Catching Up on Awards, Moves and Rumors

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend. I hope you and your family had a terrific day yesterday.

After a month of self-imposed baseball exile, I’ve returned to the keyboard while watching the Red Wings game and chowing on green-bean casserole leftovers.

Verlander’s Hardware Store. The Cy Young Award was no surprise, of course, but the Tigers’ ace winning the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award took me by surprise. I always assume there are enough writers in the BBWAA that loath the idea of a pitcher – and a starting pitcher at that – winning the MVP. Lo and behold, the stars aligned and Verlander won both.

Driving to work the other day I listened to Jeff Joyce and Jim Duquette on XM railing about Verlander winning the award (Duquette said that Verlander should’ve been in the top five, but not the winner.) Of course, they both raved about Verlander’s season but decided that it was not a “historically significant” season when compared to other pitchers who won both their league’s Cy Young Award and MVP. To their credit, they called out writer Jim Ingraham’s leaving Verlander off his ballot and his rationale being that J.V. didn’t appear in 79 percent of the Tigers’ games. Whatever. I didn’t expect him to win the MVP, but he did – and he deserved it, just as much as Miguel Cabrera would’ve had he gotten any support. And really, who cares about these awards a week later?

G-Moneyback. In a matter of two seasons, Gerald Laird and Alex Avila have traded places as the Tigers’ starting and backup catchers. While I would’ve preferred they’d gone after Kelly Shoppach, I can live with Laird in a backup role for one season. And with Laird on board, we no longer have to wonder if we’ll see Victor Martinez behind the plate for the remainder of his contract.

Andy Oliver got screwed by the NCAA. Last month a 15,000-word article titled “The Shame of College Sports” appeared in The Atlantic and thanks to a long flight, I was able to read it all. I didn’t expect to come across a Tigers connection but there it was, under the subhead “Restitution”:

In 2008, Andrew Oliver, a sophomore pitcher for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, had been listed as the 12th-best professional prospect among sophomore players nationally. He decided to dismiss the two attorneys who had represented him out of high school, Robert and Tim Baratta, and retain Boras instead. Infuriated, the Barattas sent a spiteful letter to the NCAA. Oliver didn’t learn about this until the night before he was scheduled to pitch in the regional final for a place in the College World Series, when an NCAA investigator showed up to question him in the presence of lawyers for Oklahoma State.

(snip)

Just hours before the game was to start the next day, Oklahoma State officials summoned Oliver to tell him he would not be pitching. Only later did he learn that the university feared that by letting him play while the NCAA adjudicated his case, the university would open not only the baseball team but all other Oklahoma State teams to broad punishment under the NCAA’s “restitution rule” (Bylaw 19.7), under which the NCAA threatens schools with sanctions if they obey any temporary court order benefiting a college athlete, should that order eventually be modified or removed. The baseball coach did not even let his ace tell his teammates the sad news in person. “He said, ‘It’s probably not a good idea for you to be at the game,’” Oliver recalls.

If you get a chance, I recommend reading the entire article. Particularly if you think college athletes should not get paid. This piece might just change your mind.

Martin Prado. If the price is Delmon Young, go get him.

The Last Boy. I’m reading Jane Leavy’s biography of Mickey Mantle and about every three pages I’m tempted to put the book aside for good. Not that it’s poorly crafted, quite the opposite. In that regard it’s exceptional. But Mantle’s was one messed up biscuit of a personal life – thanks in large part to his horrifically bad decision making and his friendship with Billy Martin. Leavy portrays a guy who kinda knows he needs to grow up but when he’s maybe tempted to do so Martin drops by to drag him out to the clubs where fights ensue and the usual stuff you’ve probably learned about Mantle years ago. If you ever thought Martin was a low-life, read this book and your suspicions will be confirmed – and then some.

Finally, this Thanksgiving weekend take a moment to learn about the appropriately named hall of famer Norman “Turkey” Stearnes.

