Thursday, March 27, 2008

4 Things That Worry Me (and 3 Make Me Feel Better)

Opening Day is just around the corner, and the Tigers are not the well-oiled, ready to destroy the AL juggenaut that I expected. Besides the omnipresent bullpen issue ("you can't win games if you score 10 runs if the bullpen gives up 11" is this year's "Todd Jones Sucks" statement I'm already sick of arguing) there are a few things I'm nervous about.

1) Dontrelle Willis
It not the runs surrendered that scares me as much as the walks. Willis has walked 15 this spring, the other 4 starters combined have walked 18. I'm in the same camp as Ian from BYB, thinking that these control issues might be due to a bum arm. If that's the case I hope Dontrelle addresses it sooner than later. I'd hate to see another situation like Jeremy Bonderman's last year to cripple the rotation.

2) Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney's arms
The rallying cry for the bullpen the past two years has been " Wait until Zumaya and Rodney get healthy". But what if they don't? Zumaya has had 3 injuries since the 2006 Playoffs, and if you listen to what Baseball Prospectus injury guru Will Carroll had to say to Bill at DTW, the outlook for Rodney isn't very rosy either. Oddly enough, I think the injury might help Zumaya. If it takes away a little velocity and forces him to have better precsion with his pitches it would benefit him. That is if he is still able to throw a curveball. If he doesn't have that change of pace pitch, Zumaya is no better than Jason Grilli. In any case if either Rodney or Zumaya aren't big contributors this year, you might have to start looking at trading them for whatever you can get.

3) An injury to a Starter
If indeed Dontrelle Willis is hurt or if Kenny Rogers goes down again, who replaces them? Right now the only options are Virgil Vasquez and newly converted starter Macay McBride. Yorman Bazardo and Zach Miner are two guys that could fill in as spot-starters, but I think both would be better used out of the bullpen. If a Tiger goes down, would currently unsigned Russ Ortiz, David Wells, or Jeff Weaver be getting a phone call?

4) SI picked the Tigers
This isn't really a serious concern, but since 2001 SI has been wrong in predicting every World Series winner. And only the 2001 Yankees were the only team to make the World Series.

But get down off the ledge, here are some things that keep me believing:

1) Miguel Cabrera
How can 180 hits, 30+ HRs, and 100+ RBIs not help this team? Seriously, if you can't get excited about probably one of the Top 5 players in the Majors on your team, you had better check your pulse.

2) Is the bullpen really that bad?
Jason Grilli takes a lot of crap (rightfully so), but away from Comerica he was outstanding. His line on the road was opponents hitting only .184 against him, and surrendering only 9 earned runs in 42.1 innings pitched. I don't except another season of those road splits, but if he can meet in the middle of his home and road performances, he'll be alright. Judging by his performances this spring it's a good sign that he can. Denny Bautista and Yorman Bazardo will also be a huge boost, if they translate their spring success to the regular season. Bautista in particular, I think could be a difference. His past control issues seem to have been resolved enough for Jim Leyland to designate him the 8th inning set-up man. Add to that the returning Bobby Seay and Zach Miner, and the bullpen doesn't look that bad. I wouldn't trust this bullpen with Seattle or San Diego's offense, but with a offense the will average around 6 runs a game, they'll do fine.

3) Seriously look at the line-up
  • 4 players in the MLB Top 20 in batting average and Top 30 in OBP in 2007 (Magglio, Cabrera, Polanco, Renteria).
  • 3 in the top 20 for Slugging percentage (Magglio, Cabrera, Granderson).
  • Only Gary Sheffield hit below .280 (.265 his lowest average since 1997), and with Gary guaranteed not to touch the field this year that should go up.
  • 5th in the Majors in Team OBP, then they added Renteria (career OBP of .349) and Cabrera (career .388 OBP).
Detroit hasn't seen an assembly line like this since the heyday of the Ford Rouge Factory. It's should be an interesting summer one way or another.

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