QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. With 20 games behind us, readers have the opportunity to read and think about a number of different topics.

Take a look and see what our writers have on their minds. Saturdays are no different as our writers don’t see the other’s topics prior to being published. Are they channeling the same thoughts?


HOLLY

QUESTION

Who says fans don’t know what they’re talking about? For 3 weeks now, many fans have been clamoring for Brad to move Upton out of the #2 slot where he never got on base and to put either JD or Iggy there because they are more reliable.  And while it’s a very small sample size, now that Brad changed the lineup, the move has paid off and run scoring has taken off.

COMMENT

Unlike last year when they were usually the first team to score, this year, the Tigers played many of their games trailing. This puts extra pressure on the pitchers, changes their pitching strategy and overall puts more stress on the team. And given that Upton has been mightily struggling at the plate and not getting on base, this is most likely the reason why this situation was being created.

CONCERN

Until Thursday, Anthony Gose was hitting well under .200. Then it was revealed that in his entire career, Gose has never taken batting practice on the fields, only in the cages, which does not offer players the most realistic experience. One would think that if a player is significantly struggling, he would be open to any possibility that might improve his game.

KURT

QUESTION

Will Michael Fulmer get spot starts in the rotation or will the Tigers be brave enough to let the best pitchers pitch? Something tells me, given Pelfrey’s salary, he would have to stink up the joint for another month before they would consider their options. Teams are usually much more patient with the money players.

COMMENT

I have to give Brad credit (assuming it was his idea) for moving Upton out of the #2 spot in the order, and replacing him with JD. It certainly hasn’t hurt as both players have perked up. I think JD would hit anywhere in the lineup, but Upton may benefit the most by the change considering he seemed to be pressing in the #2 hole, with a new team, in a new league and heavy expectations.

CONCERN

With the departure of Rajai Davis, it appears to have been the beginning of the end of the Tigers’ running game. Stolen bases are now a thing of the past again for the Tigers. The element of speed the last couple seasons allowed them to score in different ways. But they have now limited their ability to play small ball and manufacture runs.

THE SCORECARD FOR APRIL

By:  Holly Horning

Last season, I started charting a number of categories to help explain some of the patterns the Tigers exhibited and published bits and pieces over several months. This year, the plan is to publish these indicators every month and see how they evolve over the year.

Over the winter, a number of readers requested that certain categories be tracked. I have included those as well. The list encompasses issues that are known to be previous weaknesses, batting habits, scoring, managerial tendencies and, of course, base running. Overall, the categories tackled below have historically been issues of concern.

While some of these can be interpreted in more than one way, they generally give an idea of frequency and patterns. And you know how I feel about patterns.

The month of April has seen the Tigers play 20 games (through Thursday) so far. Let’s see how much each of these categories may be impacting the track record so far.

RISP

On average, the Tigers score slightly less than 25% of the runners they put into scoring position. This helps explains last year’s stat where the team consistently ranked at or near the top in offensive categories but in the middle when it came to their ability to score those runs.

Half the games show double digits in the number of runners left in scoring position with a success rate of driving them in standing in the low single figures. Thirteen of the 20 games so far have shown the Tigers’ success rate of driving in runs sits at 0 – 2 times per game.

LOB

LOB numbers are partially attributed to having increased offense. Yes, having more runners is a good thing unless you have problems getting them home. In comparison to their opponents, the Tigers almost always have more runners LOB, win or lose. In the majority of games, they strand in the high single to low double digits with the average LOB per game of approximately 7 runners.

STRIKEOUTS

The team has increased their strikeout numbers from last year. Currently, they rank 10th (with just 1-2 SOs separating them from 3 other teams) in the greatest number of strikeouts. With the exception of 1 team (3rd in standings), the rest of the teams are under .500 and sit at or near the bottoms of their respective divisions.

MANAGERIAL MOVES

This is a category that is highly interpretive but the purpose is to show the habits and possible patterns of the manager. It is filled with the concerns that the majority of fans have expressed since the end of 2014.

Leaves starter in too long – 9 (for 2 wins, 7 losses)
Based upon starters who give up 4+ runs and create a minimum of a 4-run gap differential in a game considered to significantly decrease the odds of a comeback. Also weighed is the potential that the game was winnable if only the pitcher had been removed earlier.

