TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Let the games begin! The Tigers will now head into a spring training schedule with an intent on winning of course but also with a desire to shore up concerns they have lingering.

Holly and Kurt will dig into those concerns and also address the importance of winning in the spring.


1. What are the 2 most important things the Tigers need to resolve in Spring Training?

HOLLY

While many may be focused on whether the starting rotation can stay healthy, I chose to address the two biggest problems from last year that killed so many games.

The Killer B’s: Baserunning, which took a team 2nd in offense and put it 10th in scoring runs and the bullpen, which despite the yearly cellar-dwelling stats, was used horribly.

As I wrote the other day in  https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/back-to-base-icks/, the Tigers were baseball’s worst in baserunning by a mile. Not just a couple of players, not just slow players, but fast players who created negative runs. The entire team, save for one, were responsible for the net -107 runs gained. The Tigers must find a way to be able to run from 1st to 3rd more successfully as well as avoid being thrown out at home so much.

As for the bullpen, the ERA of 4.38 and BA against them of .271 is only one of the issues. But pitchers were mostly used because they were the “7th inning guy”, “8th inning guy”, etc. and very rarely due to a particular pitching situation. Some got all the work, some got very little. Is it any wonder that Alex Wilson is now shut down with the same soreness he experienced last year due to too many innings?

KURT

The Tigers have included Kirk Gibson as an additional source for making a concerted effort to improve their baserunning. He’s been asked because it’s an area where they need to exhaust all of their avenues to improve. Brad has acknowledged it as an area of concern. Unfortunately, Gibson, who barreled into second base with the best of them, now must learn the new rules himself.

The Tigers also have a centerfield position to solve. It’s an interesting dilemma as neither Gose nor Maybin tear the cover off the ball. Neither have hit for a high average in their careers.

But there are arguments for a platoon as well as arguments for handing one of them the job outright. To me, if they send anyone to the bench it would be Gose because of all the tools he could offer the team; late inning defense, late inning pinch-running or even a lefty bat when needed. It will be a tough call and spring training will help to resolve it.


2. How important will be it for the Tigers to end Spring Training with a winning record?

HOLLY

Last year taught me to change my historical answer in which the Tigers had the second worst record in spring training. And despite the mantra that “spring training doesn’t matter”, there actually is a proven correlation between the dress rehearsal and the actual season in baseball.

Since 2006, the Tigers have had only 1 losing Spring Training season. Otherwise, their records have put them anywhere from 1st to 3rd place with .600+ winning records. This is a pattern and has been mostly correct in foretelling how the team would do in the regular season for the past 10 years.

Last year, a .375 win-loss record and 7.5 GB. Granted, much of that was due to the injuries to the M&M brothers, but it should have raised a red flag.

I believe that Spring Training is the chance to see how the younger players develop, for the team to gel and for experimenting with the new. Losses on their own don’t really bother me but whole strings of losses tell me something else. Last year should have been a sign for management and coaches to really focus in on the factors causing them.

If the Tigers are to return to their established pattern, they need to finish no lower than the top 4 teams in the Grapefruit League.

KURT

Not important. Not important in the least. Sure the Tigers ran into a heavy dose of losing at the end of last season that had to shake their confidence. But this is not the same team.

This spring will be about forming a bond with the new guys that have been brought in to shore up weaknesses. They are already making news as the personalities in the bullpen may help to keep this group loose and it will be an important trait that they really haven’t had before.

I have never been one to find any kind of optimism or pessimism based on a spring training win/loss record. Too many teams have had brutal springs only to go on to win in the regular season. The same thing has happened the other way around.  Any good or bad feelings will be determined by health, which has been the death knell for this team year after year.

OWNERS’ INFLUENCE

By:  Holly Horning

Every season, fans sift through the actions taken – or not – to determine their team’s chances at winning a playoff spot.

They scrutinize the GM, manager, coaches and players. They pour over every stat for the starting rotation, analyze defensive metrics and put together starting lineups.

But there’s one thing they rarely do. They don’t consider the owner’s impact as much as they should.

Because, make no mistake, having the right kind of owner is the key to winning. Consistent winning. Division title winning. Winning that gets your team playing October baseball.

Not every owner is cut from the same cloth. Each one comes from different business backgrounds and has different reasons for owning their team. For some, it is the biggest toy to possess. For others, it’s their passion. And for the rest, it’s about making a profit or using their team to strengthen their other businesses.

