trustworthy

You can dabble in this group, visit for a while, but don’t get too comfortable. Trustworthy fans think everything the Tigers do is right. Every move, every transaction, everything the team does makes sense and has justification.

Even in 2015, the Tigers continue to hear from us, the fans, about the Doug Fister trade. But there will always be the trustworthy ones who can somehow find a method to the madness, and still defend a move that just didn’t work out well.

I have spent time here and sometimes run for comfort under this often false shelter of “everything’s gonna be alright.” The Tigers certainly know what they are doing, right? Dombrowski and company have to be smarter than us.


4. The Optimistic

Who doesn’t want to be here? Most of us meet here at the start of the season. No games have been played. Nobody is hurt. All the names look good on paper. It’s going to be a great year.  We should all force ourselves to come here as much as we can. People are happy and feel comfort.

If you have visited these last couple days, there is excitement. Verlander is feeling better. Rondon is feeling better. And when he comes back, Victor will be the Victor of old, not just an old Victor.


5. The Hopeful

This is a much more understanding faction of fans. We get that things aren’t perfect. We understand we don’t have the best manager, but we are hopeful the light bulb will go on. Brad actually thought his way through an inning for a change the other night. So maybe there is hope for him.

Cespedes hit a 3 run homer Wednesday, meaning the Tigers finally scored more than 2 runs in a game. Again, more hope. It’s all about discovery here. I think we are discovering that the Central just may be the toughest division in baseball. And we are only a game out of first place.


So what have you learned?

Are you where you want to be? If not, gravitate towards The Hopeful. It’s a tough road to get there, because both optimism and negativity cloud our thinking. Our hope is so conflicted, because we struggle with both emotions. But, we wouldn’t pay much attention if we didn’t care. We wouldn’t watch games. We wouldn’t read blogs. We wouldn’t write blogs.

After 50 games, there is one simple truth. This is a good Tiger team. There is a big time starter working his way back. There is a promising reliever working his butt off to return and impact our bullpen. And there is a trade deadline out there when, in most cases, our GM pulls a rabbit out of his hat.

So hang your hat on all of that. And pin your hopes on a team that has just as much promise as anyone in a year when anyone can win it.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

With only 2 more days until the Tigers hit game 50, they have reached their first grading period in the inaugural year of Totally Tigers.

So let’s look at how our writers have graded each Tiger through 48 games.


Holly

James McCann (B+/A-) – Hoping he’ll make everyone forget about Brian.
Miguel Cabrera (A+) – normal scale; (A) – Miggy scale.
Ian Kinsler (A-) – Prince who? This guy cares.
Jose Iglesias (A+) – The Human Highlight Reel.
Nick Castellanos (C) – Awaiting the day he stays in a game late defensively.
Yoenis Cespedes (C+/B-) – Love the bat. Not so much the fielding stats.
Anthony Gose (A-) – Finally! A bona fide leadoff hitter.
J.D. Martinez (A-) – He’s the real deal folks.
Victor Martinez (NA) – He’ll be baaaaack….

Rajai Davis (B+) – Reminds me of Roadrunner in speed and attitude.
Alex Avila (C-) – Yeah, yeah, good defense but I don’t dig walks.
Andrew Romine (C+) – The next Don Kelly.
Hernan Perez (E) – Not Ready for Prime Time Player.
Tyler Collins (NA) – His potential could make me forget his namesakes, Eddie and Tom.
Bryan Holaday (NA) – But he gets an A+ for attitude after being sent down.

Alfredo Simon (A-) – Simon says “I have more wins than any other starter.”
Shane Greene (B) – Still a little greene.
David Price (A-) – The price is right, at least for this year.
Anibal Sanchez (C-) – Anibal, whatthehell?
Kyle Lobstein (C+) – Grading down on the curve due to potential arm injury.

Alex Wilson (A-) – May just make us forget about Porcello.
Joba Chamberlain (NA) – Not enough info; he’s like a box of chocolates.
Joakim Soria (A+) – Sales of Mylanta & Tums have dropped considerably.
Blain Hardy (NA) – Not enough info.
Al Alburquerque (D) – Stats show him at the bottom of the pen.
Tom Gorzelanny (C-) – Hits-a-plenty.
Angel Nesbitt (B) – Based upon potential, hope we’ve been sent an angel.

Brad Ausmus (D) – Nice guy, but we all know what Leo Durocher said about that.
Dave Dombrowski (B) – A for his acquisitions, but a C for keeping Brad.