Leaves reliever in too long – 2 ( for 1 w, 1 loss)
Based upon relievers who give up 3+ runs and the criteria listed above for starters.

Bases loaded late in game, stronger batter not inserted to pinch hit and no runs scored – 2

Giving a hot player the day off – 3
Based solely upon batting stats, games in which the team struggled to produce more than 2 runs and replacement player fails to produce.

That’s baseball!” – 0
“We’re a better team than that.” – 3
Based solely upon newspaper reports, not radio or tv.

BASERUNNING

Stolen bases – 4

Caught stealing – l

Pick offs – 2

Failure to take expected base – 6
Based upon speed of runner, opponent’s arm, location and type of hit.

Failed attempt to take extra base – 9
Does not include attempts to steal a base.

Tagged out at home – 1

Bases left loaded at the end of the inning – 12

MISC.

Fielder collisions – 3

Injuries: 6 (McCann, VMart, Greene, Maybin -3)
Due to opponent – 4
Due to unresolved physical issue – 1
Due to player taking unnecessary risk – 1

OVERALL RECORD

Shut out from scoring – 2 games

Games with 2 or fewer runs scored – 5

Individual games record:
Wins – 11
Losses – 10

Series:
Wins – 2
Losses – 4
Ties – 2

Next month, May’s totals will be added to the mix. We’ll compare the same stats to April as well as add them to the year-to-date. It will give us a clearer picture of the issues, improvements and lingering concerns about what is helping or hurting the team.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

This week’s Thursday topic focuses on the Tiger outfield dynamic, particularly in left and centerfield.

In typical fashion, Holly and Kurt attack these questions independently without the knowledge of the other’s response, making for interesting contrasts. Will their answers differ? Let’s see.


Are you happy with how the outfield has been reconfigured this year?

KURT

With the injury to Cameron Maybin, we have yet to see the configuration intended. We still don’t know if the Tigers intended to platoon in centerfield when Maybin was healthy in the spring or if the plan was for him to take over. Gose has been ok in centerfield but has gotten off to a weak start at the plate, so his status could change drastically when Maybin returns.

In left, we all bought in to Upton being the best choice over Cespedes. Yoenis started slow in New York defensively and his extravagant ego was certainly on display early. But he has belted several home runs in April and has been the threat the Mets were looking for when they re-signed him.

Justin Upton? Well, I will just say he is still transitioning. He started well defensively early, but that hasn’t continued. But nothing stands out more for him than the alarming amount of strikeouts. Has it been a tough adjustment for him moving from the National League? Is it tough to move from San Diego to Detroit? Who knows, but the Tiger have invested big on his talents. And it’s time for him to warm up to the idea of being here.

I commented quite enough on Tyler Collins on Tuesday and with his departure to Toledo once again, we may have seen the last of him. He is beginning to wear out his welcome as he continues to prove he doesn’t have a whole lot to offer this team.

Did his antics Monday night hurt his future with the Tigers? I think so. The Tigers have already been criticized for their perceived lack of energy and cohesiveness. And they can’t let a part-timer still trying to forge a career make it all worse. Tyler Collins isn’t contributing enough to put up with any antics; so expect Stephen Moya to be the next left-handed bat to emerge from Toledo, when needed.


HOLLY

Things are really hoppin’ in the outfield these days, aren’t they?

But before everyone laments the loss of Rajai Davis and Yoenis Cespedes, they should know that the Tigers wanted Rajai to return, but he turned down their offer. And Yoenis, when he’s not focused on which mode of transportation to use, has been booed by Mets fans for making some bad plays and losing a game or two, along with a comment about preferring to be asleep rather than playing in the cold. Oh, and he’s making more than Miggy this year and will opt out at the end of 2016.

Given that, my first thought is that $168 million doesn’t buy as much as it used to anymore. The Tigers have 4 new players in LF and CF alone with Maybin and Aviles yet to play there and sadly, I don’t think the outfield has gotten any better – but possibly even slightly worse.

Upton appears to be an island and still barely interacts with his teammates. He offers no emotional expression (except for anger and apathy) and doesn’t willingly partake in team fist and arm bumping or even congratulating another player when he crosses home plate. Quite frankly, I don’t think he likes it in Detroit.