Back in October, I wrote a 2-part blog that analyzed why owners do what they do. Catch them here at:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/owners-intentions-part-one/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/owners-intentions-part-two/

Each owner guides their team’s vision. They determine how much effort, quality and expense will be invested to obtain the desired results. While we have been blessed with an owner who puts his money where his mouth is, there are others with a priority of having a profitable team.

But profits don’t necessarily equate with having a winning team. Until recently, the lowly Houston Astros were baseball’s most profitable team. Juxtapose that with the Tigers who have had years of payroll exceeding revenue.

Where it gets tricky is understanding how and when, if at all, the owner gets involved. Some stand back and don’t create a sound and detailed vision for their team. Others get too involved and meddle in their GM’s work.  The rest are somewhere in between.

Owners generally fall into 3 categories:

1. Hanging in There: Typically consistent performance that is neither great nor poor as a result of the owner being relatively passive.

2. Steady and Competitive: A long-term vision and development in which the owner sets the standards and hires the right people to implement.

3. Roller Coaster: An owner who changes his mind frequently and meddles with the vision, producing some great highs but mixed more often with huge lows.

Unfortunately, the Roller Coaster owners far outweigh the rest. They are the teams who spend great sums of money, change their minds on a whim and go through management as quickly as a hot knife cuts through butter. Some of those teams include:

Angels – An owner with a wife who is best friends with his manager’s spouse. A guy who gave his manager a 10-year contract and supported him over the GM, who was forced to leave. A guy who spends $165 million on payroll yet can’t sign enough offense to pair with Mike Trout.

Dodgers – A large group of big money and former non-MLB jocks with a payroll that dwarfs all other teams. A GM with his power taken away and a manager so dissatisfied with the Front Office that he kept threatening to quit.

Marlins – Owner Jeffrey Loria has hired 7 managers in the past 5 years. He recently brought Don Mattingly on board primarily because Donnie Baseball was his favorite player growing up. ‘Nuff said.

Nationals – Alternating years of high wins followed by huge performance drops. Four GMs, 8 managers and 1 FBI investigation in 15 years. Clubhouse infighting and underperformance issues for the past 4 years which helps explain why the team chokes (sorry, I couldn’t help it) so often.

Orioles – Under former owner Edward Bennett Williams, they were the best-run organization in baseball for decades. The new owner dissolved the proven Orioles Way and placed a priority on saving money. Both the GM and manager have either attempted or hinted at wanting to leave.

Red Sox – In 2011, the Front Office and manager quit en masse because of ownership. Two new GMs in 4 years and a new President of Baseball Operations who will also perform the GM’s job despite hiring one. Without even a game played, the newest public battle has emerged between a player and Front Office over his weight. Confusing? You bet.

Say what you will about the late George Steinbrenner, but the man got the job done year after year. Now that his sons are running the team, the Yankees have been in experimental mode as they attempt to find a sustainable middle ground.

They, along with the Braves, are currently teams in transition. History is yet to be written on how these two teams will define themselves now that the torch has been passed.

But on the radar are teams with new owners who are rising quickly and threatening to become some of baseball’s best. Organizations that have clearly defined their vision and brought in the right people. They include the Astros, Cubs and Rangers. No surprise that these teams have improved significantly (barring injuries) every year since changing ownership.

Add the Cubs to the very short list of organizations who have clearly laid out a precise vision with a goal of long-term and consistent success. They join the Cardinals and Giants.

So what about the Tigers? Where do they fit in?

Mr. I has taken the Tigers into the Steady and Competitive category. A generous owner who willingly opens his wallet when he sees the need and rarely gets involved with the team’s vision unless he sees a potential impasse.

If any criticism is to be handed out, it’s that Mr. I is too loyal and patient with his top employees. A GM who couldn’t reach the stated goal even with an endless budget and 14 years in which to do it. A manager of 8 years with only 1 World Series win to his name and a pattern of squeaking into the Division title on the last couple days of the season despite possessing an immense amount of talent.

He’s also been tied to several unwise contracts which appear to be the only evidence of owner meddling. One, born out of desperation, to a player he’s known since his dad played for the team. A contract the Tigers are still paying through 2020. The other to another favorite player on the wrong side of 30 and limited to the DH role.

