First half report card: how the Tigers rank in 2024

Bless You Boys

The Detroit Tigers are currently in fourth place in the American League Central division with a record of 39 wins, 47 losses. They are 15 games behind first place Cleveland and 8 games out of the last wild card playoff spot.

In a baseball world where a team can play .500 ball and remain within shouting distance of making the playoffs, the Detroit Tigers still come up shy of contender status, thanks to a lineup that continues to struggle scoring runs, and a bullpen that has been average, at best.

Starting rotation has been strong

The bright spot for the Tigers has been their starting pitching rotation. Led by Cy Young contender Tarik Skubal, Detroit’s starters rank among the top teams in MLB in several important categories, while the relief corps has been just a notch below average overall. Here is how the pitching staff ranks at the break (rankings as of the morning of the Fourth of July):

2024 Tigers first half pitching ranks

Metric Rotation/ Rank Bulllpen Rank Pitching Rank
Metric Rotation/ Rank Bulllpen Rank Pitching Rank
Runs/ Game 4.30/ 13th
ERA 3.72/ 10th 4.27/ 19th 3.94/ 12th
FIP 3.49/ 3rd 4.03/ 19th 3.71/ 5th
WHIP 1.20/ 9th 1.25/ 12th 1.22/ 10th
K/9 8.84/ 5th 8.41/ 23rd 8.67/ 11th
BB/9 2.25/ 4th 3.22/ 12th 2.64/ 5th
HR/9 1.00/ 5th 1.04/ 22nd 1.02/ 9th
GB% 44.2/ 6th 42.8/ 18th 43.6/ 9th
BAA .245/ 18th .232/ 18th .240/ 18th
fWAR 8.9/ 3rd 0.6/ 24th 9.5/ 9th

As we see in this table, the Tigers’ starting rotation has been solid, ranking in the top third or better in most major categories. In fact, Detroit’s starters have the lowest Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in the American League, and third lowest in the major leagues. The rotation also has the third highest rWAR in MLB. There is a noticeable gap between the Tigers’ FIP and their ERA.

Skubal ranks 7th in MLB among starting pitchers with 2.9 fWAR. Reese Olson is 17th with 2.3 and Jack Flaherty 22nd with 2.1. By definition, an average MLB team should have one starter among the top 30, and the Tigers have three arguably number one level starting pitchers. That’s impressive! Casey Mize ranks 51st with 1.4 WAR. Matt Manning has been 0.2 which is at least above replacement level, while Kenta Maeda is at 0.0 and a disappointment. Give the Tigers credit for Flaherty, who will probably be traded before the deadline, and then remove some credit for Maeda.

If there is a weakness in the Tigers’ rotation, it is the number of hits allowed. They have kept the ball in the yard, giving up just one home run per nine innings. We’re not going to worry about a .245 batting average allowed while the rotation does not give up walks or home runs. The Tigers’ rotation has given them a chance to win most games and with a better overall defensive unit would look even more impressive.

Bullpen: Quite average

The Tigers’ bullpen has posted a mixed bag of results so far this season. While the overall rankings show a team that is just a bit below average in allowing runs, the Tigers’ relief corps ranks fourth in MLB in allowing just 27 percent of inherited runners to score, but rank fourth worst with only a 50 percent save percentage and dead last in holds. The latter metrics indicate performance in situations where the team has a lead in the late innings.

If you get the impression that your team’s manager takes his starters out of the game too soon, that probably has more to do with trends in the game than his particular management style. The Tigers rank 7th in MLB with starters averaging 5.7 innings per game, and seventh with 43 percent “quality starts” (six innings, three runs or less). Apart from a short stretch where they really leaned on Jason Foley early in the year, the bullpen has not been heavily taxed.

They results feel much worse that the numbers, but that’s largely attributable to a lack of a true shutdown reliever to close out games, and to rarely having any margin of run support to work with.

The offense is still offensive

The weakness in the Tigers’ roster has been their lineup, to nobody’s surprise. The team that ranked 28th in the major leagues in runs scored in 2023 has improved to 21st so far in 2024. Here is how the Tigers’ offense ranks so far this season.

Tigers’ 2024 first half offense rankings

Metric Number/ MLB Rank
Metric Number/ MLB Rank
Runs/game 4.10/ 21st
wOBA .292/26th
Avg .228/ 26th
OBP .292/ 28th
SLG .373/ 23rd
HR 82/ 23rd
SB 37/ 28th
BB pct 7.5/ 25th
K pct 23.4/ 11th

The Tigers offense had shown improvement during the second half of the 2023 season, ranking 19th in the majors in runs scored. What we see thus far in 2024 is only a modest improvement from their dismal campaign overall the previous season. The Tigers fielded a historically bad lineup in 2022, scoring fewer runs per game than any Detroit team had scored in over 110 seasons. Improvement has been slow and since Kerry Carpenter’s injury everything has trended sharply to the negative.

In just about every major offensive metric, the Tigers rank in the bottom third. The club has a .228 batting average, a wOBA and OBP below .300, with little power and speed. The club does lead the major leagues with 27 triples, with surprisingly only a third of those coming in the spacious grounds of Comerica Park.

Breaking down the offense by position, here is how the Tigers rank using wRC+ and rWAR:

2024 Tigers rankings by position

Position wRC+/ Rank fWAR/ Rank
Position wRC+/ Rank fWAR/ Rank
C 89/ 17th 2.1/ 10th
1B 65/ 29th -1.1/ 28th
2B 95/ 11th 1.2/ 14th
3B 93/ 18th 0.9/ 19th
SS 35/ 30th -1.2/ 30th
LF 104/ 12th 1.3/ 12th
CF 85/ 18th 0.7/ 21st
RF 134/ 5th 2.3/ 7th
DH 98/ 19th 0.1/ 17th

Note that wRC+ is an offensive metric that ranks hitting on a scale where 100 is league average for all hitters, not necessarily scaled by position, but the rankings are by position. fWAR is Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement which includes a defensive component.

These rankings tell us that the Tigers have gotten well above average production from right field, slightly above average at second base and left field, just below average at catcher and third base, much to be desired in center field, while first base has been awful and shortstop just putrid. This is a team dragged down by its worst players again and again.

No Stars

The lack of middle of the order type hitters is a glaring weakness and a condemnation of the lack of effort on the part of management to address that weakness during the off season. The “plan” to plug prospects into the lineup all around the field is failing as Spencer Torkelson and Parker Meadows are back in Toledo, Kerry Carpenter is on the injured list, and Javier Baez— the one player that they’re spending money on– doesn’t belong in the major leagues. Some of those issues, namely Torkelson and Baez, aren’t Scott Harris’ fault, but they are his responsibility.

Riley Greene ranks 40th among major league hitters with a 138 wRC+ and 2.4 bWAR. There are no other Tigers in the top 120 players- nor any regulars even close to that level. Carpenter ranks 19th in MLB with a 151 wRC+, but just 129th with a 1.1 bWAR after missing more than a month already with the back issue.

The next Tigers on the list with at least 160 plate appearances are Wenceel Perez and Matt Vierling, ranking 148 and 149 with a wRC+ of 102, or just above league average. (Note wRC+ is a percentage stat similar to wOBA, while WAR is a cumulative metric, dependent upon plate appearances).

How About that Central division?

Much has been made of the “weak” division that the Tigers play in, but if the playoffs began today, the central would have half of the post season teams, with two of the three wild card teams in the Twins and Royals, while the Indians boast the league’s second best record. On paper none of these teams are particularly impressive other than the Twins, but they’re winning and getting the most out of their rosters without having any more top talent than the Tigers do. What they lack, are the gaping holes in the lineup that the Tigers contend with night in and night out.

It is frustrating to see the Tigers being leap frogged by two division rivals now sitting in playoff spots, and other teams going from worst to first while Detroit continues to wallow in mediocrity, with promises of the great rebuild going to save the day, some day.

A team can get by with a couple of players producing below average if they have a few sluggers in the lineup, but the Tigers don’t have them, and there’s not much to suggest that will change without going outside the organization to find them. We can hope that changes, but it would also do the Tigers a world of good to simply shore up their most glaring weaknesses and build a good bullpen. There’s no other way to win on the cheap.

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