Kurt

James McCann (A) – The future is bright at catcher.
Miguel Cabrera (A) – The franchise always gets an A.
Ian Kinsler (B) – Second base in good hands.
Jose Iglesias (A) – When the wizard isn’t at SS, you notice.
Nick Castellanos (C) – Still waiting for him to take off; will he?
Yoenis Cespedes (B+) – Big upgrade in left field, worth the trade.
Anthony Gose (A) – Shockingly good, just what the doctor ordered.
J.D. Martinez (B-) – Ramping back up, knows how to hit.
Victor Martinez (NA) – Haven’t seen the real VMart yet, hope we will.

Rajai Davis (A-) – One of the most valuable Tigers.
Alex Avila (C-) – The question has been answered, hasn’t been missed.
Andrew Romine (B) – What more can you ask? Key bench strength.
Hernan Perez (E) – Should be released, not a big leaguer.
Tyler Collins (NA) – Too early to tell.
Bryan Holaday (B) – Not too early to tell; very effective backup catcher.

Alfredo Simon (A-) – Surprise #2 starter, very impressive.
Shane Greene (C) – Too streaky, but maybe that’s ok for soon to be #5.
David Price (A-) – Definition of an Ace, when you need a win, you’ll get it.
Anibal Sanchez (D) – I don’t even know who this guy is.
Kyle Lobstein (C+) – Has bailed out this team subbing for JV.

Alex Wilson (A) – Huge addition in trade for Porcello. Has been gold.
Joba Chamberlain (C+) – He scares me, but has been decent lately.
Joakim Soria (A) – A sense of calm in the ninth? In Detroit?
Blain Hardy (B-) – Has been solid, no complaints.
Al Alburquerque (C) – Always a puzzle.
Tom Gorzelanny (C) – New Coke better than Old Coke.
Angel Nesbitt (B-) – Finding his niche, has been valuable piece of pen.

Brad Ausmus (D) – Will be the difference if we don’t go to the Series.
Dave Dombrowski (B) – But it doesn’t stand for Brad.

MANAGERIAL MOVES OF A DIFFERENT STRIPE

By:  Holly Horning

The elephant in the room can no longer be ignored. Social media, as well as the national press are buzzing about the Tigers. And not in a good way. The whispers of mismanagement from 2014 have only grown louder in 2015.

But really, this should be no surprise. The Tigers took a gamble in hiring a former player with no managerial experience hoping that the catcher resume and trend towards hiring guys with fresh perspectives like Williams and Matheny would work. But it didn’t – and hasn’t. And probably won’t.

Great player talent can mask the skills of a manager in the short-term. And it’s primarily their offensive stats that have put Brad’s job in question. The team is at or near the top in runs, hits, total bases and batting average, to name a few. Ironically, very little blame can be attributed to the bullpen.

But the Tigers are also at the bottom of both leagues with games in which 2 or fewer runs are scored (25) and failing to score runners from 2B and 3B. Yes, injuries have played a part, but not as much as some might think. The Tigers are leaders at getting runners on base despite missing VMart.

It’s one thing to not have the talent, it’s another to have it and not effectively prosper from it. And this is the smoking gun.

Combine these stats with Brad’s tendency to leave pitchers in well beyond their expiration dates and multiple examples of head-scratching strategy including Monday’s fresh-from-the-farm lineup and omission of Miggy for the day game where he punishes opponents. Brad has admitted that the team is “underachieving”, but we have yet to see him change his strategies, let alone a lineup card.

When you add in a midnight meeting with your recently recovering and elderly owner, plus GM, some comments from Rajai Davis and VMart and Brad’s increasing testiness to the media, it all points to signs that there is unhappiness in the clubhouse and owner’s box. And in the stands, given the outcry on social media and the round of boos for Brad the other day.

But the good news is that this season is very salvageable. The talent is there – it’s just not being harnessed. And the team is lacking leadership, motivation and passion, which are just as important as the gloves and bats.

I do believe that Mr. I and Dave had concerns about Ausmus going into the off-season and decided to put in a safety net named Alan Trammell. Oddly enough, Dombrowski stated that Tram’s job description was not defined but that he would do Dave’s bidding.

But Tram was not brought back to be the manager. He was either considered to inherit the bench coach job when Lamont’s contract expires after this year or, in a worst case scenario, as a short-term interim manager in case Brad leaves.

So let’s imagine coming into a new job with no experience. Then, a year later, someone with previous coaching and management experience (12 years!) with three teams is hired. Wouldn’t you be looking over your shoulder? It happens all the time in the business world. Why not in baseball?