Good owners are very hard to come by and we Tiger fans should feel blessed to have Mr. I. But given the huge amount of money he’s spent again this year, we should hope he speaks up a little more this year if things start to go south. In this case, meddling may just be a welcomed event.

BASEBALL GETTING PICKED APART

By:  Kurt Snyder

I worry about baseball. I don’t worry about the players. I worry about the game. A little more than a year ago, I published a blog titled, Be Careful with Our Game. You can read it below, but in a nutshell, it consisted of a series of steps I felt the new commissioner should take to improve the game, with an emphasis on improving, not changing, baseball.

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/be-careful-with-our-game-3/

The most important suggestion was to rescind the rule put in place to protect catchers from collisions at the plate. Apparently, MLB has become squeamish about broken legs. The rule that prevents a catcher from blocking the plate was put in place after the Giants’ Buster Posey broke his leg following an ugly collision at the plate. Overreaction at the highest level.

Just over a year later, steps are now being  taken to protect the middle infielders attempting to turn a double play with the runner bearing down on them. It can get pretty dicey at second base in those situations. Runners will try anything to disrupt that throw to first base.

Unfortunately during the playoffs last season, the Dodgers’ Chase Utley rolled through second base and he did it late, running into the  Mets’ Ruben Tejada, breaking his leg. It wasn’t pretty.  The “slide”, if you can call it that, was way too late and Utley deserved to be punished as a result of the play.

Is it frustrating and do we get mad when someone does something stupid on the field that ends up injuring a key player? Of course. And in cases of neglect, players should be fined significantly; suspensions should be handed out. Those are the moves they should make, not rule changes that water down the game and remove excitement.

Home plate and second base are where the game can get the most physical; at least they used to be. Plays at the plate have certainly been watered down by the new rule as we are now forced to watch catchers swipe their glove at a sliding or approaching runner instead of being able to block the plate.

Gone are those thrilling plays at the plate: runners plowing through the catcher, trying to jar the ball loose. How exciting was it to see a catcher hold that ball up after incredibly holding onto it after the collision? Well that’s done now.

And baseball is now waging war on the double play.  There has been no issue with how the game has been played near second base. There has been no issue with how the game has been called at second base. The “neighborhood” rule has been fine. Teams understand it and accept it. Fans understand it and accept it. That alone protects infielders as they attempt to throw over to first base.

But suddenly it wasn’t enough after another broken leg. Since the “Buster Posey Rule” was imposed, I began to worry about what was happening to our game, and I wondered what would be next. What else can we ruin? What can we strip from the game next?

Baseball is blatantly overreacting to these injuries. It seems the commissioner is more concerned with the health of the players than the sanctity of the game. And it’s a very slippery slope we are travelling down now as another rule is enforced to protect players, doing nothing to protect the game.

I don’t understand a shred of it. The Tigers’ own Ian Kinsler has spoken out about how he dislikes the rule and it’s there to protect HIM! That says a lot when the guys most protected by the rule are the ones speaking out against it.

So who’s responsible?  Owners must be speaking out in favor of these changes to protect their expensive investments. But these physical and sometimes dangerous plays at the plate and at second base were part of the game. It’s a sport. Players get injured.

Now, I do understand we don’t want players to get hurt. I am not completely heartless.  People are paying big money to come and watch the stars of the game. Owners don’t want their investments to be sacrificed at second base or at home because of a collision.

But we have to be careful how we react.  These are 2 major rules in a year that will significantly affect how the game is played, and it has to stop. Baseball also wants to take steps to speed up the game. OK, but even those measures need to be heavily scrutinized. It’s a game that is played strategically. So, I would be careful with the “speed up the game” initiatives as well.

If you haven’t noticed, the game is already changing on its own, so it’s just a matter of how MLB reacts to the changes.    What do I mean?   Baseball, not unlike other sports, is evolving before our eyes.   Players are getting bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic. Collisions are more dangerous now because of the overall physical dynamic that athletes now bring to the field.

But I really don’t care. They are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate for that risk. And they risk their health everyday they walk on the field; an understood part of a profession players generally accept.

So, Mr. Commissioner, where are all the rules to protect the game? Fix the quality of umpires. Fix instant replay. But be very careful with the elements that have made this game so great for so long. The game is suffering more than the players, and what’s more dangerous than that?

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Saturday’s segment has become a day to touch on as many issues as possible. While the injury to Anibal Sanchez is sure to come up, what other topics have garnered their attention?


