Inside the Article:
The Detroit Tigers are off to their best 54-game start since 2017. Ironically, that was the same year that the (first) rebuild began, leaving Tigers fans waving goodbye to names like J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and Justin Verlander. Not to make too much out of the fun baseball we've been seeing, but could this be a bookend to the misery we've been experiencing? Only time will tell, obviously, but we should enjoy what is happening with our club this summer.
Why 54 Games?
The question is: “Why 54 games?” Sparky Anderson once famously said he could always tell the type of team he had at the 40-game mark. The famed Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said, “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”
Whether you slice it at 40 games or take the Lasordian route of 1/3 (which is 54 games), the Tigers are the same. Through 40 games they were 19-21 two games under .500, and at the 54-game mark, they are 26-28, two games under .500. By either measure, this is the type of team that we should/can expect this season, one that hovers around – but maybe doesn't exceed – .500 baseball for the season.
Detroit Tigers 54 Game Report Card:
We're going to make this report card really simple. The Tigers will be graded in four phases: offense, defense, starting pitching, and relief pitching. It will not be an individual player breakdown, but a team breakdown. So let's jump in and get started.
Tigers offensive grade
The offense for the Tigers is not great. But it is better than it was in 2022. Which, may not actually be something to write home about. However, there are some clear indications that this team is on the right trajectory, even if the results aren't there yet. Currently, the Tigers rank 25th in baseball according to Fangraphs. And while that is not great, they are top-10 in walk rate (9.3%) but also strike out the 11th most in the MLB (23.5%). They also for the season are 14% below league average in run creation with an 86 wRC+.
They are also not great in clutch situations. With runners in scoring position, the Tigers are currently hitting .214//.306/.337, 101 hits in 472 at-bats. And, with the bases loaded the numbers are even worse. With the bases loaded the Tigers are a measly 9-53 (.170 average). With no one out they haven't mustered a single hit in eight at-bats and with one out and the bases loaded they are hitting only .118. This is not good by any acceptable measure.
Before we go completely doom and gloom and fail the offense in the report card, let's break down the numbers specifically during May, a month in which the Tigers went 15-11. During May, the Tigers were the 5th best team at drawing walks (10.3%) with the 6th best strikeout rate (20.5%). They also improved their run creation to only 3% below the league average at 97 wRC+. The trajectory is heading in the right direction.
Much of this is attributed to Riley Greene who was the second-best hitter in the American League with a minimum of 100 at-bats. He hit .368/.435/.573, with 3 home runs, 16 runs scored, and 11 RBI; not to mention being 82% better than the league average in run creation at 182 wRC+. Not to mention the stability Zack McKinstry has added to the top of the lineup.
Overall Grade: C
Tigers defensive grade
The Tigers' defense is the best thing about them. Yes, they have multiple players that play a number of positions, but they play those positions well. What may have been a concern coming into the season, through the first two months of the season those concerns have subsided. This team plays great defense. They are currently third in the entire MLB according to Outs Above Average (OAA), with 11.
Javier Baez, for all of the flak he gets, is among the league leaders in OAA. And, quite less expected, Akil Baddoo is within the top-33 of all fielders with three OAA on the season thus far. Other strong defenders are Zack Short and McKinstry.
Overall Grade: A
Tigers starting pitching grade
This is where it gets pretty ugly. The starting pitchers for the Old English D, aside from Eduardo Rodriguez, haven't been that great. They rank 23rd in the entire MLB according to FanGraphs, striking out less than a batter an inning and walking nearly three per nine innings. They have a combined ERA of 4.89 and a FIP of 4.56, neither of which point to anything great. To make matters worse, they've thrown the 6th least amount of innings in all of baseball (278) taxing the bullpen.
The Tigers have started seven different pitchers this season, which is much better than the 17 they used in 2022, but the season is still young. They also should be getting some reinforcements back soon in the form of Tarik Skubal and potentially Casey Mize. Without Rodriguez's sparking 2.13 ERA, the other starters have gone 210.1 innings and given up 135 earned runs, leading to an abysmal 5.78 ERA. By far the worst component of this year's Tigers team, even worse than, arguably, the offense.
Overall Grade: D
Tigers relief pitching grade
There probably wasn't a bigger question mark coming into the 2023 season than the Tigers' bullpen. When Scott Harris traded both Gregory Soto and Joe Jimenez in the offseason, there were those who hollered. Maybe they didn't quite understand the moves, or in the case of Jimenez had seen a homegrown talent finally come into his own and it was difficult to part with. But the Tigers' bullpen has been better than expected in the early part of the season.
They currently rank 23rd in the MLB according to FanGraphs dashboard, but are 13th in ERA. Much of their success comes from Alex Lange and Jason Foley, who have been pretty much lights out when entering a game. Lange carries a 1.16 ERA, 2.09 FIP, 12.34 K/9, and 32 strikeouts in 23.1 innings. Foley for his efforts has a 1.57 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 7.04 K/9, and an insane 63.1% ground ball rate, good for seventh in the MLB with 20 innings pitched. The bullpen hasn't been perfect though, especially early in the year and that does hinder their grade a bit.
Overall Grade: B-
The bottom line
These 54 games have been fun and a very pleasant surprise. If old Sparky's theory is correct then we should expect more of this moving forward for the Tigers and the greatest baseball fans in the world. The trajectory is trending in the right direction and that is going to make Michigan Summers fun again.