Conceivably, the wheels of change may already be in motion. Two managers are already gone with 5 others rumored to be close. Owners are investing more money and as a result, they have become more impatient waiting for the desired results.

And if you think that all managers are fired because their work was unsatisfactory, think again. Unsure owners, unreasonable expectations, personality mismatches or conflicts with management are often the culprits. Only three Hall of Fame managers in history weren’t fired. One was sick and resigned, one died and the other owned the team. It’s all about fit and potentially Dave may be waiting for the right manager to become available.

But in response to those who say Dombrowski will never admit to making a mistake, I say that his legacy as a GM and contract extension after this year depend upon having a successful manager. Terminating your current one puts the blame on the manager. Keeping him puts the blame on you.

Mr. I is in the habit of extending Front Office contracts in August so it’s logical a change would happen mid-season instead of end-of-the-year. And you’ve got to believe Dave wants to stay, especially with two children in those crucial high school years.

And it’s not just Brad with an uncertain future. There are coaches, too, who are being anointed with some of the blame. And they will be a further clue as to how long the manager’s tenure will be. A new manager brings in his own people, so if the coaches are the first to walk, it’s probably a sign that the manager has been given a temporary pardon.

In business school, one of the first things you learn is to admit mistakes, cut your losses and move forward quickly. Mr. I is a stellar businessman and Dave has a degree in business administration. Will the owner’s loyalty and professionalism win out over this business mantra? It’s all going to depend upon how badly he wants that ring.

 

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning 

Sparky Anderson thought you could never really get a gauge on your team until you played at least 40 games.

Well, here we are. We have eclipsed the 40 game mark, and he was right. There are some conclusions we can draw about the team at this point. There have been some surprises and some disappointments.

So as we head out on the road for a West Coast trip, let’s take a look at what has made us take notice so far, from both ends of the spectrum.


1.  What is the most pleasant surprise this year so far?

KURT

The Tigers have learned a valuable lesson from the Kansas City Royals; the importance of speed. The Tigers, with some key additions are a substantially faster team this season.

And I can’t believe I am saying this, but it’s true, the Tigers lead the American League in stolen bases. Team speed is finally something opponents must be concerned about when they play Detroit.

The surprises start with Gose at the top of the lineup who has been hitting .300 since spring training and has not let up. He has been a tremendous boost for a lineup that begins and ends with speed.

My hope is that they will force the issue even more as they have several guys that can really run on this team, and even though we have shown that ability, somehow we have managed to have trouble scoring runs. So being even more aggressive is a must.

With VMart out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, the Tigers can take advantage by adding more speed to the everyday lineup. Putting Davis and Gose in the lineup together is something they should do as much as possible.

HOLLY

Iggy has returned and resumed the glorious performance that we tasted very briefly back in late 2013. Many who said the .303 BA was a fluke, stress fractures in both legs and a year away from the game – yet, he comes back and performs above expectations.

He is the complete player. Currently, a .333 BA, .811 OPS, 7 stolen bases and minimal strikeouts. And he has the much-needed high-energy, enthusiastic play that is so contagious to watch.

But let’s talk about what is even more exciting than what he does at the plate. It’s the glove! Currently ranked as the #2 defensive SS, the man is simply incredible with his combination of ballet and gymnastics in the field. And he makes the national highlight reels almost every time he plays. Let’s change his nickname to HHR – Human Highlight Reel.


2. What is the most disappointing surprise this year?

KURT

As much as the Tigers have added an element of speed to their offense, you would think it would be a lethal combination with such a powerful middle of the order. But, it’s amazing how difficult it has been for them to score runs.

As much as I hate to fill articles with stats, let me discuss them without a lot of numbers. The Tigers are near the top of the majors in batting average, trailing only Kansas City. Impressive right? They lead the American League in stolen bases. Wow, this offense must be electric.

But add in the fact they rank in the top 5 in leaving runners in scoring position and the incredible stat of leading all of baseball in grounding into double plays, you suddenly have an offense that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.

I am totally confused by an offense that appeared to have the ability to score in different ways, when instead, they have found just about every opportunity not to score. They are destined to struggle to stay above .500 with all of the inconsistencies littered throughout their team.

HOLLY

The key word here is “surprise” so I won’t be addressing Ausmus for obvious reasons. But rather than identify one person, I’m going to address the established and worsening pattern of play which has to do with failing to score with RISP.

