Candelario repeats as Tiger of the Year

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — If Jeimer Candelario needed any further evidence of his place at the heart of the Tigers’ rise out of rebuilding, a second consecutive Tiger of the Year Award should help. The slugging third baseman became a repeat winner Tuesday after taking the majority of the vote from members of the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Candelario is the first back-to-back winner since Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013, the same years he won American League MVP honors. Candelario is the seventh back-to-back winner since the award began in 1965, a list that includes:

Miguel Cabrera, 2012-13
Travis Fryman, 1995-96
Cecil Fielder, 1990-92
Alan Trammell, 1987-88
Ron LeFlore, 1977-78
Denny McLain, 1968-69

Candelario joins Fryman, Fielder and McLain as the only members on the list to win back-to-back Tiger of the Year awards before his age-28 season. Candelario turns 28 on Nov. 24.

What was once an award dominated by Cabrera and Justin Verlander had become more of a year-to-year honor for first-time winners in recent years. Candelario’s quiet emergence as a quality two-way corner infielder on a young team has helped him stake his claim.

Candelario won Tiger of the Year last season with a strong but abbreviated 52-game campaign, during which he posted an .872 OPS. While his OPS dropped to .795 over 149 games this year, his overall production remained steady, including 42 doubles to tie for the Major League lead.

For the season, Candelario batted .271/.351/.443 with 16 home runs, 67 RBIs and a 122 OPS+. He led the Tigers in Wins Above Replacement by both the baseball-reference and Fangraphs calculations and ranked fifth among American League third basemen in the latter. His 3.7 bWAR was the highest by any Tiger since 2017, and the fourth highest by a Tigers third baseman in the Comerica Park era (since 2000).

Candelario’s single-game highlights included a two-homer game Sept. 12 against the Rays with a game-tying two-run homer in the 10th inning, keeping Detroit alive for an 11th-inning win. It marked just the third game-tying homer in extra innings by a Tiger who was down to his final strike since 1916. Candelario went 4-for-4 with four runs scored on Sept. 3 in a 15-5 win at Cincinnati. The games were part of Candelario’s strong finish, including six homers and 19 RBIs from Sept. 1 to season’s end, and a .282 average with an .882 OPS after the All-Star break.

“Candy’s a very steady presence,” manager A.J. Hinch said in August. “He’s not the most vocal, he’s not necessarily the loudest, but he’s the most consistent. And that counts for something, especially when you see him go on stretches. You look up and his OPS is around .800, he’s getting double-digit homers, he’s leading the league in doubles. That’s a good player, and if you’re not watching every day, you’re not going to appreciate what he’s been doing.”

While Candelario’s average exit velocity and hard-hit rate dropped from 2020 to 2021, he was actually more aggressive while trusting in his ability to make contact. His 21.6 percent strikeout rate was easily his lowest in a full season, and his 23.4 percent swing-and-miss rate on pitches was the lowest of any season in his career. With an improvement in his line-drive rate, it’s not hard to see more improvement in his production.

“Same approach,” Candelario said after his two-homer game, “working on my craft with my hitting coaches and just being consistent with my routine. The game plan is paying off.”

The Tigers are eager to see what more he can do. After giving Isaac Paredes a chance to compete for the starting job at third base last Spring Training, Hinch made Candelario his everyday third baseman from Opening Day on, while letting Paredes transition to second base at Triple-A Toledo and having Schoop work at first and second base in Detroit.

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