Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On the Tigers trading for Rangers closer Joakim Soria

It was a steep prize the Tigers paid to acquire bullpen closer Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers Wednesday night. Pitcher Jake Thompson is a  high-end prospect, a 6-4, 235-pound right-hander with a power arm. I did the Baseball America top-rated prospects list for many years on the Tigers, and based on right now, he'd either be No.1 or No.2 on my list of Tigers' prospects. He's got outstanding "stuff" and to be that successful in high-
Joakim Soria: Should be worth
A ball at Lakeland at 20 (3.2 years younger than average age of player in the league) is a sign of a high ceiling. I also would have put Corey Knebel in my Top 5. He has a good arm, a big curveball and a bit of a quirky motion. It's possible he will be solid a big league closer down the road or a good late-inning guy.
But Soria, even though he has never closed for a contender, should help the Tigers immensely. He is missing a lot more bats this season. If he's not the Tigers' closer, eventually replacing struggling veteran Joe Nathan, he definitely will help the late-inning match up game in the postseason, which is so important. His contract his reasonable. There is a club option for $7 million next season with a $500,000 buyout.
As for the planning part, the window of opportunity will never be wider for the Tigers. There is no dominant team in MLB this season. Max Scherzer is about to become a free agent, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander aren't getting any younger, Certainly Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter aren't, either.
Sure, ultimately this trade could come back to haunt the Tigers. We all the John Smoltz deal in this town, right? Chances are it won't, though. The idea for teams is to get in a position to be able to go for it. I can't blame the Tigers for doing so under the circumstances. Actually, I commend them for the deal. No risk, no reward.

My column. The story of Lou D'Annunzio and how a scout changed the course of Detroit Tigers' history:

My Column. Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions and why there are no more excuses:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The predicament the Detroit Tigers must face with Joe Nathan

No "certainty" for this scene in postseason

It went just fine for Joe Nathan and the Tigers Monday at Arizona. The Tigers' bullpen set up perfectly to protect starter Justin Verlander. Al Alburquerque got Arizona's best hitter Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a force to get out of a jam in the seventh, Joba Chamberlain and Nathan pitched the scoreless eighth and ninth innings, protecting a one-run lead and preserving the Tigers' second victory in a row. Cleveland lost. The Tigers are now back to 6 1-2 games up in the AL Central again.
But, honestly, do you envision that bullpen holding up that way in the postseason against the A's or the Angels or the Orioles or the Blue Jays or the Yankees or the best of the National League? I don't.I think this weekend at the Angels will be telling, especially in regard to their bullpen with Huston Street compared to that of the Tigers. In my opinion, the Tigers definitely need an insurance policy for Nathan.
He's a "maybe" and a "perhaps" at this stage. He might get it done. Then again, he might not. It's kind of like a game of chance.
The Tigers shouldn't be fooled by one night, or a couple. They need to add as much "certainty" to the equation as possible.

My column. Matthew Stafford, the Lions and why there are no more excuses:

My column. Why the Tigers can't win the World Series without making significant moves at the trade deadline:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thoughts after 5 1-2 innings Indians, Tigers Sunday

- Drew Smyly appears back on track today. His command is very good. His breaking ball is better and he is setting it up well by spotting his fastball. A very good outing when the Tigers needed it most. He did a terrific job of pitching out of trouble in the sixth.
Drew Smyly: Sharp so far
- The home run by Torii Hunter was big. It gave the Tigers a little bit of a cushion and could serve to take some pressure off their bullpen. It was also the first time in this series the Tigers have slugged the ball at all. Cleveland beat them decisively with the home run ball in the first three games of the series.
- When runners are on second and third with two outs, the Tigers need Miguel Cabrera to produce. His strike out to end the fifth might prove to be costly. the Tigers could used the extra runs, again, given the current state of their bullpen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hey, great for Derek Jeter, but what about Tram and Lou?

Lou and Tram: Still no justice
It was a touching tribute to Derek Jeter last night at the All Star Game. I couldn't help but think, though, he was a 10-year-old kid in Kalamazoo in 1984 when the Tigers won the World Series, and how Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker have been discarded by baseball history. Jeter will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. A slam dunk. Yet, in terms of WAR ( version), he is just slightly ahead of Trammell (93rd all time at 70.4) and slightly behind Whitaker (77th all-time at 74.9) among all-time great MLB players. Jeter is 87th all-time at 72.1.
It does make you wonder if Tram and Lou played in New York, how different the perception of their careers would have been. Jeter is going to get a monument at Yankee Stadium. Tram and Lou can't even get a statue at Comerica Park.
Whitaker didn't even get named on the necessary five percent of ballots to remain in consideration after his first year. Trammell doesn't even close each year. Sure seems like an injustice to me, especially when juxtaposed to the iconic status Jeter has, justifiably, been given.