The Tigers lead MLB with games in which they have scored 2 runs or less – 25 of them. Taken alone, this would indicate that the team has problems offensively. But this is not the case. They rank #6 in all of MLB for runs, #1 (by far) in hits, run away with the lead in TB and are #2 in BA.

Yes, they put lots of runners on which impacts this figure but it also shows they are unable to cash in effectively when they have runners on 2B and beyond. How many of these 2-runs-or-less games could they have won? Technically, a maximum of 15 of these 25 games had the chance to be winnable. And unfortunately, I don’t see any visible effort by management and coaching in addressing this problem.

WINNING UNDER PRESSURE

By: Kurt Snyder

While we take this day to honor those who gave their lives for this country, please enjoy a previously-published blog from March.

Is there more pressure for teams to win championships the longer they go without one? It’s a fair point.


Do teams operate differently depending on when they last won? It’s an interesting question I think. It depends on the city perhaps. It depends on the ownership perhaps. In some cases, winning is just a bonus.

The Chicago Cubs have been floundering for my whole life outside of an odd year they win more than they lose, or an occasional playoff cameo. It hasn’t been until now that they have aggressively pursued a championship. The Cubs and losing have run hand in hand within the fabric of their franchise, almost in an acceptable manner, given their last championship took place not far beyond the 1800’s.

So frankly, Cubs games are events, reasons to gather with friends and family for a good time. Winning or losing is a side note. If I need to be set straight on that, I would welcome the enlightenment.

But in Detroit, the goals have been different. Since the Tigers emerged from a decade long slumber with an inexplicable World Series appearance in 2006, a series they most certainly had the ability to win, the team has been in desperation mode.

Has losing that series had implications on the goals of the franchise? I would guess they would say no, the goals are always the same. But how much easier would things have been for all involved if they had actually won the 2006 World Series?

Sure after another 9 years, we would certainly be hungry for another, but urgency wouldn’t be blasting through the ceiling of expectation. There wouldn’t be such pressure on the team to win a title for their owner. And there wouldn’t be so much pressure on our general manager to operate under a “win now” mandate. Smarter decisions could be made without potential fallout.

They could build and tweak their team logically and without so much risk. They could make decisions that are smarter for their future because they wouldn’t feel the constant need to scramble so desperately for a title they haven’t held in 31 years.

I am envious of the San Francisco Giants. When you win a title, your fans are able to bask in it for a while. If you don’t win it the next season, fans aren’t so vocal about every move, every transaction. They don’t question decisions or motives. There is an element of trust.

As a Giants fan, you can sit back, watch the team evolve and see if they make a run. And if they don’t, you trust they will make the right moves to get themselves back in position very soon, knowing that if given the opportunity, their team can close the door.

Winning buys time to win again. And the Giants, having won 3 titles in the last 5 years, have given their fans everything they could ever want; constantly competing for and frequently winning championships.

Unfortunately, most teams don’t get to experience the kind of run the Giants are on. Certainly you must have luck, but you also must possess strength at all levels of your organization to be able to consistently win; from your ownership to your scouts to your manager in the dugout.

This season, the Giants may not have a team that will compete for a title. They may end up spending the season building for next year. They have that luxury. There is no pressure to win. And that’s an incredible advantage.

They will hover under the radar again, without unfair expectations. The St. Louis Cardinals are another franchise able to operate in the same manner. Winning rewards a franchise far beyond the trophy and the championship flag.

Unfortunately the Tigers enter another season under the guise of ultimatums along with huge expectations. They have to win it. It was the same last season and the year before that, and the year before that. Unfortunately, that’s the attitude here. But, when you don’t win a title in over 30 years, I guess you can understand the frustration, at least in this town.

But frustration brought on from a long draught, I believe, makes a franchise operate differently and with more of a sense of urgency which may not be a good recipe for success.

Sure the Tigers have won division titles, and been to the big stage, but if they aren’t raising the trophy, it’s not enough anymore. We long for the feeling we had in 1984, at least the fortunate ones who actually remember it or were there to see it.

The images are forever emblazoned in my memory. It was the greatest season I have ever witnessed as a baseball fan. I lived at that ballpark in 1984, attending certainly no less than 60 games.

But it’s been a long time now. And there are way too many “remember when” stories with this franchise. And we now await another season where the Tigers once again will try to make it all come together. They don’t have a choice.

WHAT’S THE REAL STORY?

By:  Holly Horning

While we take this day to honor those who gave their lives for this country,  please enjoy a previously-published blog from last month. These guidelines for how to evaluate a story are always relevant.