A quiet Southerner who spent his summers blasting long balls for the Detroit Stars and his winters laboring in the Motor City’s auto plants to make ends meet, Turkey Stearnes was one of the most prolific home-run hitters in the Negro leagues.

P.S. Happy 64th Birthday to John Larroquette.

The Friday Breakfast: Adios to the Twins

There’s no shortage of joy when the Tigers face the Twins for the final time during a season. Yes, 2009 included – outcome notwithstanding. And just think, a week from now we can say the same about the White Sox.

[callout title=The Friday Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 8.5 games ahead of the White Sox.

Magic Number: 12

Today’s Game: Tigers vs. Twins – Brad Penny (9-10, 5.13 ERA) vs. Kevin Slowey (0-4, 5.31 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Penny

Penny enters his start this evening having lost four of his last six decisions dating back to July 23. He has compiled a 6.85 ERA over the eight-start stretch.

He’s 2-2 with a 6.31 ERA in seven career starts against the Twins. In 2011, he’s 0-2/7.13.

Penny posted a 4-6 record and 4.54 ERA in his previous 17 starts at Comerica Park.

Notes on Slowey

Slowey’s making his eighth career start and ninth career appearance against the Tigers. Career versus Detroit he’s 5-0, 4.93 in eight games (seven starts).

He started the season in the Twins bullpen, making six relief appearances, posting a 4.91 ERA; He’s 0-4 with a 5.55 ERA in four starts this season.

Slowey’s last start against Detroit was a win on June 30, 2010 at Target Field, allowing one run on four hits in 6.0 innings with one walk and four strikeouts as the Twins won 5-1 over Andy Oliver.

[/callout]

Leading Off: The Tigers enter tonight’s game against the Twins having won 16 of their last 20 games dating back to Aug. 19, an .800 winning percentage – which leads the majors during that stretch … Detroit’s hitting .333 with runners in scoring position dating back to Aug. 11, second-best in the A.L. clubs over that period. The Tigers lead all clubs with a .284 batting average with RISP this season.

Around the Central: The White Sox and Indians are, theoretically, beating each other up this weekend in a four-game series in Chicago. The Sox took the first game last night, 8-1. The Royals are in Seattle this weekend, in a battle of clubs churning toward 90 losses. The M’s won last night, 4-1.

With a win tonight, Penny would join Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to become the first quartet of Tigers pitchers with 10-or-more wins in the club’s first 144 games of the season since Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman did so in the first 144 games of 2006.

Keeping that thought for a moment, right now Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Penny have combined for 58 wins. (Trust me, I’d much rather include Doug Fister in this year’s numbers, but Penny’s been around for the whole year.) In 2006, Verlander (17), Rogers (17), Bonderman (14) and Robertson (13) combined for 61. And in 1984, Jack Morris (19), Dan Petry (18), Milt Wilcox (17) and Juan Berenguer combined for 65. Does the ’11 foursome have enough wins in them between now and Sept. 28 to meet or pass the ’84 rotation?

On this date in 1970, commissioner Bowie Kuhn handed Denny McLain his third suspension of the year, this one for carrying a gun, plus other unspecified charges, and ended McLain’s season with a 3-5 record.

Happy 28th Birthday to Edwin Jackson, and a Happy 41st to Dan Miceli.

Finally, happy birthdays to Adam Sandler (45), Cliff Robertson (88) and Topol (76).

Have a great weekend.

Friday Freehans, Link Style

The Tigers make their first visit of the year to Chicago which typically means nothing but anguish.

Not this weekend.

Detroit’s recent good fortune against the Sox continues. (Right?)

