J.D., Wilson, and resurgence by Verlander were bright spots for Tigers in ’15

J.D. Martinez has hit close to .300 with 60 home runs in his first two seasons with the Detroit Tigers after being released by the Astros.

J.D. Martinez has hit close to .300 with 60 home runs in his first two seasons with the Detroit Tigers after being released by the Astros.

Earlier this week Scott Ferkovich gave us five good things that happened this year for the Tigers. In the spirit of seeing the glass as “half-full” here are my choices for the best things about the Tigers’ disastrous 2015 season:

The maturation of J.D. Martinez

After his surprising emergence as a regular in 2014, the onetime retread took another huge step forward this year to become a legitimate cleanup hitter—though it took Brad Ausmus until September to put him there. No longer burdened with the platoon split of last year, he has an OPS close to .900 against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers, and now that he’s in the lineup every day, he is a threat to hit forty homers a season. If he reaches the mark this year, he’ll be the first Tiger not named Cabrera to do so since Cecil Fielder in 1990 and 1991. He’s just what the lineup needs behind Miggy, and his play in right field, while not spectacular, is certainly acceptable.

The debut of James McCann

In his first full season, McCann proved he is already a front-line major league catcher. In most other years, McCann would get a lot of votes for Rookie of the Year, though he won’t win the award with Miguel Sano, Carlos Correa, and other more heralded rookies in the league. McCann’s pitch-handling skills are excellent for the first year on the job, he has a good if not always accurate arm, and his offense includes some power and some speed, with good base-running instincts. He needs to improve his production against right-handed pitchers, though his OPS of .635 is acceptable. Against lefties, his OPS is above .900!

The return of Justin Verlander to ace status

It was a long road back to where he was in his standout years, but JV has made it. His velocity is slightly diminished, but he’s become smarter, more versatile, more mature, and even more of a bulldog. It’s a great sight to see a healthy Verlander back on the mound. Like every pitcher, he can struggle with his command of certain pitches outing to outing, but he has such a huge arsenal he can adjust to use whatever’s working that day. And he’s become a team leader and the chief optimist. When have you ever seen a pitcher removed from the game and then admonishing the fans for booing the manager’s decision to do so? JV’s got tremendous character and work ethic to go with his enormous talent, and he’s again a joy to watch at his craft.

Miggy being Miggy

It doesn’t matter much what misfortunes befall the rest of the team, Cabrera will keep launching rockets all over the field, keep befuddling opposing pitchers, and remain one of the most intimidating batters in all of major league history. Cabrera will win his fourth batting title and he was a pleasure to watch, including his on-field practical jokes and running dialogues with opposing players when he’s on first base. But don’t let his baby face and childish pranks fool you—Miggy is a fierce competitor and fantastic role model who takes younger players under his wing and teaches them how to win.

The DP combo

Jose Iglesias ended the season with a freakish injury, a broken finger, yet Iggy stayed healthy otherwise and turned in a spectacular if occasionally inconsistent defensive season at shortstop while batting .300 all year, most of the time in the No. 9 hole—a puzzling place for a guy who consistently puts the ball into play. He’s an anchor defensively on the field and combines with Ian Kinsler to form the best double-play combo on the Tigers since Tram and Sweet Lou. Hitting .300 with an OPS approaching .800, Kinsler had his best season since 2012 at age thirty-three and provided a consistent bat at the top of the lineup.

Alex Wilson, a standout among mediocrity

He was a decent reliever most of the year, which was good enough to make him a star in the Detroit bullpen. Does he have the stuff to be a future closer? No. Could he be a decent set-up man? Perhaps. But in some ways, he might be even more valuable than that, because he can give you two or more decent innings. He’s had six outings of three-plus innings, yielding only two runs total in all of them combined. Easily the best MLB player ever to be born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Southpaw charity

In the category of good deeds by bad teams, the Tigers became so desperate for pitching that they gave Randy Wolf another major league paycheck. Which goes to prove, once again, that if you can throw the ball with your left hand, there will eventually be a spot for you on some team’s roster.