Detroit Tigers midseason grades: Coaching, starting pitching star but low marks elsewhere

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers completed the first half of their schedule Wednesday, sweeping a doubleheader in Cleveland for the first time since 1977 and earning back-to-back winning months (14-13 in May and June) for the first time since 2016.

Despite the 36-45 record, the Tigers are 27-21 since May 8 and in third place in the American League Central at the season’s halfway point.

“Winning months are not the end all be all for us,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We’re proud of it. We like the work that’s going in, and the guys are starting to respond a little bit more. But you can never be satisfied. It’s just a monthly record.

“Stay humble and stay hungry with what you’re doing, but the youthfulness of this team is that this is a standard that we’re setting. We are not exceeding the standard yet. We need to always be reminded of that.”

Here’s the Tigers’ report card at the midway point of the season, including statistics through Thursday compared to the other 29 teams:

WINNING BASEBALL: Tigers play above-.500 ball 2 months in a row under AJ Hinch: ‘We can be winners’

MIGGY HEATS UP: How Miguel Cabrera turned back the clock, at least somewhat, in June

VERLANDER TALKS: Inside Justin Verlander’s MVP season & his thoughts on a reunion with Tigers


Stats: .234 AVG (19th), .305 OBP (22nd), .384 SLG (22nd), 8.7 BB% (15th), 27.0 K% (30th), 86 HR (21st), 313 RBIs (22nd), 50 SB (fifth), 12 CS (17th).

Top 3: Akil Baddoo (OF), Jonathan Schoop (1B/2B), Jeimer Candelario (3B).

The buzz: The Tigers through 30 games had a league-worst .199 batting average and an 8-22 record. From that point forward, the Tigers improved their plate appearances by taking more pitches, working deeper into counts and cutting down on strikeouts with a selective-yet-aggressive approach. Over the next 51 games, the team hit .253 to boost its season-long batting average to .234.

BADDOO: Why Tigers rookie Akil Baddoo ‘could be here to stay for a long time’

SCHOOP: Jonathan Schoop among best in baseball as trade deadline nears

The most electrifying player is Baddoo, a Rule 5 draft pick from December 2020. The rookie leads the Tigers with a .279 batting average and a .370 on-base percentage in his 62 games. Recently, Hinch has used him as the leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching. Against lefties, Baddoo is starting to put his calm approach on display. Across 38 games (28 starts) since May 7, Baddoo — who hasn’t played above High A in the minor leagues — is hitting .343 with 22 walks and 25 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Schoop paces the Tigers with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs, and Jeimer Candelario has been the most consistent hitter throughout the season. He has a team-high 12 doubles, along with a .261 batting average and a .340 on-base percentage.

CANDELARIO: How Miguel Cabrera’s mentorship helped Jeimer Candelario become consistent

Before the Tigers become postseason contenders, the offense needs massive upgrades. Nomar Mazara, Niko Goodrum and Victor Reyes —  among others — haven’t gotten the job done, and the franchise is still learning about the capabilities of Willi Castro, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, Isaac Paredes, Derek Hill and Zack Short. The roster should get ironed out in the second half of the season. (JaCoby Jones and Wilson Ramos were already designated for assignment, which gives an idea of what could happen to others in July, August and September.)

Grade: C-minus.

Starting pitching

Stats: 22 wins (17th), 4.20 ERA (17th), 19.5 K% (30th), 8.1 BB% (18th), .243 AVG (16th), 56 HR allowed (15th).

Top 3: Casey Mize (RHP), Spencer Turnbull (RHP), Tarik Skubal (LHP).

The buzz: The numbers don’t tell the full story here, especially when considering Mize and Skubal — two 24-year-old rookies — have anchored the starting rotation. Mize has a 3.46 ERA, 26 walks and 71 strikeouts over 88⅓ innings in 15 starts. He should be an All-Star candidate, and he is making push for AL Rookie of the Year alongside Baddoo. Skubal has a 4.06 ERA, 36 walks and 94 strikeouts over 77⅔ innings in 16 games (14 starts). The results from Mize and Skubal alone are worthy of praise. They are two starting pitchers Hinch needs to win in the future, and they’re starting to prove they can carry the rotation.

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

SKUBAL: The ‘inner focus’ that connects Tigers lefty Tarik Skubal’s psyche to potential

Turnbull got a late start to the season because of a positive COVID-19 test, and he hasn’t pitched since June 4 because of a right forearm strain — but the injury shouldn’t keep him out much longer than a few weeks after the All-Star break. He has blossomed in his third full season in the big leagues. Along with pitching a no-hitter May 18 against the Seattle Mariners, the 28-year-old has a 2.88 ERA, 12 walks and 44 strikeouts over 50 innings in nine starts. Matthew Boyd, also injured, has posted a 3.44 ERA, 19 walks and 56 strikeouts over 70⅔ innings in 13 starts.