KURT

CONCERN

Well, here we go again. Last year, coming out of spring training, Justin Verlander was struggling with a similar injury to his right triceps muscle that Anibal Sanchez is this season. JV’s injury was considered a strain and forced him to the DL to start the year, but ended up rendering him either ineffective or unavailable for more than half of the 2015 campaign.

QUESTION

As Sanchez and the Tigers play down his recent injury, thoughts now turn to who could possibly replace him to start the season should he become unavailable. Instead of guys like Shane Green, Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd vying for a role in the bullpen, they should now be considered candidates to start the season in the starting rotation. How quickly things turn.

QUESTION

Is it appropriate to judge our manager on a topic before any decision has actually been made? You heard the words. Despite the importance of preserving the health of Cabrera and Martinez, Brad is actually considering having Miggy play third and VMart play first right away to start the season in Miami for a two game interleague series.


HOLLY

QUESTION

Shane Greene mentioned that his fingers turned black and blue last year when he pitched. Given his dramatic falloff, wouldn’t the manager, coaches and training staff be looking for visible clues? And if your fingers are discolored, why didn’t the manager, pitching coach or trainers notice them, especially when you are visiting the mound or handing off the ball?

CONCERN

Ian Kinsler: “I still have a bad a taste in my mouth from last year. There are a bunch of particular reasons for it that I am going to keep to myself.” I don’t think I’m the only one who wants to know more and none of the Detroit papers have pursued the possible reasons. Let’s hope Mr. I and Al Avila read Ian’s comment and want to find out why he said what he did.

CONCERN

One newspaper reported late on Monday that Ausmus said there were no injuries, soreness or missed practices by any players while the other newspaper published a different quote 3 days later that indicated Brad hinted at something amiss to them on Monday. The latter publication indicated they knew Sanchez was pulled from practice on Monday yet did not publish the news until Thursday when it was evident Anibal was missing. A real concern here about what created the situation where two contradictory stories were published and where the allegiances of at least one newspaper lies in withholding a story.

REDEMPTION WEEK

By:  Holly Horning

Every industry has its busy periods and baseball is no exception. For the PR departments of each team, that period is the first week of spring training.

You see, this is redemption time. Time to get rid of whatever negative feelings are still hanging out there after last season. Time to close the loop so teams can move forward.

Where else but in sports does Jonathan Papelbon wait 5 months in order to serve up an apology for choking teammate Bryce Harper? Ohh, the Nationals’ PR Department really earned their keep for that one.

It’s all about putting that final bow on the controversies surrounding players’ actions from the previous season. Players who behaved badly. Players who had bad seasons. Players who let their team down. Players with injury concerns. And players in need of a little lovin’.

In my other line of work, PR is part of my job. But over the years, I’ve also worked with a number of public relation departments so I’ve come to learn the habits – and the signs. And this week was textbook in the Tigers’ camp.

While issues tend to get addressed shortly after they happen, fans have long memories. And if your team didn’t do so well the previous year, those fans are even more focused on what went wrong the previous year. Make no mistake, the PR departments do read the social media threads on news sites in order to get the pulse of the people. And if they keep reading negative thoughts about certain players, then their dance cards start filling up.

So why now? It’s because the media is moving into training camps and nothing sells a story like controversy. PR departments know that the reporters are going to bring up the old stories. Especially when there is little else to report in February.

Putting the players out there to specifically address last year’s issues is the equivalent of ripping off a Band-Aid in one quick move. It gets it done, it’s over and now it’s time to move on. Media disarmed.

And this is a smart move. The job of public relations is to eliminate negative topics and burnish the reputations of their employees. So they talk to the player, point out the benefits, coach them if necessary and serve them up to the reporters. This process allows them to control the spin and craft the message.

But more importantly, it allows the team to get back to business. It allows them to focus on what they need to do. And putting a positive spin on controversial issues is good for ticket sales. It’s also good in enhancing the value of any players for a future trade.

And every team performs this spring ritual. Some have more to do than others. The Tigers are in the middle of pack this year – foregoing the historic “I got kids”, chin flicks and wife-beating jokes-gone-wrong. Yet, they managed to have a nice little conga line going earlier this week.

Believe it or not, there is a hierarchy in the order of players who are diplomatically and discreetly frog-marched in front of the media. It starts with the most egregious sins and ends with the guys who make you feel warm all over. Let’s start the procession, shall we?

