The Detroit Tigers weren’t exactly expected to compete for a playoff spot at the start of the season, but it doesn’t mean that 2022 hasn’t been a disappointment.
General manager Al Avila made a handful of aggressive offseason moves with the hope of improving a roster that surprised with a 77-85 record a year ago. He signed All-Star shortstop Javier Báez to a six-year contract worth $140 million and landed former Boston Red Sox standout lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year, $77 million pact.
The arrival of 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson was also supposed to bolster Detroit’s offence. But somehow, the Tigers are considerably worse than last year. They’re barely on pace to crack the 70-win mark, according to FanGraphs’ projections.
The Tigers are only ahead of the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, but KC didn’t make all these impactful moves that Detroit did over the winter. The small-budget Royals are prioritizing the farm system long-term, whereas the Tigers tried to shortcut the rebuild by signing the likes of Baez, Rodriguez and Michael Pineda.
Detroit will not make the playoffs this season. But a strong finish would give fans some new and much-needed long-term hope, and it would give Avila and company a good idea of what further roster reinforcements are needed.
The Math Doesn’t Suggest That A Turnaround Is In Order
On one hand, you can argue that the Tigers have greatly underachieved up to this point because the roster is vastly improved from the 2021 squad that won 77 games.
On the other hand, however, the math shows that the Tigers are actually overachieving. According to Baseball Cloud’s Pythagorean Luck statistics, the Tigers were the second luckiest team in baseball (only behind the Pittsburgh Pirates) entering the last week before the All-Star break.
With one of the worst run differentials in baseball, the Tigers should actually be worse than their record. And like the Royals, the Tigers haven’t exactly had a tough schedule through the first half of the season.
The Tigers’ schedule looks easier on paper when you look at the records of their opponents. But division rivals like the Cleveland Guardians and Chicago White Sox remain in the mix for the final AL Wild Card Spot.
Both teams could be motivated to buy at the trade deadline, meaning the Tigers may face much tougher Cleveland and Chicago teams compared to the first half. Detroit also plays a red-hot Seattle Mariners team (barely above .500) seven times in the second half and a suddenly surging Baltimore Orioles squad for a three-game series in September.
The Sluggish Offense Will Hold Detroit’s Offense Back
It says a lot about the Tigers’ offence that 39-year-old future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera has been the team’s most consistent batter.
That’s not a knock against the longtime Tigers franchise face. It’s just not ideal for a young team to be relying on a declining asset to carry the offence throughout the course of a full season.
In terms of batting average, Cabrera is having his best season in four years. But he’s on the verge of finishing with the worst OPS and slugging percentage numbers of his career, so the numbers strongly suggest that his BA is bound to regress in the second half.
Báez and Torkelson simply aren’t bringing much to the plate. They’re struggling to get on base, and Báez especially is struggling to hit for power. With the lack of reliable hitters outside of the former American League MVP, there just isn’t much of a reason to believe the Tigers can enjoy a strong second half.
If the Tigers fail to improve at all over the second half, Avila will have to decide if A.J Hinch is the right man to lead this job. His hiring was widely criticized for obvious reasons, and so far, the Tigers’ lacklustre 2022 season hasn’t done much to suggest he’s safe for 2023.
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