Section 313, Seat No 15: Grading the 2017 Detroit Tigers

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Ok, yes I know and can hear you now, “give them all F’s.” But, I cannot do that. Are there some “failures”? Sure, there absolutely are. But is the entire team considered a failure? No. Grades, in an educational sense, are meant to show mastery of a particular subject. Therefore, we will be taking grades from the position groups and averaging them together for the position groups total.

What are we doing with the players we traded away? We’ll include them, as they contributed to the effort. However, September call-ups, like Jeimer Candelario, will not be included.

We’ll start with the pitchers.

Starting Pitching – Overall Grade: F

The pitching for the Detroit Tigers this season was, at best, abysmal. Aside from second-year sensation, Michael Fulmer, everyone else was merely pedestrian. As an entire group, they ranked 28th in the entire MLB in ERA (5.20), 22nd in wins (47), and 5th in losses (70). In case you just became a fan yesterday, that’s not very good.

Somehow, Jordan Zimmermann got worse this year. Anibal Sanchez had a few good games intermittently placed within a number of bad starts. And the twin lefties, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris took steps backward. And, once long time ace Justin Verlander was dealt to the Astros, couple with Michael Fulmer being shut down, the pitching staff got worse.

The staff that once was a point of pride for Detroiters, this season had us biting our nails with every pitch, just waiting for them to implode.

Relief Pitching – Overall Grade: D

This really should come as no surprise. It has been well documented the issues that have faced the Detroit Tigers bullpen–for decades. This year really wasn’t any different. As a whole, the bullpen was terrible. They ranked dead last in ERA (5.68) and 30th in saves (32). What may be even more telling is the fact that they had the highest BABIP (.321) in the entire Major Leagues. Yikes!

However, I cannot in a good conscious fail them. Of all the guys who pitched out the pen this season, only Francisco Rodrigues, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, and Shane Greene had more than a full year’s worth of service on a Major League Roster. Guys like Warwick Saupold, Daniel Stumpf, and Chad Bell were all serviceable in their inaugural seasons.

Outfielders Overall Grade: B

This grade simply hinges on three players: Justin Upton, Mikie Mahtook, and Alex Presley. Guys like Tyler Collins, JaCoby Jones, Jim Aducci, and Andrew Romine didn’t play enough in the outfield to factor in.

Upton, even though he was traded August 31st, was the best outfielder by a mile this year. As well, he should have been. For the entire season, he was Detroit’s best hitter. In fact, 2017 ranks as one of his best offensive seasons in his entire career. This season he posted his highest numbers in home runs (35), RBIs (109), doubles (44), and slugging percentage (.540)–most of that damage coming with the Tigers.

Mahtook and Presley were great additions to the Tigers lineup. Presley hit a career-high .314 and played a solid defense–even out of position in right field. Once Mahtook finally got a chance to play, he produced. He was, for a long stretch from June-July, a Cameron Maybin-esque spark plug for the Tigers. And who could forget this web gem against the Royals?

Now, did I forget anyone? Before everyone jumps in the comments complaining about forgetting J.D. Martinez, slow your role. J.D.was typical J.D. for the Tigers in limited time. He only had 232 at-bats with the Tigers, but still hit 16 home runs and tacked on 38 RBIs. However, most of his damage this year has been done as a member of the Diamondbacks. The hearts of every Tigers fan were ripped to shreds upon the news of his trade, but at least it gives us a rooting interest in the 2017 MLB Playoffs.

Infielders – Overall Grade: C

This is a tricky one to call. The Tigers boast of one of the best double-play duos in baseball with Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias. However, Nicholas Castellanos was one of the worst defensive third basemen in the game this year–hence the experiment in right field during September. And, Miggy, though he prides himself on being a ballplayer, his future is clearly at designated hitter.

Speaking of hitting, these bats were one of the main reasons the Tigers struggled so much this season. Not one person on this list hit over .275, and even if you add in Dixon Machado, he only hit .259. The best hitter in this group was Castellanos, who we cannot fault for his season–becoming the first Tiger since Al Kaline to hit 25 home runs, 100 RBIs, and collect 10 triples. But, offense is only one half of the game, just like defense.

So if Kinsler, Iggy, and Machado get A’s for defense and E’s for offense, that averages to a C. Same go, in reverse, for Castellanos. I’m letting Miggy slide, given the circumstances surrounding his injuries and political turmoil in his home country–though, next year I won’t be so inclined, should this season become his new norm.

Catchers – Overall Grade: B

This may be the one that is the head scratcher for most, but I firmly stand behind the fact that our catchers were “B” worthy this season. Offensively, the main guy, James McCann, struggled at the beginning of the season. However, much of that could be due to the platoon he found himself in within three weeks of the season. By the end of the season, McCann was swinging a better bat and really made me comfortable with him behind the dish moving forward.

Alex Avila, whom the Tigers flipped for a nice return, was swinging a good bat nearly for the entire year and his handling of the pitching staff has never been in question–one of the reasons he was so desirable at the trade deadline.

Along with Avila and McCann, John Hicks produced well when called upon this season. This was Hicks’ first long stint in the Majors and he carried a .266 average, hit six bombs, and drove in 22 RBIs in just 173 at-bats. Each of these guys contributing to the “B” grade overall.

Designated Hitter – Overall Grade: F

Victor Martinez in 2017:

  • 392 at-bats
  • 100 hits
  • 16 doubles
  • 10 home runs
  • 47 runs batted in
  • .255/.324/.372 slash line

In short, not very good for someone “designated” to hit. I will just leave this here. However, I still hope Victor gets the health issues figured out, just not as a Detroit Tiger next year.

Coaching/Managing – Overall Grade: F

Alright, while we lump all the coaches into this mainly its about Brad. However, I’ll say this before I get on my soapbox. For some reason, Gene Lamont has been a staple over the last decade or so. Ever since 1965 when the Tigers drafted Lamont before Johnny Bench, he has added zero value to the organization.

Now to Brad Ausmus. When Ausmus was hired after the 2013 season he had major shoes to fill. He was inheriting a team that was built to win and took them all the way to a first round sweep at the hand of the Baltimore Orioles. And, that would be the last time the Tigers were in the postseason under Ausmus. In short, Ausmus was never the man for the job. It’s one thing to know the game, a completely other thing to manage the game–something that earns Ausmus the grade of “F”. Luckily, the search is under way for the a new manager to work through the rebuild process.