For the Tigers, the lead-off man was Bruce Rondon, accused of quitting on his team. JaCoby Jones, with his drug suspension followed. Iggy and his dugout dust-up batted third.

In the middle of the order were the players who had disappointing seasons, primarily due to injuries. VMart, Miggy, Greene, Sanchez and JV made their appearances to reassure everyone they were feeling great. (Note to the Tigers: There’s now a need to address Sanchez again.)

The PR department saved the best stories for last. Inspiring stories. Players who were most admired last year – or should have been. Enter James McCann, Daniel Norris and Ian Kinsler.

In this case, it’s good to be last.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Predictions. Prognostications. Projections. Pointless. Why do we bother? And why do they bother us?

Our writers take this one topic and provide their takes on the media’s perception of the Tigers and how the team will perform this season.


Why do you think the Tigers win projection is so low?


HOLLY

It’s interesting that there is a decided difference in assigning win totals between the media and those analysts who actually played the game. The latter are much more favorable towards the Tigers which I attribute to their deeper knowledge of the players acquired.

Yet, for the first time in many years, the Tigers aren’t forecast to take the Central. Could all the past years of success have spoiled us when it comes to expectations?

What I think is really going on is that these prognosticators are afraid of being too off the mark. If their theories are going to be wrong, they at least want to be in the neighborhood. It’s really more about their reputations than anything else.

This means they are basing their estimates upon the Tigers 2015 season in which they won 74 games. Twenty-one fewer than the Royals. And given that the Royals won the World Series, they are less likely to look closely at the changes made by both teams and even less likely to boldly predict significant changes.

Let’s face it – we tend to assign performance based upon the most recent examples. Even some of the most loyal fans don’t believe VMart will perform well again despite a consistent career of excellence.

And that’s what’s going on with the Tigers. They finished last in their division and were among the 10 worst teams in MLB last year. This is the primary reason why the media is not forecasting a larger number of wins for them.

Thirdly, many MLB analysts on both TV and radio have expressed concern over Brad Ausmus’ ability, especially given the parallel with the Nationals’ implosion last year with Matt Williams at the helm. There is a palpable lack of confidence in Brad as shown last week by a panel of 6 former All-Stars, managers and GMs who unanimously voted him as the manager most in danger.

But I think a fourth factor is the lingering concern over multiple all-star injuries and the pitching woes of last year.

Last year’s problems have turned into questions this year and taken most of the focus away from a number of significant changes and the addition of 9 new players.

As I explained in a previous blog,

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/its-good-to-be-mad/

I much prefer that the team doesn’t have that huge bulls-eye on its collective back this year. In October, I would much rather read about how the team performed beyond expectations, than how they fell short of the predictions.


KURT

The national media paints a broad stroke on every team mainly because they can’t possibly dig as deep as say …us. While in Detroit, locally, with only one team to follow, fans and the media are closer to what has been happening with the team.

Think of all the negative vibes that the Tigers were floating in at the end of last season. That’s where the media started from in evaluating the Tigers.

The Tigers ended the season 74-87, last in the Central. The media had to have thought, wow, what a drop off for a team coming off a 92 win season and 4 straight division titles.

But we know as fans that the season officially ended on July 31st. After being stripped of Price, Soria and Cespedes, the free fall was sure to begin and it did. Does the media take that into consideration when they analyze what the team has done to improve since then? Or do they simply take a last place team with 74 wins and determine that an 8 win improvement would be pretty substantial progress?

What’s even more baffling are the Tigers’ odds to win a title. Now since we are talking Vegas, it’s just money that has determined, in less than a week, the Tigers decline from 20-1 to 30-1 odds to win it all in 2016. There really is no other rhyme or reason. And I put just as much stock in Vegas odds as I do in projected wins. Neither is based on much detail. The Tigers may not win a title, but Mike Ilitch didn’t risk the luxury tax for a .500 team.

But to be fair, the Tigers have had a difficult time staying healthy over the years and it is likely raising eyebrows. National media must wait every season for the annual injury to Miggy or VMart or JV, the 3 biggest dominos on the club. They just don’t trust the Tigers.

And I believe that regardless of how calculated and impressive the makeover, the injury bug is something that stands out when it is time to evaluate how well they will do. Oh, and Brad.

IT IS WRITTEN

By:  Kurt Snyder

I love to touch on overused phrases in sports; 5-tool players for one. Another is “serviceable.”  Players probably cringe when they are described as “serviceable.” Not many talented players in baseball are labeled this way.

