Why the Detroit Tigers should blow past their 48-win pace

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers are on pace for 48 wins and 114 losses.

That’s as bad as the 114-loss team in 2019 and nearly as bad as the 119-loss team in 2003.

Let’s make three things clear: One, this is a rebuilding year. Two, the Tigers aren’t very good. And three, the talent of the offseason additions wasn’t enough to compete for a postseason bid, let alone the American League Central title.

[ In Year 5 of rebuild, this Detroit Tigers product is unacceptable. Here’s why ]

FiveThirtyEight.com projects the Tigers for a 62-100 record, with a less-than-1% chance to make the playoffs. A .382 winning percentage, as predicted by Nate Silver’s analytics, isn’t something to brag about.

But it’s better than the Tigers (10-24) current .294 winning percentage through 34 games this season. After sweeping the Houston Astros to climb to 6-6, the Tigers lost 16 of 18 between April 15 and May 4.

Since then, they have won two of their past four games.

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Track records

This team should be better than the worst record in baseball.

Four winter signees — Robbie Grossman, Nomar Mazara, Wilson Ramos and Jonathan Schoop — have track records of success in the majors. There’s also Jeimer Candelario, who has been with the Tigers since a 2017 trade with the Chicago Cubs. He kept hitting through the Tigers’ skid and has a .289 batting average.

What should we expect from the signees? With just a back-of-the-envelope calculation, here’s what they could produce, across 162 games:

Grossman: .254 batting average, 10 home runs, 56 RBIs, 72 walks and 106 strikeouts.

Mazara: .258, 23 home runs, 90 RBIs, 45 walks and 152 strikeouts.

Ramos: .288, 19 home runs, 87 RBIs, 47 walks and 99 strikeouts.

Schoop: .249, 29 home runs, 79 RBIs, 26 walks and 148 strikeouts.

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Through 34 games in 2021, the four players have combined to hit .213 with 13 home runs, 35 RBIs, 40 walks (26 of those from Grossman alone) and 94 strikeouts. Mazara and Ramos have spent time on the 10-day injured list.

“They’ve done it before, and they’re going to do it again,” Hinch said April 25, during the team’s recent slump. “This is not a team that can’t hit. It’s a team that hasn’t been hitting.”

Because these players have track records, bank on slight improvements from what we’ve seen so far this season.

We’re already seeing early signs of growth in the team’s offense. In the past five games, the Tigers are 54-for-184 (.293) with 32 runs, 24 walks and 49 strikeouts. And they’ve only needed four home runs. It wasn’t long ago they owned a league-worst .195 batting average (though the team’s .212 batting average is still second-worst in MLB).

[ Better offense is a positive, but Detroit Tigers find other ways to lose ]

Starting pitching

The starting rotation has a 4.10 ERA, 15th in baseball. They’re ahead of the Boston Red Sox (4.15), Oakland Athletics (4.30), two teams atop their divisions. Besides left-hander Tarik Skubal, each starter has looked dominant more than once.

Matthew Boyd leads the way with a 2.27 ERA, followed by Jose Urena (3.60), Casey Mize (4.41) and Spencer Turnbull (4.74). Skubal has a 5.67 ERA and has bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen. Michael Fulmer, treated as a hybrid pitcher, owns a 3.14 ERA but is much better as a reliever.

[ Tigers value Michael Fulmer as ‘closet adrenaline junkie’ out of bullpen ]

“We’re getting good starting pitching a lot,” Hinch said May 2. “We’ve talked over and over about how the tone is set every day by the starting pitcher to get into the games, give us length and give us quality. I can leave guys out there to pitch six, seven and eight innings all the time, but when they match quality with that, that gives us an opportunity to get something started offensively.”

Mize continues to take steps forward in his MLB development. He pitched five innings of one-run ball against the Minnesota Twins (April 6), seven shutout innings against the Houston Astros (April 12), six innings of three-run ball against the Chicago White Sox (April 29) and six innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox (May 5).

The former No. 1 overall pick, however, was roughed up for 11 runs in starts against the Athletics (April 17) and Kanas City Royals (April 23). If Mize keeps moving in the right direction, the pitching staff should thrive.

YOUNG ARM: How Tigers rookie Casey Mize is ‘finally putting in the effort on the mental side’

CHECKING IN: What Tigers have learned about Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal developments in 2021

Schedule

When the Tigers went into a team-wide slump, their upcoming schedule was tough. They had three road games each against the White Sox ( now in first in the AL Central), New York Yankees (now in second in the AL East) and Red Sox (now in first in the AL East).

The Tigers won two of those nine games before splitting two games with the Twins. (The third contest was postponed until July because of rain.)

“The consequences of bad pitches hurt more when you’re facing big boys like this, guys that can hit the ball out of the park, battle you with two strikes or foul enough pitches for you to make a mistake,” Hinch said April 30, discussing Skubal’s start in a 10-0 loss to the Yankees.

Along with playing at home, the schedule gets a bit easier, with three games each against the Royals (third in the AL Central) and Cubs (third in the NL Central). The Royals come to town from Tuesday through Thursday, followed by the Cubs from Friday through Sunday.

TOP PROSPECT: Why the fixes for struggling Tigers prospect Spencer Torkelson are all in his head

Although the Royals 16-17) swept the Tigers in four games earlier this season, they’re a different team. Back then, they had the best record in baseball and were riding momentum. They’ll enter Tuesday on a nine-game losing streak. The Cubs (17-17) have a 7-3 record in their last 10 games but are 4-8 on the road.

Once the Tigers get back to traveling Monday, a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners begins. The Mariners are in third place in the AL West with an 18-17 record, but weren’t projected to compete for a playoff spot this season. Afterward, it’s a long flight to Kansas City for three more games with the Royals.

By this time two weeks from now, the Tigers should be back to their expected ways: Bad, but not record-settingly so.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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