I always find it interesting to see how readers of the local newspapers react to the latest media stories. They are all over the board concerning how the writer handled his subject. Ironically, many of these threads end up focused, not on the stories, but debating the merits of the journalist instead.

But how does this impact, you, the reader? Well, it’s not just about the information you are offered, it’s about how much detail and quality you are given. Equally important is how much info was omitted or not explored. And all of this is added to the information you use in forming your own opinions and beliefs about what this team can do, should do and cannot do.

One of my jobs as a media coach is to help clients navigate the purpose and goals of the media. Believe it or not, all media is not created equal and each organization and individual have different purposes and objectives. Gone are the days when it was only about being objective.

Today, it’s about creating buzz, generating “clicks”, attracting viewers, gaining access to information and building a resume. Sure, there are those who are solely committed to reporting the hard facts but just as many, if not more, who have a different primary plan in mind. It’s a much more competitive world out there where news organizations will quickly replace established writers because they aren’t generating enough readership – or advertising dollars. And much of this new way of doing business is a result of the internet and explosion of televised programs.

So when we, the fans, read articles on the Tigers, how should we digest the information we read or see? Here are some of the factors you should consider:

LOCAL MEDIA VS. NATIONAL

The local media is especially dependent upon access to the management and players of a team. Therefore, they often have to temper their analysis and criticism of the team in order to keep the channels of information open. It is also not unusual for a team to ask a reporter to sit on some info while promising them a “scoop” down the road.

And because they are local, it is very hard for them to put the team into perspective within the sport overall. It is rare to read comparisons that differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of the Tigers compared with their opponents, leaving many fans to think that their team is the only one stuck with a weak-hitting catcher or a manager who leaves his starter in too long.

National media, on the other hand, doesn’t have the time or the resources to analyze any team to the degree of the local media. But they don’t have to depend upon strong relationships with the sports organization and are often the ones who beat local writers to the punch on a big story.

Case in point is the Justin Verlander story. The Detroit media has been strangely silent, with the reasons listed above, on the implications of JV’s injury. However, this is one of the top stories covered daily on national radio and tv with speculation and concern only growing.

But as a counterpoint, who isn’t already tired of the national media regularly referring to James McCann as “Brian”?

The best example between the two groups is the contract extension to Cabrera. It garnered widespread criticism from the national media who focused completely on the financial details, not the psychological, marketing or local implications. In contrast, local media was much more understanding of the emotional and historical relevance of keeping Miggy a Tiger for life with less emphasis on the financial and potential ageing concerns.

DIFFERENT ANALYTICAL SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

Currently, there are three different schools of thought about evaluating player talent – old school traditional stats, sabermetrics and one that combines a little bit of both. It’s important to understand where each baseball analyst – whether in print or on tv – sits on the analytical spectrum. As a result, it is no surprise that a tv show discussing the merits of a particular player with a panel of “experts” often results in few unanimous answers with rationales that differ greatly.

Look no further than the topic that drives all Tiger fans mad – let’s call it the Three M’s. Miggy, Mike (Trout) and MVP. Where each analyst stands in statistical school is predictable in this case, but consider how fans’ views may be influenced when the discussion is about players who are not well-known.

LOYALTY AND EXPERIENCE

Simply put, what is the background of the media personality? Is he a “homer”, raised or working locally, or a foe of the team in question? How often does he or she sing the praises of their favorite team? It’s no coincidence that a national broadcaster who is always stating his love for his NY team, is also denigrating Boston’s players on a regular basis.

Also consider the person’s background. Is he a journalist by trade? A former ballplayer? A former GM? Or even a frustrated former team executive feeling scorned? Is he offering first-hand experience or speculation? Is he using information gained from an interview or from a long-time friend who played with him? Is he too close to the topic in question or is he an outsider who is able to offer an unbiased opinion?

We all know of several tv personalities who rarely have a good thing to say about the Tigers. In fact, the other day, one of the afore-mentioned’s tv counterpart told him on-air to stop dissing Miggy and Detroit. While his hidden agenda is quite obvious, there are others who are harder to fathom for their bias.

THE PAYCHECK

This a huge factor to consider and an issue that has become much more complicated in recent years. To quote Deep Throat from the Watergate scandal, “follow the money.” That will tell you a lot about why certain media types cover the topics they do in the way they do.

Sports reporting has gone beyond the primary salary source. Many journalists now have multiple streams of revenue coming in from satellite partners, social media companies, secondary employment and other business partnerships.