But today I want to talk about the qualifier, “on paper.” That’s right, on paper.   That convenient phrase that everyone likes to use to cover themselves; to help guard them if their theories or opinions don’t quite turn out the way they had envisioned.

For kicks and giggles, I googled the phrase. This is what I found:

On paper definition – meaning, what is on paper: judging something by how it has been planned rather than how it really works in practice.

(Figuratively) based on debatable inference; in theory.

On paper – according to the assumed facts

Interesting? No not really, which is why I want to quit using the term. If we are going to impact our audience, “on paper” has to leave the vocabulary. But not quite yet. I am going to use it, not to cover myself, but to reinforce the progress the organization has made.

The Tigers are being described as much improved “on paper.” And it’s true. The team, compared to where it was on July 31st, has experienced a serious upgrade.

Dave Dombrowski was right. When all was lost at the trade deadline and the team was not in a position to make noise in the playoffs, or make them at all, he made it clear that the team was not going to “rebuild.”

The trading of Price, Soria and Cespedes would be the first step in what Dombrowski called a “reboot.” It seemed absurd at the time. There were so many issues, so many cracks, too much to fix. A rebuild was inevitable. This was going to take time.

And after Dombrowski was not retained, Al Avila was pushed in front of the press as the new GM. It wasn’t pretty. He was uncomfortable. He was nervous. And the Ilitch family was nowhere to be found. There was only Al, describing to the media why he was the best man for the job.

It was odd, for lack of a better term. He was interviewing for a job he already had. Things did not look good. It was clear, it seemed, that Al’s name next to the GM title needed to be written in pencil.

He wasn’t that polished executive with whom we had become comfortable. Dave was slick. But with slick came a lot of nothing for the press. He showed his cards very little and danced around issues and questions masterfully. That was his style and it was a very successful style for a long time in Detroit.

Even when he was continually questioned about how weak the team continued to be in the bullpen, Dave had an answer for why he felt his moves were the right ones. He never became rattled, at least not behind the microphone.

So Avila had a challenge. We all thought he needed to put his stamp on the organization. Few knew what was to come. We all just assumed that the stamp needed to come with a decision to fire Ausmus. It was the logical first move. Well, Brad stayed and fans all over town quickly made up their minds that Al was not GM material.

But this guy, Mr. Al Avila, had what he didn’t appear to have. He had a plan. His plan as we have watched it unfold has been very calculated and has begun to properly address all levels of the organization. This plan, surely on paper somewhere, has been nothing short of impressive. And he is hard at work checking the boxes.

To see this team come together has been more than exciting heading into spring training. The starting rotation was a shambles. Check the box. It ain’t anymore. The bullpen was a disaster. Check the box. It ain’t anymore. They also went from little depth to quite a bit, with more options and more versatility. Check the box.

And finally, in typical Ilitch style, this “recruiting class” has star quality once again. There was no box to check for adding a player like Justin Upton to the outfield. It wasn’t on Al’s list. Thank goodness it was on Mike’s.

The search for holes will take a while now. They are there but they are few. “On paper,” the team looks tremendous. And in this case, being tremendous on paper, already in 2016, is leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought the team would be sitting heading into March.

We should all be very encouraged by what Avila and Ilitch have done since July 31st. We have seen a roster turn from ruins to contenders. Amazingly, once again, the Tigers have a shot.

Internetslang.com has a unique definition for “paper.” It means money. And the Tigers, once again, have spent a whole lot of it. But they have spent it wisely, without selling their future. On paper, this team IS money.

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Rookies. They get plenty of attention during spring training, because everyone is waiting for that next Joel Zumaya, that next Justin Verlander.  Who can help the team right away and who needs more time? Our writers spend this Tuesday looking at the rooks.


1. Which rookies best serve the Tigers by making the team out of spring training?

KURT

There is really only one rookie to consider. And Michael Fulmer is probably the most popular choice even though we have hardly seen him pitch. But he comes with great advanced billing. The team wants what fans want, to see him emerge from spring training as someone ready to make a huge impact.

But it’s a lot to ask of someone who has barely sniffed Triple A ball, to come in, set the world on fire and dominate in the bullpen or in the rotation. I am ready to love Michael Fulmer. But I haven’t seen him pitch. However, if there is going to be a rookie to emerge, you have to figure it would be him wouldn’t you?