  • Here’s a terrific piece about Sparky Anderson from someone who knew him in his southern California community for 40 years.
  • Out here in Phoenix, there’s some noise about the Diamondbacks pursuing the Mets’ David Wright. All things being equal — and Brandon Inge’s mono notwithstanding — I’d sure rather see him in Detroit. What about you?
  • The Tigers’ all-time record against the White Sox heading into play tonight is 1,012-996-1. Why does it seem as if  half those losses have come since 2004?
  • Two tidbits about tonight’s starter Andy Oliver: 1. He was selected to participate in the Futures Game held prior to last year’s All-Star Game in Anaheim, but was unable to participate because he’d been called up to the Tigers. 2. Following last season, Baseball America named Oliver the third-best prospect in the Tigers organization, the 13th-best prospect in the EasternLeague and the 19th-best prospect in the International League.
  • On this date in 1952 the Tigers acquired lefty Bill Wight, infielders Johnny Pesky, Walt Dropo and Fred Hatfield and outfielder Don Lenhardt from the Red Sox for righthander Dizzy Trout, infielders George Kell and Johnny Lipon and outfielder Hoot Evers.
  • Have you been itching for a closer look at the Tigers’ platoon situations? ESPN.com’s Christina Kahrl has you covered:

The Tigers might be the team with the most potential variations, to the point that Jim Leyland could flirt with multi-positional solutions every bit as creative as [Rays skipper Joe] Maddon’s. After all, the Tigers broke in Ryan Raburn in a multi-positional utility role with a lean toward starting him against lefties in the past, and using youngsters Andy Dirks and Casper Wells as platoon outfielders now. Raburn and Brennan Boesch have struggled to stick in regular roles, opening up a host of possibilities for Leyland to try to hide some of his players from the sources of some of their struggles.

Finally, Happy 61st Birthday to singer Suzi Quatro, who played Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. Did I just date myself?

Have a great weekend.

Monday Mankowskis: Optimism, Jackson’s Woes and Bonus Baseball Cards

This is one of those rare and delightful days of spring in which I get to flip back and forth between a Tigers West Coast game and a Wings playoff game. April in the D, indeed.

  • It’s always interesting to see how even a small winning streak can stir optimism among Tigers faithful. To wit: this past weekend’s series in Oakland. Buoyed by wins in the first two games, I was completely confident the Tigers could — would! — come back in Saturday night and Sunday games. A week prior (against the Royals at home) I had no such optimism. All in all I’m feeling good about their chances in Seattle, and not just because they’ll miss Felix Hernandez.
  • On a tangentially related topic, we’ve taken a few jabs this week at Fungo Intergalactic Headquarters over a perceived sense of doom and gloom expressed by yours truly and my profound lack of wisdom. I don’t pretend to have an always-objective (or even rational) view of the Tigers and my opinions on specific players (Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Will Rhymes) seem to irk Fungo readers. If you’ve read this site over the past six years, you know I view this as an outlet to discuss the Tigers and consider it a single point in time — that is, Raburn, for example, might drive me nuts with his iron-gloved D, but I’ll give him his due when he earns it. (As of this writing, Raburn is hitting .231 and 1 for 4 in the game against the Mariners.)
  • What to do about Austin Jackson? You have to wonder how long the Tigers will let his numbers and confidence nosedive, especially with Casper Wells sitting on the bench as a capable replacement, before they send him to Toledo. Sure, Wells is hitting just .250 but that’s 90 points higher than Jackson. Don’t the Tigers have to at least consider, even if only for a couple of weeks, providing Jackson with a mind-clearing session or two with Mud Hens’ hitting coach Leon Durham?
  • I suppose you have to think that if Jackson heads south on 75 then Rhymes can’t be too far behind, not with Scott Sizemore hitting .375 for the Hens.
  • A friend at work has been sending me home with boxes and binders filled with her husband’s baseball card collection. He collected them as a kid but never really had much affinity for the cards or baseball in general. So, they’re leaving it up to me and my friend Len Gutman to sift through the cards — most of them from 1984 through 1993 — and see if there’s anything of value. My reward? In addition to the joy of a trip down memory lane, I’m able to keep any Tigers cards I find in the collection. So far I’m making out like a bandito. My coworker’s hubby isn’t making out too poorly either; so far he’s got two Barry Bonds rookie cards and one Pudge Rodriguez card. More to come on this gold mine.

