Is Detroit Still a Great Baseball Town?

With the Tigers marching toward three million in attendance for 2012, this might seem more than borderline preposterous. But stick with me.

I lobbed a tweet last week about how Tigers fans are coming unglued online and on the air. I could even take it a step further and suggest the faithful are assuming the personality traits – obsession, paranoia, rage – of Yankees fans.

Last Thursday morning, listening to Power Alley on MLB Network Radio, a Tigers fan called in to rail on Joaquin Benoit and how he just can’t be trusted, Leyland shouldn’t use him in the 8th inning anymore. Why? Well, he allowed four runs to score in an 8-6 win over the White Sox. And, well, because.

Hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette politely disagreed that Benoit was a problem – much less the problem, as the caller also suggested – and that in fact he’d been quite good of late and for the majority of the season. They acknowledged his stretch of surrendering home runs (looking at you, Taylor Teagarden) but that he’s certainly not someone about whom Tigers fans should waste energy.

This is just one example. Since April, Tigers fans have been scorching Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Jose Valverde and, of course, Jim Leyland*.

*Recently Reds GM Walt Jocketty was on Power Alley and he answered a question from the hosts about Dusty Baker‘s approach to resting players throughout the season, even into September. Jocketty defended his manager and talked about how the great managers know who needs a rest and when – and how this can payoff late in the season. He mentioned Leyland by name as another skipper who knows when to give his players a day off. Then he said something like, “I heard on this show a Tigers fan was complaining about Jim Leyland resting players. Jim’s one of the best in the game at this and I can’t believe they’re complaining about it.”

How did this happen? Is it all because of pre-season expectations and the season drawing to a close? Is it the number of outlets fans have to air even the flimsiest arguments? Yes to both, I think.

I acknowledge this is likely coming across as Old Man Thinking and to some degree it is. What’s really puzzling to me is that Detroit has a reputation as being a great baseball town. And it is.

Or it was. Right now, I’m not so sure.

I’ve never witnessed such vitriol being sprayed in so many places against a manager and his players – ever. Fans are treating Leyland like they do their political villain of choice. (Two years ago I wrote my case for Leyland and stand by it today.) It wasn’t long ago that the Tigers had managers the likes of Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish and, inexplicably, Luis Pujols. People: Luis Pujols.

Granted, you could argue (and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you) that the days of Bell, Parrish and Pujols were dreadful seasons in which most Tigers fans were apathetic at best. But people still went to the games, followed the team and called into the sports talk shows to complain about Bobby Higginson. Some people cared … but not many, and not much. But still.

Does all the moaning and groaning mean Tigers fans are as engaged as ever? Or does it mean Detroit has lost its collective mind when it comes to baseball and the expectations of a team that, for an enternity, was an embarrassment?

What do you think?

Tigers Roster Set … and a Tad Upsetting

In 1984, the Tigers made the no-brainer decision to leave southpaw reliever Sid Monge off the playoff roster. Monge had an undistinguished half seaon with the Tigers after being picked up off waivers from the Padres — 1-0, 4.25 ERA in 19 games.

He didn’t pitch enough in the regular season and, left hander or no, he wasn’t going to appear in the ALCS or World Series. And God knows we didn’t want him to.

This morning we learned that another seemingly no-brainerish decision — to leave Brad Penny off the ALDS roster — was, in fact, not made. What the …? Jim Leyland hasn’t, and likely won’t, offer much to the media to chew on in the way of rationale for this decision.

Here’s the most obvious question: In what scenario, a Game 4 start, long relief, middle relief, would any Tigers fan feel comfortable seeing Penny on the mound? Speaking for myself: None.

Jason Beck reports on his blog:

Both Rick Porcello and Brad Penny are on the roster. One of them is expected to start Game 4 is necessary (sic). The other will work out of the bullpen.

Would I feel better seeing David Pauley? It depends. If it’s relief, absolutely. And would I feel more confident in Porcello starting Game 4? Ditto. (But if there’s a rainout between tonight and Game 4, are we still to believe that Justin Verlander won’t make that start?)

And what about Ryan Perry? Can the Tigers afford his baffling inconsistency in the postseason?

So what we’ve got are four pitchers — the three P’s: Penny, Porcello, Perry, and Max Scherzer — on the ALDS roster that make us wonder if the good version or bad version will show up.

I have no problem with the position-player decisions, even backup catcher Omir Santos. There’s no way Leyland is going to lose a playoff game — or series — by having to put Brandon Inge or Don Kelly behind the plate. No chance. I think Santos makes sense.

But the real news here is Penny. I’m afraid that if we see him in this series we’re going to long for Sid Monge.

Dave Schoenfield weighs in on both A.L. Division Series rosters on the SweetSpot blog.

Tigers Make a Droplet of a Trade in Getting Peralta

Peralta.jpgJhonny Peralta.

It’s precisely the move we expected the Tigers to make. That is, a drip not a splash.

Not only is he the Tigers’ new and temporary third baseman until Brandon Inge returns, he’s also the new and temporary shortstop until the Tigers acquire Stephen Drew.

Ahem.

What’s more, you present a writing dilemma for me. Do I add “Jhonny” to my spell check dictionary and run the risk of misspelling someone who’s name is Johnny, or live with the annoying red line under “Jhonny”?

[callout title=Jhonny Peralta 101]Here’s what we know about the Tigers’ newest acquisition:

  • Age: 28

  • Born: May 28, 1982 in Santiago, Santiago, D.R.

  • Signed by the Indians as an amateur free agent in 1999.

