Once again, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has proven that he’s not afraid to spend his money in order to win an elusive World Championship. According to Jon Monrosi of the MLB Network, the Tigers are only the second team to sign two $100 million dollar free agents in the same offseason (the Yankees, who did it twice, were the first). The signings of Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton, along with the Tigers’ other offseason moves, shows that they want to win it all now.
Even if they hadn’t made any offseason moves the Tigers would have been able to field a star-studded lineup, but in order for this team to contend for a world title they’ll need big seasons from their veteran big guns like SP Justin Verlander, first baseman Miguel Cabrera and DH Victor Martinez.
Tigers Pitching Preview
Other than Verlander, the Tigers’ 2016 projected starting rotation consists of free agent acquisition Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, free agent Mike Pelfrey and Daniel Norris.
Verlander’s lost a couple of ticks off of his fastball in recent years, and that’s forced him to rely on his slider. He last truly pitched like an ace during the 2012 season (coincidentally, the last time the Tigers appeared in the World Series). He missed the first two and a half months of last season due to a triceps injury, but by season’s end his peripheral stats had significantly improved compared to 2014.
Sanchez’s 2015 season ended in mid-August due to a shoulder injury. He had been largely ineffective up to that point and ended up tied for uncharacteristically giving up the fourth most home runs (29) in baseball. The Tigers are hoping that Sanchez is healthy. If he lowers his 2015 fly ball rate and can cut down on his home run rate, his ERA, which was 4.99 last season, could drop under four.
Norris, once one of the Blue Jays’ top prospects, was traded to Motown in last year’s mid-season David Price deal. He made just 13 major league starts in 2015, but his performance improved as the season wore on. He showed much better control in his last eight starts with the Tigers, and with a 9.9 K/9 minor league strikeout rate, he has sleeper potential. Unfortunately, Norris had offseason surgery to remove a cancerous growth on his thyroid gland; however, he should be fully healed by the start of spring training.
Here’s a closer look at some of the Fantasy-relevant pitching additions the Tigers made this offseason:
Jordan Zimmermann, SP
Although his statistics regressed a bit last season, the Tigers signed Zimmermann to a five-year $110 million contract. He’s ranked 32nd among starting pitchers in preseason NFBC Fantasy Baseball drafts, which makes him a solid SP2 option who might be a draft day bargain since he can sometimes pitch at a SP1 level. Zimmermann doesn’t have an overpowering fastball and he’s not your typical strikeout pitcher (overall 7.43 K/9 rate). However, he’s a control pitcher who has an excellent 1.82 BB/9 walk rate for his career. Overall, he provides Fantasy owners with consistency. He has four straight seasons with at least 32 starts and double-digit wins, and he has provided his owners with above-average ERA (3.32 overall) and WHIP (1.16 overall) ratios. Last season’s slight downturn might look worse than it actually was due to the fact that Zimmermann was coming off a season in which he posted career bests in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. He did give up almost twice as many home runs last season (24) compared to 2014 (13), and although moving to the AL might not help him improve in that category, his new home, Comerica Park, surprisingly witnessed the fifth-lowest home run rate in baseball last season.
Mike Pelfrey, SP
Mike Pelfrey was signed to a two-year $16 million dollar deal and will fill the back end of the Tigers’ rotation. Depending on the size of your league, he should have minimal Fantasy value (he really hasn’t been Fantasy relevant since 2010). You might use him as a possible short-term waiver wire addition if he goes on a hot streak while you need to replace one of your Fantasy starters.
Francisco Rodriguez, RP
Francisco Rodriguez, acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in a mid-November trade, is the perfect example of how a power pitcher can successfully reinvent himself when the light goes out on his overpowering fastball (hear that CC?). When he first debuted, Rodriguez relied on a mid-90s fastball, but when his heater started rapidly cooling off (the average velocity on his fastball dropped to 89.7 mph last season), it was clear that he’d either have to adjust his pitching style or fade into obscurity. Rodriguez, who holds the record for most saves in a single season with 62, turned to his deceptive changeup last season and had immediate positive results. He was able to locate his change in the lower part of the strike zone, and opposing hitters were fooled by the movement of the pitch. They swung at Rodriguez’s pitches located outside of the strike zone at the highest rate of his career (36 percent O-Swing). He also recorded his highest swinging strike rate (14 percent) since 2006 and was able to get ahead of hitters, which is so important for a closer, with his highest first strike rate (63.4 percent) since 2002. On average, Rodriguez is the 14th closer being taken in NFBC drafts this preseason.
Tigers Offensive Preview
Many analysts are concerned that with the exclusion of the switch-hitting Martinez, the Tigers’ projected lineup is too right-handed. Having a right-handed dominant lineup is nothing new for the Tigers. In fact, they had the most righty batter vs. righty pitcher at bats last season and they performed well, recording the league’s second-highest OPS in that type of at bat (the Blue Jays led the league in that stat).
No matter what side of the plate they’ll be hitting from, the Tigers have a formidable lineup. Cabrera may no longer be a lock for 40 plus home runs, but if he stays healthy he can still hit 25 to 30 dingers, drive in a bunch of runs and hit for a great average. With an average pick of 14.85 in NFBC leagues you might even be able to grab him in the second round of your draft this season. J.D. Martinez is coming off a breakout season, and if he can get his strikeout rate under control, another 35 plus home runs is possible. Second baseman Ian Kinsler may never put up another 30 home run, 30 stolen base season, but he had the highest line drive rate of his career in 2015, and that helped him record his highest season long batting average (.296) since 2008. He’s ranked seventh among second basemen in preseason NFBC drafts and could still provide you with a good batting average and double-digit homers and steals. The Tigers are hoping that 3B Nick Castellanos’ second half numbers (nine home runs and 35 RBIs) are an indication that he’s ready to take his game to the next level.
Here’s a closer look at some of the Fantasy relevant offensive additions the Tigers made this offseason:
Justin Upton, OF
When he was traded to the Padres last season, many analysts expected Upton’s power numbers to decline; however, the free swinging outfielder, who’s averaged just under 25 home runs over the past seven seasons, showed that he is immune to ball park effects. He actually put up better numbers at Petco Park (.277-15-42) than when he played on the road (.225-11-39). Upton, who stole an average of just under 20 bases in four full seasons with the Diamondbacks but just 16 in two seasons with the Braves, started running again and ended up swiping 19 bases in 2015. With 17 of those steals coming in the first half, it’ll be interesting to see if he can match that total in 2016. Although Upton owns a 24 percent career strikeout rate, he did show better discipline at the plate last season, and swung at fewer pitches that were outside of the strike zone. Upton’s overall batting average was some 20 points lower than his career mark. This could have been caused by the trickle-down effect of a line drive rate that was almost three points lower than his previous season’s mark, and his lowest BABIP since his rookie year. This season, I expect his batting average to bounce back while his stolen base numbers regress a bit. By season’s end you should anticipate stats near his career norms; figure somewhere in the .270-27-85 range. He is currently the 16th outfielder coming off the board in NFBC drafts, which would make him a fifth round pick in typical 12-team Fantasy leagues.
Cameron Maybin, OF
Cameron Maybin is back with the team that made him the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Although he’s never put up the power numbers that were expected from him, Maybin will probably be the Tigers’ everyday centerfielder, and if he bats leadoff he could help you in the runs category and come close to matching last season’s 23 stolen bases. He might be Fantasy relevant in deeper leagues that require you to start five outfielders, and he’s the 57th outfielder coming off the board in NFBC Fantasy drafts.