Finally, in addition to Miguel Cabrera, today’s the birthday of Rick Moranis. He’s 58.

Tigers’ 2011 X Factor: Phil Coke

In Phil Coke’s three-year major-league career, he’s finished 31 games and he’s started just one — the Tigers’ final game of the 2010 season. That outing could best be described as abbreviated; he threw 1.2 innings, allowing five hits, a walk and two runs.

What conclusions can we draw from this micro-sample size? Less than nothing.

That’s part of the reason Tigers fans are interested to see how Coke performs in 2011 now that he’s a member of the rotation, slotted neatly behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. That’s not to say Coke has no experience as a starter. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Coming up through the Yankees’ system in the mid-2000s, he worked predominately as a starter. From 2005-08, Coke started 77 games.

At Double-A Trenton in 2008, he started 20 games and posted a 2.51 ERA to go with his 9-4 record. That earned him a call-up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he was turned into a reliever.

Go figure.

Year Age Team Lg Lev W L W-L% ERA G GS CG IP
2005 22 Charleston SALL A 8 11 .421 5.42 24 18 0 103.0
2006 23 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-A 5 8 .385 3.19 27 20 1 127.0
2006 23 Charleston SALL A 0 1 .000 0.53 5 2 0 17.0
2006 23 Tampa FLOR A+ 5 7 .417 3.60 22 18 1 110.0
2007 24 Tampa FLOR A+ 7 3 .700 3.09 17 16 1 99.0
2008 25 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-AAA 11 6 .647 2.79 37 21 1 135.2
2008 25 Trenton EL AA 9 4 .692 2.51 23 20 1 118.1
2008 25 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre IL AAA 2 2 .500 4.67 14 1 0 17.1
6 Seasons 31 29 .517 3.61 125 77 3 496.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table | Generated 3/28/2011.

 

With his return to the rotation this spring, Coke posted a 3-2 record with a 2.49 ERA in 21.2 innings. Not shabby, but how will it play out over the long season? Lynn Henning today provided this assessment of Coke:

He looked good for much of the spring, but took some knocks late. The switch to starting is still in progress. If things don’t work out, he goes back to the bullpen, Andy Oliver moves in, and the Tigers probably strengthen their seventh-inning options. But they’ll give this experiment a full and necessary opportunity to work.

We’ll have to see what “a full and necessary opportunity” means. If Coke lasts as a starter, what’s the impact on the bullpen? Or, does it mean he’s more valuable in relief compared to the young arms the Tigers can summon to the rotation, such as Andy Oliver and/or Jacob Turner?

And it all hinges on Phil Coke. What do you think?

Monday Mankowskis: Winter Meetings Edition

PhilMankowski77.jpgOne by one, the Tigers’ alleged free-agent targets are signing with other clubs and in the case of Adam Dunn, with the hated White Sox. Now that Jayson Werth has sign a gargantuan deal with the Nationals — the Nationals? — Detroit is left to shoot for the moon (i.e., Carl Crawford) or swing another blockbusterish trade.

I’m still betting on the latter, though the Tigers have fewer minor-league chips to parlay into an impact big-leaguer, and the ones they have — Andy Oliver, Jacob Turner — are the premier prospects. But who wants to see them dealt? Not many, I’m guessing.

Meanwhile …

Continue reading “Monday Mankowskis: Winter Meetings Edition”

Tigers Today: July 19, 2010

BallHand.jpgTigers’ Record:

48-42, 2nd place; 1.5 GB Chicago

Today’s Game

Tigers vs. Rangers | 7:05 p.m. ET – Comerica Park | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Pitching Matchup

Jeremy Bonderman (5-6, 4.79 ERA) vs. RHP Scott Feldman (5-8, 5.32 ERA)

Yesterday’s Results

Indians 7 – Tigers 2

Continue reading “Tigers Today: July 19, 2010”