We don’t need to rehash the details of his hitting – or lack thereof – and the refusal of his manager to move this human strikeout machine down in the order. But the glove has been suspect, too, and includes the infamous incident with Tyler Collins the other night. As Ernie would have said “He stood there like the house by the side of the road” when the ball dropped and he made no effort. Collins may have gotten the heat, but Upton got the error on the play.

But what concerns me is that this was not their first bad episode. Last week, a fly ball had both of them calling for it, but as the CFer, Collins has the authority to call off all other players. A small collision when Upton refused to back off and his anger at Tyler was palpable.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Collins communicated his ill-advised message the other night because the outfield appears to be a stressful place – with Anthony Gose not looking too happy out there, either.

It has yet to be seen whether the return of Maybin will improve the situation. Can the manager, coaches and players can do anything to encourage Upton to buy into the team? If things don’t reverse course, the Tigers may be looking at having him around long-term – and not being able to afford JD down the road.

COLLINS SHOULD BE HAPPY TO BE HERE

By:  Kurt Snyder

Monday night, I attended my first game of the season. It was everything you wanted as a Tiger fan. A well-pitched game by our ace, Jordan Zimmermann (yep, you heard me), two big home runs from Miggy and one from VMart. Good pitching, good hitting, nice night, good company, baseball. Life’s simple.

Unfortunately, the feel good win was marred by the much-publicized fly ball lost in the lights by Tyler Collins. Heck, I didn’t even know it was a promotional night at the ballpark, but following the botched play in centerfield, there was a free bird for everyone attending.

What a nice surprise! But I’m not sure the guy one section over even got a bird, because he kept yelling at Collins the rest of the night. I just shook my head. Come on man, it’s just a bird!

My brother didn’t even know what happened. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was in the bathroom when the birds were handed out. It kind of describes his golf game, actually.

But seriously, what was Collins’ deal? Here was a play that happens several times over the course of a season all over the league. Players lose fly balls in the lights all the time. Once it’s lost, it becomes real difficult to find it again. But the whole play was one big debacle. Collins lost the ball, Upton picked it up, went to throw, dropped the ball, then couldn’t find it and eventually the ball was thrown wild to the infield, with Jordan Zimmermann working hard to run it down before any damage was done.

If Collins thought the resulting boos were directed completely at him, then he needs to get ahold of himself. Give the fans a little credit. We are walking into the park these days, at least the true blue baseball fans, a little ticked off.

The team’s not playing well; a team loaded with high-priced talent and high expectations again, is still floundering towards the end of April. Everyone is frustrated. The team plays with little enthusiasm, little emotion and may be playing a little tight or even a lot tight. This is a big year for them, with maybe more pressure than ever to win.

Justin Upton for one has a lot to prove and he knows it. It may take him awhile to settle in and realize all we want in this town is what he’s done his whole career, nothing more. But he may be trying to do too much.

Mike Pelfrey came in with the reputation as the Tiger pitcher no one wanted. Fans everywhere predicted his demise and labeled him a bad signing. So far, they are right.

And the fans boo. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve been waiting a very long time for things to fall in place. But instead, the Tigers annually fall apart. Tiger fans don’t need many reasons to get upset. They get to witness poor base running at an alarming rate. The lineup full of offense and All Stars can’t hit a lick lately and they have a manager who few think has the intestinal fortitude to infuse his team with the much-needed energy to really contend.

This team is constantly behind the 8 ball and they have far more to worry about than what Tyler Collins does or doesn’t do. He won’t find his name ever mentioned as one of the top 5 issues with the Tigers. He should find solace in the fact that he is hardly a blip on the screen.

So lighten up Tyler, it’s not about you. In fact, if I am Collins, I would thank my lucky stars that I am hearing boos in Detroit instead of Toledo. He needs to save the ‘finger pointing’ and take advantage of the time he’s here. Because he’s just Cameron Maybin away from a trip back to Toledo, if not an outright release.

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

As the Tigers continue to struggle, the team had to sit down for a little heart to heart talk. Holly and Kurt discuss what the clubhouse meeting might have been about and what decision came out of the meeting as a result.

