2018 Season Preview: Detroit Tigers

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

64-98 66-96 69-93 735

894

After four playoff appearances from 2011-2014, including their second pennant in ten years, the Tigers had mild aspirations that a bounce-back 2016 was a sign of things to come. Instead, they stumbled into a tie for the worst record in the majors, earning the first overall pick in June’s draft as they try to replace franchise icon and newly minted world champion Justin Verlander.

As you’d expect from a 64-win team, the Tigers were pretty abysmal at all aspects of play last year. Good seasons from Justin Upton and Alex Avila couldn’t stop a 24th-place finish in offensive fWAR. The pitching staff, fueled by Michael Fulmer and a partial season of Justin Verlander, fared only slightly better. Team baserunning was, yet again, the worst in the league, with the lead-footed team also performing poorly in the field.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Mike Fiers

What do you get when you combine a team that is definitely rebuilding with an offseason where nothing happens? A team that has done nothing but hand out a minor-league deal here or there since the beginning of December. Astros 2017 innings leader (seriously) Mike Fiers was non-tendered and latched on in Detroit, where he’ll probably pitch. Will he pitch well? You’ll just have to wait and see!

Key Losses – Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez

No key free agents departed after last season, as Sanchez and his 5.33 FIP were not asked back and will likely head for retirement or, at best, a minor-league deal. The pending departure of J.D. Martinez was preempted with his swap to Arizona, followed by trades of Justin Upton (deadline) and Ian Kinsler (early January). All of these trades brought back pretty mediocre returns, although it doesn’t take much to stand out in Detroit’s farm.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

 70-92

70-92

68-94

There’s a bit of optimism on the horizon for Tigers fans, as most projections don’t even have them as the worst team in their division! While they should remain in the hunt for the 2019 #1 pick for most of next season, there are a few decently useful players that could slightly derail the tanking process. Of course, with so many major free agents yet to sign, and none of them likely to land in Detroit, it’s more than likely these figures will be shifted downward in the coming months. So all is well, then.

Key Players:

Entirely undisputed staff ace Michael Fulmer (2.7 sWAR) put together another fine season, and with four arbitration seasons after 2018 should be a valuable trade chip. Teams are hoarding prospects these days, but Fulmer will be one of the few cheap high-end starters available. James McCann (1.8 sWAR) would be a good backup or a mediocre starter in a market almost entirely bereft of reliable catching options and is coming off his best season. One could say the same about Nick Castellanos (1.0 sWAR), who really shouldn’t be allowed near a glove, but now has consecutive above-replacement campaigns behind him and managed to hit 26 homers last season. Pretty much every Tiger is and will remain on the block; all Detroit can hope for is overperformance to inflate trade value.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

A somewhat under-the-radar trade of Justin Wilson to the Cubs netted the massively-blocked but still interesting Jeimer Candelario, who got a cup of coffee in each of the last two seasons and hit reasonably well in Triple-A in the interim. Unlike Castellanos, he might actually be a third baseman, though more of an OBP-focused hitter. Right-hander Franklin Perez was the main prize received for Justin Verlander and won’t be the same type of pitcher, but might just show up before the year is out. Wilson might be more easily replaced than one would think with lefty Matt Hall coming off a strong season in high-A; he likely doesn’t have the stuff to be a starter, but with a fastball playing up to the low 90s and a wicked curve he could push himself into a setup role quickly.

Future Outlook:

More than any team in the majors, the Tigers look like they are ready to go full Astros style rebuild. The roster generally consists of aging former stars and middling prospects, and there are no impact players arriving soon, signs of an organization that needs a consistent injection of talent on multiple levels. Midseason swaps of Verlander and Martinez were a step in the right direction, but it will be a while before there’s playoff baseball in Detroit again.

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