The biggest disappointment, besides the Turnbull and Boyd injuries, is veteran Jose Urena, who signed with the Tigers on a one-year, $3.25 million contract this offseason. At least until the All-Star break, Hinch said his spot in the rotation is safe. But his 6.22 ERA, 33 walks and 47 strikeouts over 72⅓ innings could eventually force him to the bullpen.

TURNBULL: Why Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter for Tigers is only the beginning: ‘I belong here’

Another positive: 23-year-old Matt Manning has started three games in the big leagues, mainly because of the injury troubles this season. Despite his 8.16 ERA, four walks and six strikeouts over 14⅓ innings, it will be interesting to watch how Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter develop him in preparation for 2022.

Grade: B.

Relief pitching

Stats: 17 saves (21st), 5.07 ERA (27th), 23.5 K% (22nd), 10.8 BB% (20th), .257 AVG (28th), 42 HR allowed (22nd).

Top 3: Gregory Soto (LHP), Jose Cisnero (RHP), Kyle Funkhouser (RHP).

The buzz: The bullpen is a mixed bag. The Tigers have picked up elite performances from Soto, Cisnero, Funkhouser and ex-starter Michael Fulmer — who is currently dealing with a neck injury — but haven’t received much from the others. In June, Soto and Cisnero combined for a 0.71 ERA, 0.671 WHIP, eight walks and 28 strikeouts over 25⅓ innings. And Funkhouser went from being one of the first two players axed from Opening Day roster considerations in spring training to boasting a 3.04 ERA over 26⅔ innings since getting called up May 6. He has earned high-leverage opportunities in Hinch’s bullpen and hasn’t allowed a run in his past 6⅓ innings.

CISNERO: Tigers confident ‘underrated’ reliever Jose Cisnero can handle big moments

FUNKHOUSER: In Kyle Funkhouser, Tigers may have found pitching asset from an unlikely source

As a reliever, Fulmer has a 3.62 ERA, six walks and 35 strikeouts over 27⅓ innings, but he has gone to the injured list twice. Prior to 2021, Fulmer’s injuries required right knee surgery and Tommy John surgery, so his health is something to watch closely throughout the remainder of the season.

The remaining members of the bullpen, however, haven’t pitched effectively. The Tigers sent previous mainstays Joe Jimenez (6.88 ERA), Bryan Garcia (5.10 ERA) and Buck Farmer (9.16 ERA) to Triple-A Toledo for short stints before bringing them back. When the Tigers entered spring training, they viewed lefty Daniel Norris as a weapon. While he hasn’t been sent to the minors, he carries a 6.67 ERA through 28⅓ innings.

Alex Lange and Jason Foley could be key pieces of the future as their development continues, but they are still learning.

Grade: C-plus.


Stats: Minus-30 Defensive Runs Saved (29th), 50 errors (20th), .983 fielding percentage (20th).

Top 3: Jake Rogers (C), Derek Hill (CF), Daz Cameron (OF).

The buzz: While Rogers, Hill and Cameron have improved the team defensively, the Tigers are still trying to figure out if they can hit enough to stick in the big leagues. At this point, Rogers has the most experience of the trio. He is hitting .224 with four home runs, 12 RBIs, seven walks and 37 strikeouts in 28 games, along with handling Mize and Skubal behind the plate.

ROGERS: Jake Rogers, finding solace and chasing his goal of being ‘the guy’

SHORTSTOP: Tigers ‘might look into the free agent market’ for a shortstop. Here’s why

The biggest problem is the shortstop position. It feels like there is a curse on the Tigers, as any player they’ve tested — Willi Castro, Harold Castro, Goodrum, Paredes and even the thought-to-be reliable Short — has struggled. The Tigers have a combined minus-14 Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop in 2021. That’s the worst mark in MLB. And none of these players have produced enough offensively to offset their defensive woes.

It’s clear the Tigers need to find a shortstop of the future in the offseason.

Grade: D.


The buzz: There’s a reason Hinch finished top five in AL Manager of the Year award voting during four of his five seasons in Houston. To understand his value, look at the way the Tigers are playing — and winning — games. It’s a cleaner brand of baseball. Fetter deserves praise, too, for his handling of Mize and Skubal, and assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves has kept Soto, Cisnero, Funkhouser and Fulmer prepared for relief appearances.

HIRING HINCH: AJ Hinch, the Detroit Tigers and the fairy-tale ending he’s seeking

FETTER: Why Tigers rookie Casey Mize thanks Chris Fetter for ascension in May: ‘Gotta give credit’

Now imagine what Hinch could do with top-tier talent in 2022, assuming the Tigers open the checkbook this offseason and land premier players in the free-agent market. Based on the results from the first half of 2021, owner Christopher Ilitch shouldn’t need further convincing that it’s time to spend.

MORE ABOUT HINCH: How AJ Hinch learned an epic lesson: ‘Pour the foundation before you build the house’

Grade: A.

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

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