In typical fashion, Holly and Kurt attack these questions independently without the knowledge of the other’s response, making for interesting contrasts … most of the time. Will their answers differ?


Was Saturday’s closed clubhouse meeting primarily about Saturday’s game or was it about something more?

HOLLY

A closed clubhouse meeting, with the GM, and after only 17 games into the season? It is definitely about more than the one game, and even about more than this last series.

Teams won’t have these meetings if it’s just one, or a couple players, having issues. And if you’re including the GM, it’s not about something as simple as giving a pep talk or discussing the next series.

So why do you have these meetings? When your team is showing signs of dysfunction in multiple places and there is more than a hunch it’s greater than a simple funk. It’s about the fear that the rest of April could put you seriously behind in the standings.

You can’t win your division in April, but you sure can dig a serious hole that could be extremely difficult to escape especially if the Royals continue to play as they have. The Tigers have dropped from a nice little record to already being under .500 and 4 games out with first place Oakland up next followed by more Indians and then Nationals, Rangers and Orioles soon afterwards. All top teams.

Things need to start turning around quickly because Mr. I isn’t going to sit on his hands and watch this team sink much further.


KURT

You don’t have a clubhouse meeting because of one game. Generally they occur during a slump, to air grievances and clear the air if it needs clearing.

But when the meeting includes the GM, it’s serious. And the fact that it happened this early speaks volumes. I would guess the message was loud and clear. This is a very good baseball team, strategically assembled to address all the areas that struggled in the past. So all they have to do is play.

But the same message had to be heard by our manager as well. He doesn’t have many excuses if he can’t win with this team. Once they iron out their injury situation, any discord will be on him, if it isn’t already.


Upton and Miggy benched less than 24 hours after the clubhouse meeting. Was the decision all Brad or did Avila exert some influence?

HOLLY

Last year, we wondered why VMart stayed in the lineup despite an inability to bat from the left side and run without limping. A midnight meeting that included Dave Dombrowski and Mr. I resulted in Victor going on the DL the very next day. And then, last week, I reported a story where Miggy told Ausmus that McCann would be his pinch-hitter (during the 2014 playoff race in September) and Brad complied.

In 2016, it’s a similar story. Two players struggling mightily and calls for their benching seemingly ignored. A team meeting, with Avila, and the next day, they are benched. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

So yes, Al would appear to be Brad’s back-up muscle at the very least given what we know. Which brings up a troubling question, especially given that Ausmus is in his third year of managing.

Does Ausmus still have limited influence and power over his players and have the inmates taken over the asylum?

KURT

Oh, this was all Avila. You could almost sense it when Brad explained the reason, almost apologizing for the move as if to say, ‘my boss made me do it.’

I didn’t necessarily agree with the move, mostly thinking, ‘OK, give them a day off, just not the same day.’ But to bench them together, when you need a win in the worst way? Not so sure Kurt does that as manager. But who am I as both Upton and especially Miggy perked up Monday night in the win over Oakland.

The bottom line is that Brad shouldn’t need GM input or owner input regarding players; not a good sign going forward. This is the second notable exchange between Brad and his GM. A third one may not be a wise idea. Avila can’t be happy, having to intervene during April baseball, after having shrewdly built a very talented roster.

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE

By:  Holly Horning

One of the biggest questions being asked this season concerned what was going on with Miggy. He’s not hitting and appears to be somewhere else. Is it injury? Is it ageing?

Well, the good news is that it appears to be neither. The bad news is that whatever he has, it’s contagious. The offensive lineup most MLB analysts were raving about, has disappeared. Five batters are now hitting under .200. Two of the top hitters in all of MLB are close to .200. The heart of the order has disappeared and their group picture is now on the side of a milk carton.

Most disconcerting is that VMart, the passionate one on the team, is quiet. JD looks worried and Upton is aloof and not interacting with his teammates. Most of the team appears to be extras in The Walking Dead. Few appear to be fully in the present and many seem to be going through the motions. Most of the team looks distracted. Their body language looks universally poor and defeated.