Actually, it would be of the Tigers’ benefit that Fulmer begin the season in Toledo. It would mean they are strong without him to start the season, with another serious gun waiting in the holster if they need him; a luxury of which they haven’t been familiar.

HOLLY

I need to preface my comments and include players who have had a taste of playing at the MLB-level.

I’m not a fan of taking, what appears to be, solid starters and turning them into relievers, especially if they are young and promising. We saw what happened when the Tigers did that to Porcello and Smyly – setting them back in their development and altering their approach to the game.

But I would do that with Shane Greene and only because he is recovering from his aneurysm and surgery. He doesn’t need the immediate pressure of making the starting rotation right out of spring training, especially given his train wreck of a season last year.

Let him ease back in and regain his strength and confidence. He’ll be the first choice for those spot starts and potentially may even take over a starting role later in the season. We saw what he was capable of doing before injury took its toll so Toledo would not offer much of a challenge.

Daniel Norris, I believe, is a solid bet for the starting rotation with his full arsenal, confidence and major-league attitude. The Tigers need him and Greene to solidify as starters given that the rest of the rotation is 30 years or older.


2. Which rookies are better off being sent down to AAA?

KURT

It sounds like Fulmer is the closest to breaking the ice on the “tall buildings” but still should start the season in the Toledo. Matt Boyd, in his short stint with the Tigers last fall, showed he’s got talent and has a big future with this team. But you can see he needs more development.

If you consider Rondon a rookie, I believe, unfortunately that what ails him will not be solved overnight and he needs another Toledo stint. Speaking of controversy, the last thing the Tigers are going to do with JaCoby Jones is promote him after a 50-game suspension.

Unfortunately, Stephen Moya is again Toledo-bound as well as Tyler Collins. Moya’s stock is falling and I believe he should be dealt. Collins has that lefty bat, but just isn’t athletic enough, which may be holding him back.

Lastly, Dixon Machado, who someday will be roaming Comerica, will definitely head back down. There are too many guys ahead of him at this point.

HOLLY

Analysts say the mark of a good team is not rushing players to the majors. The Tigers did it at an alarming rate with their pitchers last year and now they have to deal with repairing the mental damage inflicted upon some very young and inexperienced guys. Players like Nesbitt and Rondon who need to get their confidence back and regain perspective.

JaCoby Jones, primarily for his suspension, needs to return to Toledo, but Machado needs to join him. Both will progress more quickly with regular playing time, important because they will probably be needed sometime this season in Detroit.

Tyler Collins, who looks almost ready and Stephen Moya, who still needs to address the high strikeouts, are victims of the overpopulated outfield, so back they go.

But it’s the pitchers who come under greatest scrutiny. Boyd, however promising, did not have a good record or ERA last year and Fulmer is also seen as a top-tier starter but he’s never pitched beyond AA.

Both need to be expanding and refining their pitch arsenals which can only be done with regular mound work. Sitting in a bullpen and getting an inning here or there is not the way to develop valuable assets.

BACK TO BASE-ICKS

By:  Holly Horning

How bad were the Tigers in baserunning last year? Bad. I mean, reeeeally bad.

(This is where you ask “How bad were they?”)

It’s not enough to mention that they ranked dead last in baserunning. The Tigers were a -107 net runs gained by baserunning. The next closest team was the Dodgers with -71. The better teams had +110 and up to +142.

(Warning! Graphic stats.)

To translate these stats even further, consider:

– They made 60 outs on the bases last year.

– 25 of those outs were made at home.

– They were picked off 19 times.

– The differential between runs created and runs scored was -76.

– They went from 1st to 3rd only 73 times out of 321 chances.

– They went from 2nd to home 100 times out of 183 chances.

– They went from 1st to home 29 times out of 75 chances.

– Only the Dodgers and Orioles took fewer bases last year.

– Ian Kinsler, one of the better baserunners (+212 in his career) was picked off 8 times and thrown out 6 more times.

But is baserunning all about speed? If it was, then we could understand why the Tigers don’t perform as well as other teams given some of their big, powerful players who naturally run more slowly than the lean-and-mean ones.

Baserunning is a bigger and complex topic that also adds strategy and the mental game to the physical skills. It includes developing and honing instincts, integrating it with situational hitting, taking solid risks, playing mental games with the pitcher and taking leads. Additionally, it also means training runners to read the ball and fielders better and look for opportunities to take advantage of them.

Where the stats really get interesting is with the multiple rankings of MLB’s worst baserunners. There are rarely any Tigers who make the top 10-15 lists of slowest or worst baserunners. In just two of over a dozen compilations, is Victor Martinez mentioned. No one else. (For the record, Prince Fielder is one who makes every list.)

But Miggy is not a member of any of these lists. Time to kill the hypothesis that the Tigers’ bad base-running is due to the Miggy-Martinez batting sequence.

The stats don’t show this to be true. But what they do show is that the Tigers penchant for bad base-running is not the result of a couple slow runners. It is the result of a team-wide problem.

Only 1 regular starter last year (Kinsler) avoided producing negative runs. You may not be surprised that Castellanos is bad on the basepaths, but did you know that McCann and Iggy are worse than Miggy and VMart?

The descent into baserunning oblivion started in earnest 5 years ago and has only picked up speed. (Pun not intended.) While Brad was lauded for making this a topic to address when he first came on board, he did not realize until after the season started that the team did not have anywhere near the skill set needed.

While this lack of foresight can be attributed to a guy with no managerial experience, Jim Leyland also failed to address it in his tenure as well. Could be he was waiting for those 3-run homers instead.

So what do the Tigers need to address as they seek to improve their running game?

– An emphasis on fundamentals and hopefully what is now part of the new Tigers’ Way manual.

– Evaluating how effective Omar, the official baserunning coach, really is.

– Working with Dave Clarke on his method for handling runners from 2nd base to home.

– How to integrate running with small ball and situational hitting.

– How to motivate players to buy in and be receptive to learning and practicing unfamiliar strategies.

– Penalizing players who ignore coaches and run through the signs.

– Keeping players from daydreaming on the bases and getting picked off.

– Targeting rookies/sophomores, characteristically the worst baserunners, for more practice.

With the signing of Maybin and Upton, the Tigers at least can add 2 players who have career positive net runs gained.

The strategy of hiring outside baserunning coaches over the past 2 years has not made a difference. Let’s hope Kirk Gibson has a better way of reaching the players.

20 FEBRUARY THOUGHTS

By:  Kurt Snyder

With pitchers and catchers now having reported for duty, there is a lot to fill the list of monthly thoughts.  February’s version of 20 Thoughts awaits you below.


1.  There is not a single pitcher expected to make this team who isn’t considered healthy.   Can it be?

2. There are at least 2 pitchers in the starting rotation who we pray will stay healthy.   Can I say that in back-to-back sentences?

3. Why do reporters want to know why Rondon was sent home last season?   I would like to hear from him what the new Bruce will look like.

4. Tommy John surgery experiment #2 on its way.  First fail was Joel Hanrahan.   Will Bobby Parnell wipe away the memory?

5. Is Mike Pelfrey the  #4 starter based on experience and cost?  Because even with that, I consider him #5.

6. Oh, speaking of Parnell, let’s keep the term “100 mph fastball” out of spring training.

7. The win projection for this team is woefully low.  Why is that Brad?

8.  Even if the worst happens, I don’t consider Kirk Gibson a managerial candidate.   Interim or not.

9. If the Tiger pitchers give up more home runs this season,  how  quickly will we blame the new pitching coach and his more aggressive approach?

10. The Tigers most important starter? Anibal Sanchez.  (Yes this is a carryover from January.)

11.  Joakim Soria was a nice luxury to have with closer experience when needed.  Who’s that guy this year?

12. Here’s an old topic still on my mind.   Teams are shifting their best hitters to #2 in the order.   Miggy and his “speed” would just be silly in that spot.

13.  The silence on Jose Iglesias has been deafening.  Don’t know what to make of it.

14.  Is JD Martinez still earning a new contract?   Or is it official that we have discovered a perennial All-Star?

15. Many feel Castellanos is ready for a breakout season at the plate.   He had better.

16. Bobby Parnell should not be a candidate for the Opening Day roster.  Tell him now and let him get ready to contribute later in the season.

17. Are the Tigers feeling heat to retire 1 and 3?  Expect it soon.

18.   With Miggy back to full strength,  everyone will be waiting for the customary power to return.

19.  Most important bat?  VMart.  He  is the piece that completes the puzzle.

20.  This is still buggin’ me.  How do you project a team to be just above .500 when they have aggressively improved all their weakest areas?