| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize: ‘Struggles are going to make me a lot better’
Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize shares his thoughts Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, about his first MLB season and what to expect heading into next year.
The Detroit Tigers coped with many unexpected scenarios in the 2020 season.
They battled through the COVID-19 pandemic, postponements to protest social injustice and a wild 60-game sprint. While the Tigers (23-35) were better than last season’s 114-loss team, they still didn’t make the playoffs. They finished in last place of the American League Central for the fourth time in six years.
“We should define what success is for this club, and each and every one of these individuals, with how they’re going about their business,” interim manager Lloyd McClendon said Sunday before the Tigers lost their season finale. “My grades are A’s across the board for most of them.”
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Well, a perfect report card isn’t the right assessment.
But that doesn’t mean the Tigers didn’t make improvements.
Because of the shortened schedule, the Tigers are tough to evaluate. They tripped in August with a nine-game losing skid but turned around their postseason chances with a six-game winning streak. Yet they lost 19 of their last 25 games and were eliminated Sept. 23 from the expanded playoffs.
Overall, the Tigers received a “C-minus” for 2020.
The 2019 Tigers offense was bad. Really bad.
Second-to-last in home runs and first in strikeouts, to be specific.
In 2020, the Tigers were still the worst in the majors with a 27.3% strikeout rate — Niko Goodrum struck out 69 times in 158 at-bats — and 7.1% walk rate. But another year of swing-and-miss baseball doesn’t tell the full narrative. The Tigers’ 62 home runs ranked 23rd. They were 15th in batting average at .245 (last season: 26th), 24th in offensive wins above replacement at 0.8 (last season: 30th) and 20th in slugging percentage at .387 (last season: 29th). These numbers aren’t good enough, but the team made improvements.
Detroit’s early power surge wasn’t sustainable once first baseman C.J. Cron went down with a season-ending knee injury 13 games into his one-year contract; the same is true because of injuries to JaCoby Jones and Jonathan Schoop. Designated hitter Miguel Cabrera didn’t find his swing until the end of September, and outfielder Christin Stewart never got going.
Still, shortstop Willi Castro finished with a .349 batting average, and rookies Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron put together quality at-bats despite slumps. In his third full year, Jeimer Candelario found some consistency in the middle of the order. There wasn’t enough to warrant a perfect grade but seeing positive results from future pieces gives the Tigers a foundation to stand on.
Final grade: C-plus
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The Tigers didn’t get an “F” here because Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal made their debuts. Getting a glimpse of what it takes to be a big-league pitcher is important in their development and the rebuilding process, so this season’s starting rotation wasn’t a complete failure.
But it was close.
Spencer Turnbull went in the right direction with a 3.97 ERA. Command remains his biggest enemy, with 4.6 walks per nine innings. With refinement this offseason, there’s no doubt he has the stuff to lead the rotation in 2021. Besides Turnbull, the starting rotation collapsed, finishing with a league-worst 6.37 ERA.
Returning from Tommy John surgery, Michael Fulmer was on a pitch limit, taxing the bullpen each day he took the mound. Matthew Boyd, the supposed ace, couldn’t avoid giving up home runs (led the league with 15). The Tigers signed Ivan Nova on a one-year contract, but he didn’t make it through more than four games before an injury. And Jordan Zimmermann got injured in July’s summer camp and only pitched 5⅔ innings in the final season of his five-year, $110 million contract.
The positives came out of the bullpen: Bryan Garcia, Buck Farmer, Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander took steps forward. The relievers finished with a combined 4.94 ERA — still bad, but not the worst. The ERA was hurt by poor results from Joe Jimenez, who lost the closer role, Kyle Funkhouser, John Schreiber and Rule 5 pick Rony Garcia.
Final grade: D-minus
As good as Castro’s batting average was, he produced a negative-7 defensive runs saved at shortstop. But the Tigers already knew he would struggle: they discussed moving him to the outfield before Goodrum’s oblique injury in early September. His defense should improve with time at shortstop, but he’s never going to be a grade-A defender.
Paredes, who hadn’t played above Double-A, looked confused at third base as he caught up to the speed of the game but eventually got comfortable and showcased his potential. It’s unclear if he will stay at that position or move to second base, considering Candelario will return to third in 2021.
Candelario took over at first base after Cron’s injury and didn’t fit well there.
Rookie Sergio Alcantara has been praised for his strong arm, and he showed it in limited appearances this year. Meanwhile, Goodrum had positive-6 defensive runs saved at shortstop and second base — in other words, he was fantastic.
In the outfield, Stewart isn’t a reliable left-field option, and his offense (hitting .167 in 36 games) doesn’t give the organization a reason to keep him out there. However, Cameron, Jones and Victor Reyes — three important pieces moving forward — were pretty good.
Behind the plate, catcher Austin Romine had negative-4 defensive runs saved above average. He allowed 23 stolen bases and caught six runners.
Final grade: C
Former manager Ron Gardenhire was never going to turn the Tigers around in his three-year tenure; the franchise didn’t give him enough to work with. His main job was to get them through the most difficult years of the rebuild. He accomplished his task and retired Sept. 19, citing health reasons, with eight games left.
McClendon, then the bench coach, took over and lost four one-run games. But he did make a few smart moves, one of which was bringing in Cisnero after Skubal got into a two-out, bases-loaded jam Sept. 22 against the Minnesota Twins. Cisnero struck out Byron Buxton to escape without further damage.
The Tigers made 13 comebacks, an impressive feat in a 60-game schedule, which warrants a nod to the coaching staff. Over the last three seasons, they managed to get their players to compete hard for nine innings despite the many losses.
Another interesting note: Led by third base coach Ramon Santiago, the Tigers implemented the shift 50.5% of the time, only trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers (55.8%). They finished with two team runs saved because of the shift. The shift usage and runs saved says quite a bit considering the Tigers’ infield included rookies Paredes, Castro and Alcantara through different parts of the season.
Final grade: B-minus