For the first time in quite a while, there was legitimate optimism at the start of the year for the Detroit Tigers. The offseason saw a high-profile free agency signing in shortstop Javier Baez, a trade for a true power threat in outfielder Austin Meadows, another high-profile free agency signing in top-of-the-rotation starter Eduardo Rodriguez, the emergence of rookie Spencer Torkelson, and the hope of continued emergence from youngsters such as Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Akil Baddoo. That optimism has quickly been spurned, however, as the team has struggled to an 8-19 record through their first 27 games. Only the Cincinnati Reds have a worse record at this point of the season.
The actual stats are just as disconcerting. Austin Meadows, who was brought in with the expectation of being a power bat, is yet to hit a home run with Detroit. Javier Baez, another power threat, has two home runs, to go with a .236 average. Akil Baddoo has struggled to find a groove in his new platoon role as well, scuffing his way to a .140 average with just two extra-base hits so far.
That’s just scratching the surface of the issues, too. That new starter Eduardo Rodriguez? He doesn’t have a win in his first six starts, with a 4.50 ERA. Casey Mize and Matt Manning, another young pitcher the team was hoping would continue to make a jump, haven’t seen much action this year due to injury. Manning has no record yet and has only pitched eight innings. Mize is 0-1 through 10 innings. In fact, the only two starters who have recorded a win so far are Michael Pineda (3.77 ERA) and Tarik Skubal (3.04 ERA), who has been the most steady starter to this point. The other six wins have been recorded by relievers.
On the bright side, the bullpen as a whole has been a true strength. Wily Peralta and Jacob Barnes have combined to allow only a single run in their 21 1/3 innings. Will Vest has a 1.42 ERA in 12 2/3 innings. Michael Fulmer has a 1.59 in 11 1/3 innings, and Alex Lange has posted a 1.86 through 9 2/3 innings. Newcomer Andrew Chafin, who also missed some time at the start of the season with an injury, has only allowed a single run in his five appearances, as well. Even Gregory Soto, despite his struggles at times, has just a 2.25 ERA through eight innings of work.
Now, back to the bad.
Despite his three home runs, Spencer Torkelson’s brief major league career has been marred by a .167 average, and 31 strikeouts in 78 at-bats (39.7%). Mainstays Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario, you ask? .134 and .200 averages, respectively. As a whole, Tigers batters have struck out in 244 of their 878 at-bats so far, a staggering 27.8% of their team at-bats.
The power hasn’t been there for Tigers batters, either. As a team, they have combined to hit a whopping total of 11 home runs (the fewest in the league). For reference, Anthony Rizzo, Byron Buxton, Aaron Judge, and CJ Cron (yes, the same CJ Cron that only played in 13 games for Detroit in 2020 due to injury) are all tied at the top of the majors with nine home runs apiece. The hope is that the power numbers start to come around with the warmer weather, but this is a very disheartening start.
Imaginably, the overall team stats aren’t great either. The team has a collective .220 average (fifth lowest), .291 on-base percentage (eighth lowest), and .305 slugging percentage (which yes indeed is the lowest in baseball).
Following the team’s four-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros, manager AJ Hinch stated some obvious facts.
“We need to play better,” he said. “We’re going to go home and we need to fix this over the long haul. But it starts with one game. We have not played a really good, clean game where we’ve come out on top in a while.
All the early season optimism has seemingly been crushed by the team’s overall lowly start to the season. Will they be able to right the ship as the weather warms up and players begin to shake off the rust of a long offseason? That remains to be seen, but at this point, it is hard to imagine things getting a whole lot worse for the Tigers.