If you peer into the dugout, notice how many of them are sitting by themselves. But have you seen how empty the bench is? Some players are retreating to the clubhouse when they are not needed. And that’s not a good sign. Add some chicken, beer and video games, and you’ve the Red Sox, circa 2011.

The first sign that something was amiss came on Opening Day. A game the Tigers won but you’d never know it by watching their tepid and restrained celebrations. The Marlins, on the other hand, were joyfully celebrating and hugging each other in their dugout after scoring each time.

Normally even-keeled players have been taking out their frustrations. In just this past week, we’ve seen Justin Upton get angry with Tyler Collins over a collision. He’s also thrown a few bats. Gose has been seen smashing his bat and helmet at home plate and the ever-affable Andrew Romine was seen trashing the dugout.

Only Ian Kinsler visibly appears to be trying to right this ship. When he gets on base, you see him punching the air and yelling encouragement to his teammates. He is the cheerleader. And he’s the only one. Until maybe James McCann returns.

This is a team-wide problem, not just an issue with a bunch of guys who aren’t hitting. It’s not a simple bad run or “April baseball.” It’s lack of focus. Sloppy play and sloppy baserunning. Serious and sustained hitting droughts. Loss of passion. And the increasing tendency to get at-bats over with quickly. There is no fight in these kitty cats.

This isn’t a normal phase in baseball. It’s a sign of an unhappy team. Something’s gotta give.

And unfortunately, this team is looking and reminding me more and more like the Washington Nationals of last year. A team that, on paper, had great talent, but couldn’t or wouldn’t produce. A team that, along with the Tigers, was labeled as one of the year’s greatest under-performers. A team that did not respond to their manager. A team that decided they wanted their sophomore manager gone, according to one player’s confessional, so they stopped caring.

If we use what happened to the Red Sox and the Nats, then these are classic signs that Ausmus has lost control of the clubhouse. Players who are no longer playing as a team nor sticking together. Guys with no fight to “be in it to win it.” Athletes who are going through the motions and showing no passion. Players who appear to look as if they’d rather be elsewhere.

It’s the body language and emotional clues that tell us this goes beyond the concerns solely focused on talent and skill.

Could the players see that Brad wasn’t going to make it through this year? Do they already have him pegged as a lame-duck manager? If so, maybe that’s why he doesn’t appear to have much influence this year with the players. It is widely-known in baseball that a manager without a new contract by the All-Star break (and also possessing not the best of records) at the latest loses a significant amount of control over his clubhouse.

But whether or not Brad has lost his team, there are things we cannot deny. A manager’s job is to unify, encourage, inspire and motivate his team. It is to pull the best performance out of each player. It is also about making everyone accountable. And it is about making them passionate about winning and not giving up. Ausmus has not done well at any of these endeavors.

As the manager, Brad naturally attracts the most attention and blame. He is the guy who is most directly responsible for the team’s performance. But he’s not the only guy who deserves blame.

And that takes us all the way back to the question that will haunt fans forever. (Other than “Why was Doug Fister traded?”) What did Dave Dombrowski see in a guy with no managerial experience whatsoever to make him hire Brad Ausmus to lead a team of all-stars and veterans to the World Series in his very first year? A year in which the window was starting to close and a sense of urgency needed to be implemented?

Dave deserves a huge heapin’ helpin’ of blame for creating what we are seeing today. But so does Mr. I who allegedly did not like Dave’s selection but signed off on it anyway.

And, of course, the players deserve a nice slice of the blame pie, too. Just because there may be no leadership, doesn’t make it right for them to put in less effort. But could it be that they are looking to facilitate a change sooner rather than later?

We may never know what issues are going on behind the scenes. The Tigers have a tendency to keep everything tightly under wraps and the dirty laundry rarely gets spilled. It’s too sad to be a joke, but the Tigers never seem to fire anybody. They release, retire and reassign instead. A peek into the Front Office is a reminder of executives past going back over 20 years. And that’s an issue, too, which will be discussed on these pages in the future.

But we do know that Al Avila was part of Saturday’s closed-door team meeting. And now he has inherited this mess from Dave. How he handles this will be one of the biggest markers – and one of the most telling – of his GM career.

SANCHEZ HEADING DOWN A CRITICAL PATH

By:  Kurt Snyder

Every month, I publish my list of 20 thoughts. And each and every month I have a holdover. The holdovers represent a thought important enough to keep thinking about and stressing for another month.

I have considered holding over Anibal Sanchez as the Tiger’s most important Tiger, every month, knowing full well the importance of having him healthy, strong and the dependable starter we have been used to seeing in the past. He’s the one Tiger pitcher that we hoped would be the difference; the guy to keep things interesting this season; not difficult once again.

All winter long, as I contemplated who the most important Tigers would be, there were 4 names. The list always starts with Miggy, eventually includes VMart and must include JV. But Sanchez is the wild card; the difference maker. One the Tigers need to round out a solid top of the rotation. Well number 3 was never more important given how poor number 4 and 5 have been.

Verlander is slowly but surely getting his act together, juggling between dominance and inconsistency. Zimmermann has yet to give up a run as a Tiger and is 3-0. I don’t have many superlatives to help build that case. The numbers tell it all.

But then there’s Anibal. I go all the way back to Baltimore in 2014 when after suffering from injuries, his only contribution would have to come from the bullpen in the first round of the playoffs. The Tigers were in need of someone who could bridge the gap to the ninth or finish games altogether. Their bullpen was in shreds.

I remember it well; it was maybe the last time Sanchez was described as dominant. Since 2014, we’ve been waiting for that dependable guy to return. Without him, any kind of meaningful run for contention in the Central will be a problem.

We could be reaching an uncomfortable crossroad in the Tiger rotation. Sure Mr. Ilitch thinks a pile of money can thrust his team into contention every year, but he’s spending a lot of money on guys who have seen better days; guys in the latter years of their contracts.

The Tigers are counting on guys who have already given them everything they had. Sure, there are players who have much more to give, but there are others whose time may be nearing an end. There were times when they had their best as Tigers, but the team could not take advantage.

Anibal Sanchez has been a very good pitcher for the Tigers, one they felt they could not afford to give up when he became a free agent. So his career continued in Detroit. But he is showing signs of decline. And decline is not a word normally used to describe your number 3 starter. A number 3 is a guy you count on in the playoffs. But who can realistically see Sanchez heading to the mound in October, given what we have seen the last couple of years, give or take?

On the bright side, the Tigers did themselves right by bringing in 3 young starters to fortify their farm system and maybe even their starting rotation this season. Yes, I fear they will be called upon sooner than we would have liked. The feel around here just doesn’t scream contender, does it?

All the moves the team made in the off-season were expected to breathe life into the roster. We have seen it in the bullpen as Wilson and Lowe have certainly been what the doctor ordered. But some have shown up here wondering what hit them. KRod still needs to shed the curse of Tiger Closers Past and Justin Upton needs to turn in his defective bats that showed up in Detroit with holes in them.

And Anibal Sanchez? Well, in April, we’ve got early concerns. The guy we need so much may have already given it all. So when 20 May Thoughts roll around, will Sanchez be listed again as the most important Tiger starter? Yes, assuming he’s still in the rotation.

QUESTIONS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. With 15 games behind us, readers have the opportunity to read and think about a number of different topics.

Take a look and see what our writers have on their minds after more than 2 weeks of regular season play. Saturdays are no different as our writers don’t see the other’s topics prior to being published.   Are they channeling the same thoughts?


KURT

QUESTION

Will we have ourselves a catching controversy when James McCann is ready to return to action? I would hope not. Salty has provided the Tigers what they asked for; the ability to back up the catching position with a powerful left handed bat, and he has delivered when they have needed him most.

COMMENT

Mike Pelfrey, in the early going, has performed like most thought he would; he has struggled. So far, he is a starter that no one, outside of the opponent, wants to see on the mound. As a starter signed for 2 years and $16 million, he’s the one pitching acquisition who has the most to prove going forward.

QUESTION

What lurks in the shadows of the Tiger bullpen that casts a horrible spell on previously successful closers? KRod, considered a solid acquisition to close games for Detroit, has not been effective. He’s not happy and neither are we.


HOLLY

QUESTION

After an article on how Drew Verhagen took it upon himself to solve his back problems, are the Tigers doing their homework when it comes to the health of their players? VerHagen, once deemed to be a starter, was transitioned to the reliever role because of back problems dating to late 2013. VerHagen took it upon himself to find a solution and then independently hired a training and conditioning sports specialist who has returned him to his former form.

COMMENT

We may finally have confirmation of some sort surrounding the 2013 rumors about Prince, Miggy’s injury and the trade of Avisail Garcia. In an interview, Prince Fielder was asked how he likes the Rangers team. To paraphrase him, he commented that he had yet to get in a clubhouse fight, so everything was good.

CONCERN

First, it was the “That’s baseball” quote followed by last year’s “We’re a better team than that.” But that phrase has reared its ugly head again as an excuse for bad game performance. Excuses don’t win ballgames – accountability, motivation and a concerted effort by the entire team does.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS FOR A FRIDAY

By:  Holly Horning

In my line of work, we teach clients about the importance of first impressions. Believe it or not, people make 10 different judgments about someone within the first 5-6 seconds. And that small window of time is crucial to whether they will believe you and what you represent going forward.

In baseball, while fans do form their first impressions, some teams can always surprise you with their performance – for better or for worse. Even when the month of September hits. Just ask the Red Sox.

But fans, nonetheless, are anxious to get as many hints about their team as early in the season as possible. They are looking for hope. They are also concerned about their team and thus also want to know what issues still need to be addressed.

So while many are fretting over the latest KRod Mylanta moment or celebrating the Tigers’ winning record, I’m sitting and back and observing. Sure, I’m forming opinions but they are really half-formed Jello at this point. Like everyone else, I’m hoping the good stuff I see continues and the bad stuff will be realized and addressed.

So what are my first impressions of the Tigers so far this season? I thought you’d never ask.

In keeping with the 10 judgments made during a first impression, I offer my top 10. I apologize for the bad headers in advance.

1. DOUBLE PLAY DUO
They were the best double-play duo in 2015 and it looks promising again so far. Kinsler and Iggy are a joy to watch. I hope the starting pitching (except for Zimmermann) have taken them out for several dinners considering these two have consistently bailed them out more times than can be mentioned.

2. WHASSUP WITH UPTON?
His body language and lack of interaction with his teammates tells me he’s not yet part of this team. Even a former player-turned-analyst said it appears Upton hasn’t bought into the team yet and may be having problems adjusting because he is now playing second fiddle and no longer the marquis player.

3. HOT, EVEN WHEN COLD
Offense is the least of the team’s problems this season. The Tigers are still putting lots of runs on the scoreboard even when Upton, Miggy and VMart aren’t driving them in. While you want to see the big guns produce, it’s also nice to see unexpected production from the others.

4. SAME OLD, SAME OLD
It’s disconcerting to see 2 of the same problems that seriously plagued the team last year continue into 2016. Non-existent situational hitting and beyond bad baserunning. Two factors that take away from the great individual offensive performances we see. The same problems that resulted in 40% of 2015’s seasons games the Tigers lost because they scored 2 runs or less.

5. CATCHERS IN THE WRY
How amazing have McCann and Salty been? It’s been a far cry from last year. Runners consistently being thrown out, power being shown with the bat and guys who look and act like they give a damn.

6. THE WALKING DEAD
I saw it from the very first game. Most of the players we see on the field appear to be zombies. Many don’t even look to be authentically present during a game. Little interaction in the dugout and tepid celebrations when someone hits a HR. Could be a number of reasons this is happening. (Tune in Monday for my blog on what may be going on.)

7. INGE-ING ALONG
Could it be? Could Nick Castellanos finally be out from under the dark cloud of fan ire that has surrounded Tigers’ third basemen? While he’ll never be Aurelio Rodriquez, Nick has improved his defense somewhat but it’s his bat that has perked up and been consistent – so far. People forget how young he is and how many times he’s had to adapt to the Tigers changing direction on him.

8. NEW STUFF, OLD WAYS
A new GM, a new way of doing business, a new strategy about how to build a team and new players. But coaching seems to have stayed the same. Pinch-hitting in high leverage situations not being utilized despite a bench that now has viable options. Coaches who wave runners on to their doom. Decisions made well in advance instead of as a situation unfolds. Sloppy play, sloppy running, sloppy performances – more than we should be seeing if this team is to contend.