My column. Six reasons the Tigers are sitting pretty at the All Star break:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Justin Verlander, velocity (or lack of it) and what it means

This FanGraphs velocity chart on Justin Verlander displays vividly what we knew all along:
Justin Verlander's velocity is significantly down.
And mot of his pitching statistics, across the board, are up. Verlander is 31. He has thrown so many pitches down through the years as kind of the lone "workhorse" remaining among MLB starting pitchers of his era.
Does it mean his career overall is on a downward track. I'm not so sure.
Justin Verlander:  It's puzzling
Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Bert Blylevin, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling are among the many top MLB starting pitchers, who had their struggles in their early 30s, either in regard to effectiveness or injury, and bounced back strongly. They weren't necessarily changed pitchers from fireballers to soft tossers, either, after they slumped at a certain age.
I don't know if the core surgery Verlander had this off season is a culprit for his drop this season in comparison to the 2014 postseason when he was incredibly effective.
It does seem like every thing about the way he pitches these days is out of whack. His location with his fastball is way off. There is little snap with his breaking ball. His changeup doesn't look like the same pitch. It's more than lack of velocity, which seems to be more of a case of aiming the ball for accuracy because of lack of command.
If there is no arm- or shoulder related injury, I do think Verlander will bounce back. But there is no denying his lack of effectiveness. A 4.88 ERA? Yeah, Verlander struggled last season with a 6.48 ERA in May, but his ERA at All-Star break was 3.50. Verlander didn't rack up high strikeout totals last season, either, although he reached double digits twice in his final two regular season appearance, in only six innings, each for the first time since May. Maybe we'll see a repeat of last season, but it's certainly no given.
It would be naïve to believe this is a repeat of last season. It's clearly worse.

My column. Six reasons the Tigers are sitting pretty at the All Star break:

My column. What it would take to save Brady Hoke's job as football coach at Michigan:

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Thoughts after 7 innings Dodgers, Tigers Wednesday

Max Scherzer vs. Dodgers
- I thought it was a terrific play in the fifth inning when Rajai Davis, on second base with nobody out, stole third. That's when the running game and stealing third base can really come into play. The move didn't work, though, when Austin Jackson struck out and Ian Kinsler couldn't get the ball to the right side or out of the infield, and Torii Hunter bounced out. More times than not, though, that type of aggression will work for the Tigers with Davis, Kinsler or Jackson on the bases.
- The days of Matt Kemp being a truly great player appear to be over. Max Scherzer retired him remarkably easily to end the sixth inning with a runner on third. His OPS is under .800 and his WAR is minus 0.9. He has looked slow and lumbering in the field. Thing is, Kemp isn't even 30.
- It's been awhile since the Tigers' bullpen has been tested in a really close game. It will be today. Will it pass? I have to be honest, I'm not so sure. Scherzer threw 101 pitches through 7.

Why Don Kelly's RBI single in the first Wednesday off Zack Greinke wasn't a fluke

Don Kelly had a two-out, RBI single during the first inning Wednesday off Dodgers' starter Zack Greinke. It appears on the surface to be a fluke considering Kelly is one of MLB's worst hitters and Greinke one of the better pitchers.
It wasn't. Kelly had actually had some success in the past against Greinke, going 3-for-8 entering the game. Oddly, he has similar success against a tough right-hander with the Indians, Justin Masterson. He has a career OPS of 1.230 against Masterson. Why? Because the one pitch Kelly can hit is a low inside fastball, especially a hard two-seamer. For most hitters, it's a difficult pitch, actually an outpitch for right-handers against left-handers. Yet, for forever reason, it's the one pitch Kelly can rake consistently.
It's similar repertoire to what other pitchers Kelly has had success against like Edwin Jackson.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

My thoughts on the Tigers 14-5 victory over the Dodgers Tuesday night

Thoughts after 7 innings Dodgers, Tigers Tuesday

- The Tigers needed this. It was looking a little gamey after the series against Tampa Bay and the big first inning by the Dodgers tonight. This is validation of how good the Tigers are, and while they remain flawed, they are still top contenders to win it all. The Dodgers are arguably the best team in the National League. The Tigers pouring it on them like this is definitely a terrific sign.
- Every time I expect Rajai Davis has slowed down and is playing to his track record, he has a game like this. He's been an excellent signing for the Tigers.
- Nice comeback for Justin Verlander in this game. It's more proof his competitive character isn't exactly lacking.

Thoughts on Justin Verlander and Tigers, Dodgers so far

Justin Verlander's outing tonight is, obviously, alarming. He showed signs of turning it around in his previous three outings, and tonight has definitely been a setback. There is a perception Verlander's problems are velocity related, that he has thrown so many pitches down through the years, that he has used up his quota, so to speak. I don't agree with that. If you look at this game tonight, his biggest problem is his off speed pitches aren't crisp at all. His changeup used to be one of the best in MLB. But now it isn't even a mediocre pitch. It's certainly not something he would use to pitch backward and use to set up his fastball, like he did so often in 2011 and 2012, and during the postseason last year. Also, he throws an inordinate number of hanging breaking balls. His velocity isn't nearly the same issue as location of his fastball. He misses the plate or is down the middle.  Also, he needs to pitch more inside. Hitters are diving out over the plate too much. It's all made his pitch pattern more predictable and Dodgers' hitters were all over him in the first inning. Verlander is coming off major off season surgery on his core. It seems to be taking him longer to comeback than it seemed because he returned so quickly in spring training. The good part is there is no sign he has an arm or shoulder injury. I'd still bet he'll turn it around, but it may not be sooner instead of later.

My column. Why there should be no holding back for Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers: