After another puzzling start by Justin Verlander on Wednesday night in Chicago the Tigers have now lost 16 of their last 22 games. This spiral has whittled down their once best-in-baseball record and allowed the rest of the AL Central to inch back into the picture in the division race. Most troubling has been the breadth of the collapse — the starting pitching, the bullpen, the offense, and the defense have all struggled. Even manager Brad Ausmus has stumbled at times, as he did last night when he let Verlander twist in the wind in the 6th inning to face eight batters, allowing his starter to throw more than 125 pitches. The Tigers nosedive has truly has been a team effort. Here are 8 things the team can do to be better. It may not turn the ship all the way around, but it’ll help calm the choppy waters.
1. Start platooning at the catcher position
Repeat after me: “Never let Alex Avila hit against a left-handed pitcher.” Avila is in his 6th big league season and it’s clear that he’s a bad hitter when facing lefties (.212/.301/.324). Yet, he continues to get his swings in against southpaws. Bryan Holaday on the other hand, has better power against lefties. He’s not a dangerous guy with the bat, but his numbers against LHP (.405 SLG) are considerably better than Avila’s. The bottom of the order needs more punch, so this is a move that should be made.
2. Get the Martinez’s in the lineup together more often
Speaking of the catcher position, there’s no reason that Victor Martinez couldn’t catch twice a week if it’s handled properly. That’s only about 45 starts behind the plate over the course of the season. If many of those starts came against left-handed pitchers, that would be even better, as it would be a huge upgrade at the catcher position offensively. In those starts J.D. Martinez could DH and his robust (and right-handed) bat could get into the lineup. The Tigers’ offense is good 1 through 4, it’s the last five spots that are sketchy. With the bottom of the order struggling, it makes it hard to score runs because those hitters are bunched together. More on improving the offense below.
3. Never hit Rajai Davis leadoff
There’s this old adage in baseball that speed never has a slump. There’s another that says speed should be at the top of the order. Apparently this is to “put pressure on the defense” or something like that. Well, it’s not true. Speed’s great if the speedy player gets on base a lot, but if he doesn’t it’s just a waste of a vital spot in the order. Davis had a fine start, but he’s cooled off and really he’s just settled down to his normal talent level. He’s been in this league a long time and we know what sort of hitter he is. He’s not a good leadoff hitter by any batting measurement, his OBP is barely over .300 and if he hits in front of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez it’s just costing them RBI opportunities and ending rallies before they start. Davis has value – his speed is deadly as he’s shown in his amazing theft rate and ability to swipe third base. But there’s one base you cannot steal – first. Davis should hit in the #9 spot when he’s sharing left field with his platoon partners (more on that below).
4. Stop trying to steal bases with the wrong runners
And on the stealing thing: let’s stop trying to steal bases just to show the rest of the league that these are “the new Tigers.” Avila, Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Victor, J.D. Martinez, and Torii Hunter are 6 for 16 in steal attempts. That’s 10 runners eliminated from the bases. Not good, not good at all. You have to be successful about 75% of the time to make the risk of stealing a base even worth it. Davis, Austin Jackson, and Ian Kinsler should be sent when it’s appropriate, otherwise, stay put.
5. Cut Coke from the diet
Since September 18, 2012, Phil Coke has a 5.89 ERA in the regular season, and that’s in 74 games. There’s only one word for that: yikes. Coke has done nothing to show he’s a dependable major league relief pitcher. When this guy comes into the game, mothers should hide their babies. What’s keeping him on the roster? Is he secretly related to owner Mike Ilitch? Does he have some sort of off-field talent that benefits the team in a way we’re unaware of, like maybe he makes the best grilled cheese on the team? Does Miguel Cabrera consider him a good luck charm? No, it’s just a case of the Tigers holding on to hope for too long. Ironically, the worst thing that ever happened was that Coke pitched well in the first two rounds of the 2012 playoffs (seven scoreless outings including two saves against the Yankees), because that seems to have given Dave Dombrowski starry eyes. Ever since, the organization has been hoping against hope that Coke would flash that dominance again. He hasn’t, he won’t, and it’s time to break up with this girlfriend and erase her number from our phone.
6. Pick a shortstop, as long as his name is Suarez
Two impressive home runs in his first week and twice as many eye-popping plays in the field has made a believer out of me. Eugenio Suarez should be the starting shortstop. If he can provide some offense it will really help the bottom of the order, and it’s obvious he’s much better than the sad crew of shortstops the Tigers have tried so far this season.
7. Make adjustments in pitching philosophy out of the pen
This requires some coaching and is probably not going to happen overnight, but it needs to be brought up, if for no other reason than to exorcise the demon from my soul. I’ve been frustrated so many times already this year watching the Detroit bullpen and their approach. Far too often the relievers are trying to make a perfect pitch rather than throw strikes and challenge the hitter. How many times have we seen a Detroit reliever get into a hole because they were nibbling and missing, which forced them to give in and toss a strike across the plate. Or, they end up issuing a walk. Al Alburquerque, Coke, Corey Knebel, and Joe Nathan have been most guilty. Alburquerque is still trying to dazzle us rather than get batters out. Often the batter will get himself out, just throw strikes. Speaking of throwing, it’s time the Detroit bullpen had more pitchers and less throwers. This is an epidemic across MLB as a whole — bullpens are stocked with arms who can throw hard but don’t know how to pitch. Too frequently, Nathan has been trying to throw the perfect slider in the dirt rather than trusting his stuff and challenging hitters. Time for a staff meeting led by Jeff Jones.
8. Trim the bullpen by one
The Tigers have two of the best hitters in baseball in Cabrera and VMart. They also have an anemic bottom of the order, with streaky “disappearing act” hitters like Austin Jackson and Alex Avila chewing up at-bats. Jackson’s bat deserves a nickname: Where Rallies Go to Die. The Detroit offense needs more options, but that can’t happen as long as they carry seven relievers on the roster. That allows Brad Ausmus only four bench players, one of them a reserve catcher. Only J.D. Martinez has a decent pinch-hit bat off the bench for the Tigers, but there should be one more. Once Andy Dirks is off the DL he should be called up to replace a reliever on the 25-man roster. There’s absolutely no reason the Tigers (or any MLB team) shouldn’t be able to survive with six relievers. If they can do that, it would give them another bat off the bench to use in place of one of their lesser order slots.
2 replies on “8 things the Tigers can do right now to be a better team“
Dan: Since it’s obvious we don’t have a “closer” right now, think Ausmus should manage his bullpen the way it was done before Tony Larussa “invented” the “closer”. If the incumbent is doing well on a given day, leave him in as long as possible.
Dan you need to email your ideas to the Tigers dugout ASAP. I have often wondered about Avila at the plate . The problems in the pen are numerous and any changes are slow to come .
V Mart is worth his weight in gold . Where would they be without him ?? Get Tori Hunter some help with his glove and figure our what is wrong with Verlander.
With K.C. due in town Tigers have to figure out and act on their many problems.
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