9. FINALLY SOME RELIEF
Despite the current uneasy feelings about KRod, the bullpen is no longer a raging 10-alarm fire. It appears Al Avila has exorcised the demons and put some reliable arms in the pen that can actually find the plate. It will continue to be an adventure, but at least we won’t need to self-medicate as much.

10. BAD BOOTH BUDDIES
God Bless them both – they try so hard. But Mario and Gibby have zero synergy and rapport with each other. They are oil and water and their attempts to banter with each other are uncomfortable and halting. They’ve only done (app) 5 games together but it feels like 5 years.

So how will these 10 impressions play out? Time will tell. A couple are sure bets to have staying power. Others will evolve over time. And those that continue to dwell on the dark side? Potentially Al Avila continues to prove he is no Dave Dombrowski clone by getting involved. And I wouldn’t rule out Mr. I’s participation.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

This week’s Thursday topic is all about Miggy. His slow start is concerning readers, especially Ray W., who asked us to address the issue.

In typical fashion, Holly and Kurt attack these questions independently without the knowledge of the other’s response, making for interesting contrasts … most of the time. Will their answers differ?

Thanks to Ray for the following question.


Do you have concerns about the offensive performance thus far of Miguel Cabrera?

HOLLY

I have that whiplash feeling again. Miggy’s not hitting as well as expected………..but they’ve only played 12 games……yet are we holding him to higher standards because of his history and great talent?

Bottom line: there are reasons to be concerned….and not. But what I can say is I don’t think his slow start has anything to do with injury or age because lots of top players aren’t hitting well right now. Mike Trout is hitting .220 with 16 strikeouts in 50 at-bats.

Cabrera’s been so good for so long that we sometimes confer super-human traits on him – and maybe, just maybe, because he is finally healthy after 3 years, we are hoping that he will make up for lost time.

I tried to go back into Miggy’s history of April offensive stats but realized that you can’t properly compare seasons of injury and recovery vs. healthy. But what I did see is that his power tends to trend on the lesser side in April with 1-2 HRs as the norm but his other stats were much better, even when playing injured.

But two things have grabbed my attention. The first is Miggy’s uncharacteristic bad timing at the plate. Swinging at bad pitches and the timing is really off. I don’t believe that such a talented player could lose so much so quickly – but could it simply be related to his mechanics being off after 3 years of compensating for core and ankle injuries?

The second is more troubling, however fixable. Miggy is not focused and not as motivated as he should be – and he’s not the only player.

If you’re a regular reader (or at least have read our bios), interpreting and teaching body language is part of my consulting career. And I don’t like what I see. Cabrera appears to be somewhere else – his gaze is not focused, he seems distracted, he appears to be somewhere else. His movements do not show confidence, his head is often down and there is a palpable lack of energy in all his movements.

Miggy is a classic example of a guy who is very talented, but easily distracted and in need of something or someone to keep him motivated towards a specific goal. Considering that he is not the only one suffering from this malady, there’s hope if the team recognizes what needs to be done.


KURT

Many readers in response to the question on Tuesday about players who have disappointed so far this season, cited Miggy as one of the biggest disappointments. But I never even considered him when deciding on the answer.

I was bothered over Tuesday night’s 4-strike out performance and especially the at-bat in the 8th with the bases loaded when he was dispatched by Kelvin Herrera in just 3 pitches. It was very un-Miggy like. You expected at least a good battle in that situation. A battle Miggy would normally win.

But I won’t draw any drastic conclusions after 11 games. Miggy has started slowly before and is too skilled for it to continue much longer. The one thing I do wonder about is his weight. He looks heavier to me this season and if he is, it may be affecting his bat quickness.

But I think I may be grasping at straws and looking for a reason that’s not there. When players slump, they normally aren’t seeing the ball real well. When they are hot, it looks like a beach ball.

I believe this is an opening month slump, nothing more. He is definitely fighting his swing and looks a bit lost; common traits for a slump. It’s kind of like the first night of golf when you haven’t picked up a club since October. Things seem foreign.

But, this is still Miguel Cabrera. He appears healthy and it’s the third week of April. So, I think it’s just a matter of time before the dangerous hitter we know and love resurfaces.