Mainstay newspapers are now hiring supposedly independent bloggers from outside their company to write or comment weekly. Bloggers are now being bought out by major sports media but you have to look hard on the blog site to find reference to them. Even MLB has hired “independent” writers to cover each team with the caption about the article not being subject to MLB review. But, bottom line, MLB signs their paychecks.

And many writers use the reporting platform to quietly plug their own radio and tv shows, Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as their own creations. Beware the journalist who writes an inflammatory or out-of-the-mainstream piece as he’s usually looking to create interest or buzz around himself and his publications.

So how can you ensure you are exposed to the best information and perspectives out there? Do your homework for the information that matters to you. Look for repeat patterns in reporting and suspect the ones that fall outside the mainstream. Google reporters you find interesting – or crazy.

But most of all, balance your reading with a variety of media. Watch and read local, but also national. Change the stations – there are a myriad of baseball-based shows and channels on tv now. The clearest of all possible pictures is to understand the media’s true objectives, which will help you understand their message.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

While we take some time off to remember those who have given their lives for our country, please enjoy a previously posted blog from last month.  Maybe even more relevant today than when first written.

Is James McCann living up to the expectations that he will become the starting catcher next year?

HOLLY

I’m starting to believe so, especially after Wednesday’s game, but he hasn’t played enough this year to generate enough stats for me to feel totally comfortable saying “yes.” What is important is that McCann’s hitting and defensive skills are gradually trending upward. Avila, although he had a promising start to the season, is trending downward and I’m not sure the rigors of the season ahead will be conducive to achieving better numbers.

Avila has approximately double the play time so far. But defensively, what is telling is how both catchers handle potential base stealers. McCann has the better record with half the play time, catching more runners stealing than Avila. Fewer opponents run on McCann because he has a quicker release and more accurate throws to second.

No surprise with the offensive stats. Avila is king of OBP but that’s about it. HIs OBP is negated by stats showing he strikes out on half his at-bats while McCann strikes out only 1/6th of the time. And over the last two weeks, Avila’s batting stats are trending downward, while McCann’s are going up.

The biggest speed bump will be getting Ausmus to give McCann more playing time. While I don’t believe those nepotism urban myths, it’s logical to think that giving less work to your immediate boss’s son has to have some influence on Brad.

Avila, a free agent at the end of the year, has many believing the Tigers won’t make him a qualifying offer, which of course means no draft pick. If McCann continues to trend upwards, there’s a chance Avila may be traded mid-summer.

But given that his father ranks #2 in the organization, consider that this unique relationship may generate an unusual arrangement. Could the Tigers sign Avila to a one-year contract extension later this year? Could Avila become a free agent and then re-sign with the Tigers for less than the assigned qualifying figure?

Stranger things have happened. More playing time for McCann will be the first indicator of his position with the team next year.

KURT

Boy, if you could take one day out of the season to determine how things are going with our young, up and coming Tiger catcher, Wednesday would certainly be the day. James McCann had a fairy tale kind of game highlighted by an inside the park home run.

We will have to check the record books to see how many players first career homer was of the “inside the park” variety. Great day for James.

But let’s set this game aside for a minute. When McCann made the team out of the spring with the intention to platoon with Alex Avila, it seemed like a sneak peek into the future. The Tigers are gradually getting younger, and they need to be. And they are more athletic as well and they have needed to be. And as we move through this season, we will find more and more that McCann can be included in the “more athletic” category.

All indications point toward someone who has been very nimble behind the plate, showing an ability to be pretty agile, someone who looks comfortable with handling the pitchers and the position.  McCann has shown a strong arm too as he has thrown out his fair share of runners in a short amount of time.

On the other side of the coin, and keeping in mind the small sample size, McCann has shown signs of having the tools of a pretty decent hitter. He has showcased some power even though he hadn’t homered until Wednesday, albeit inside the park. But he has some pop and it’s certainly fair to say that as we move through the season, James will get more opportunities to prove that this could be the changing of the guard.

Alex Avila has shown no signs that he is about to put together a comeback year at the plate, however it is encouraging that, to this point, there haven’t been any concussion issues. None of us really want to see Alex go through any more of that.

But we will keep tabs on McCann. As much as the Tigers have been ridiculed for not having a very deep farm system, James just may silence some of the critiques. With some more playing time, McCann will get the opportunity to continue to interview for next year’s full time catching position. It’s early, and the batting average is still low, but there are certainly signs that we have someone young who possesses the tools of a catcher we can build on for years to come.