Autopsy Report: Detroit Tigers

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I prefer to think of this as an autopsy and not a eulogy, because an autopsy deals specifically with the cause of death. A eulogy, in contrast, takes in the deceased’s whole life and tries to draw some lessons from it. I don’t think anyone can draw any intelligent conclusions about the Tigers’ entire 2012 season based on these past four games, no matter how important they were. Four games is pure randomness and the Tigers performance in them is no more relevant to their legacy than a random fall off a cliff during a vacation to the Grand Canyon is to the life of a Nobel Prize winner.

So, what happened to the Tigers?  In a nutshell: everything:

  • The Giants were the better team: Before anyone casts this World Series as a Detroit failure, they had better first note that it was a Giants triumph. While they flew under the radar for so much of the year, the Giants won six more games than the Tigers in a tougher division. The Giants were and remained a well-balanced team throughout 2012, and history shows us that well-balanced teams do awfully well in the postseason where runs are harder to come by and defense matters more. They didn’t have a pitcher as good as Justin Verlander or a hitter as good as Miguel Cabrera, but there were few if any holes on the roster, and when a couple of potential weak links — like Barry Zito — came up big in the playoffs, it transformed a good team into a team that was great at the right time.  But, the Giants aside …
  • No one hit. Omar Infante and Delmon Young each got five hits, and each reached base via a walk or a HBT (Infante’s HBP, sadly, broke his hand). The rest of the lineup was deadsville. Prince Fielder was 1 for 14 with four strikeouts. Jhonny Peralta was 1 for 15. Miguel Cabrera hit a homer last night, but was 3 for 13 overall. Austin Jackson had three hits in four games. Quintin Berry had none. It was a top-heavy, all-or-nothing offense in 2012 for Detroit, and they picked a bad week for the nothing.
  • The layoff:  While the Tigers worked out every day in between the end of the ALCS and the beginning of the World Series, several Tigers said that not playing any real games during that time was disruptive to their rhythm and their mojo. It’s impossible to measure such things, but it’s not a stretch to say that layoffs lead to cold bats.
  • Verlander was mortal: It was only one game, but the only time the Tigers were blown away in this series was in Game 1 when Justin Verlander came out with poor command of has his fastball and Pablo Sandoval feasted on him for a couple of home runs. It’s harder to measure mood and momentum than in it is to measure rust, but it was probably somewhat dispiriting for the Tigers when their ace was popped in the nose right out of the gate.
  • The cookie just crumbled: luck should not have a major place in a serious empirical analysis, but a four-game series sort of defies serious, empirical analysis. The Giants got the bounces. Literally, at times: off the third base bag in Game 1 to set up a big inning, off Doug Fister’s head in Game 2 to give Gregor Blanco a single. Multiple hard-hit balls by the Tigers throughout the series that just always seemed to be right at a Giants defender.

A whole year can disappear pretty quickly in the postseason. The Reds and Cardinals were good teams that saw their good seasons end only one game away from advancing. The Braves and Rangers were good teams that had good seasons erased after just one game total. The Tigers, like the Yankees before them, saw a good season erased in four short games.  That’s how playoff baseball goes.

So, if you’re wondering what should be listed as the cause of death on the autopsy report, how about this: October.

2017 Winter Meetings Preview

Craig Calcaterra
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — The baseball world has descended on the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Disney World for the 2017 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done.

The two biggest names on the market — Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton — have found new homes, but so far only 33 of baseball’s 249 free agents have signed, almost all of them minor. Still looking for a home: Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jake Arrieta, CC Sabathia, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, Lance Lynn, Greg Holland and many, many more. In early November we ran down the top free agents, position-by-position, to help you get a jump on who is available and what your team is looking at as it seeks to fill its needs.

It’s not just players looking for homes this week, however. It’s teams looking to make up for their failures in the Ohtani and Stanton derbies. The Cardinals and Giants both went big to get Stanton and came up empty. The Giants were likewise in Ohtani, but no dice. Baseball’s worst team in 2017 is obviously willing to spend some money to improve, and now they will look elsewhere to spend it. The Red Sox weren’t in on those two, but since it’s biggest rival landed Giancarlo Stanton, GM Dave Dombrowski will no doubt be kicking the tires hard on J.D. Martinez or Eric Hosmer to try to keep pace. The Mariners acquired a lot of international pool money in their quest for Ohtani, but they could still use a starting pitcher or two, so perhaps they may look at, say, Jake Arrieta? Lance Lynn? Yu Darvish? Well, they should, but who knows if they will.

Despite the sheer number of available free agents, this is a thin free agent class in terms of talent. That means that, for a team to improve significantly, they may be better served by making a trade. The Marlins already traded Stanton, but their fire sale does not seem to be over. Could they deal the newly-acquired Starlin Castro? Christian Yelich? Marcel Ozuna? Bet on yes, and bet on any team wishing to spend prospects instead of free agent cash to take what Miami is unloading. Other potential trade candidates: Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Rays starter Chris Archer and third baseman Evan Longoria and Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Trade deals and free agent negotiations take place behind closed doors at the Swan and Dolphin. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. This year there are six new men at the helm: Dave Martinez in Washington, Mickey Callaway with the Mets, Gabe Kapler — Baseball’s Most Handsome Manager — in Philly, Alex Cora in Boston, Aaron Boone with the Yankees and Rob Gardenhire with the Tigers. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and will let you know if they say anything fun. Or if any of them slug me for saying that they’re ugly.

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. Indeed, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings. The big one everyone is talking about this offseason is the possibility of a pitch clock.

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected are, but here’s a good place to start your research on that. If your team takes someone in the draft, the most important thing to know is that he’ll either be on the big league roster all year or he’ll have to be returned to his original team. Well, they could be stashed on the disabled list with phantom injuries so they won’t have to be returned, but no team would ever do that, would they? Perish the thought.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene down here at Disney World, bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event.