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?
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?
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?
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.
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.