  • 2010 Salary: $4,850,000

  • 2010 Stats: .246 / 7 HR / 43 RBI / .698 OPS

  • Lifetime: .264 / 103 HR / 456 RBI / .751 OPS

  • Lifetime vs Tigers: .256 / 11 HR

  • Lifetime vs. White Sox: .237 / 7 HR

  • Lifetime vs. Twins: .238 / 11 HR

Source: Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index
[/callout]

This isn’t exactly like 2006 when the Tigers scrambled to find a replacement at second base for the injured Placido Polanco and made the mystifying trade for Neifi Perez. Peralta will help the Tigers a lot more than Perez, but the bar is set fairly low in that regard.

Even though the Tigers appear on the brink of collapse, they still are 9-1/2 games closer to first place than the Indians are, which means Peralta could be energized and be a big help.

Again, it’s all relative.

Perhaps the way to view this trade is how Baseball Prospectus 2010 sums up Jhonny Peralta:

Peralta has enver been the most consistent player, but given the gross similarities of his 2007-2008 seasons, any bounce back seems likely to be similar in form — good, but just barely that.

On the bright side, the Tigers have made a trade. Let’s savor it; this might be all we get.

Gerald Laird Likely to Lose at His Uniform-Number Shell Game

LairdHead.jpgOn May 29, Gerald Laird changed his uniform number from 8 to 12 in the hope his offensive luck would change. Who could blame him for trying something — anything — to inject some life into his bat.

How’s it worked? He’s 2 for 16, or .125 since the switcheroo.

Before he had clubhouse guy Jim Schmakel sew him up a new uni, Laird was 16 for 101, or .158. And his overall stats for Laird while wearing #8 — the ones we’ll compare below with his predecessors are: .184 avg., 5 HR, .271 OBP, .553 OPS

This uniform-change ploy got me thinking about recent Tigers players that wore number 8 or number 12 to see which had the best offensive numbers and if, based on recent history (going back to 1995ish), Laird might luck out by some numerical karma.

Continue reading “Gerald Laird Likely to Lose at His Uniform-Number Shell Game”

Game 163: Microcosm, The Sequel Nutshell

ESPN highlights available here.
knockedoutboxer.jpg
The Score: Twins 6 – Tigers 5, 12 innings

The Gist: The Tigers and Twins played a game for the ages and both teams followed the respective scripts of the past three weeks. For the Tigers, that meant squandering countless opportunities and watching a division lead evaporate. For the Twins: everything going their way. Rick Porcello was awesome, Miguel Cabrera showed up for the first part of the game and Fernando Rodney, while taking the loss, pitched almost brilliantly in what was assuredly his last Tigers performance.

The Quote: “No matter what we did, it seems like it wasn’t meant to be. This is the best game, by far, that I’ve ever played in no matter the outcome.”Brandon Inge

The Stat: 1 – The go-ahead run scored by Don Kelly in the 10th. Oh, how I wish it would’ve held up…for his sake.

Up Next: Spring Training, Lakeland, Fla., February 2010

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2009 Player Profile: Adam Everett

Adam Everett #4

  • Height: 6′ 0″ | Weight: 180
  • 2008 Stats: .213 – 2 HR – 20 RBI

Adam EverettIt’s difficult to get a clear picture of new Tigers shortstop Adam Everett based on his 2008 performance with the Twins. He had just 158 at bats (which produced a .213 average) and appeared in only 45 games for the Twins defensively due to a bum throwing shoulder. However, it’s not so much Everett’s production at the plate that concerns Tigers fans – anything close to .250 would suffice – it’s his glove work.

Jim Leyland and the Tigers’ faithful look to the 31-year-old to fortify (along with third baseman Brandon Inge) the left side of the infield. But how can he inject some offense into the lower third of the lineup in 2009? By focusing on the parts of the strike zone he favors; for Everett that’s above the belt from the heart of the plate to the outside corner.

The bottom line is that the Tigers wouldn’t have signed Everett to man a keystone position if they didn’t see him as a defensive upgrade to the departed Edgar Renteria.

2009 Player Profile: Brandon Inge

Brandon Inge #15

  • Height: 5′ 11″ | Weight: 190
  • 2008 Stats: .205 – 11 HR – 51 RBI

Brandon IngeBrandon Inge began last season as the Tigers backup catcher and ended it as the third baseman for 2009. In between was yet another sub-par offensive performance for a player that, as recently as 2006, seemed locked in as a power-hitting, Gold Glove-caliber defensive whiz. Perhaps the shift from full-timer to part-time super-sub weighed on Inge in ’08, pushing his average to .205.

Unfortunately, there’s little positive Inge can take away from last season; he struggled against righties and lefties alike, and, outside of the fastball, opposing pitchers had little problem fooling Inge. But he and the Tigers view 2009 as a fresh start.

At the plate, Inge will look to rediscover the power that generated 27 home runs in ’06. To do that he’ll need to focus on his strengths, particularly turning on pitches on the inner half of the plate, and avoiding the urge to pull the ones on the outer edge.

In 2009, chances are that Inge will save more runs with his defense than he’ll drive in with his bat. Yet the stability he’ll enjoy as the Tigers regular third baseman could ignite an offensive resurgence.

R.I.P. Eddie Brinkman

Brinkman.jpgSad news from Cincinnati today. Former Tigers shortstop Eddie Brinkman passed away at 66.

Brinkman joined the Tigers in 1971 as part of the trade that sent Denny McLain to the Washington Senators.

Brinkman won the Gold Glove in 1972, the same season he finished in the Top 10 for Most Valuable Player, and was named to the American League All-Star Team in 1973.

After his playing career, Brinkman was a coach and scout for the White Sox from 1983-2000.

Brinkman wore number 8 in his four seasons in Detroit. He never hit over .237 — an average the Tigers would welcome from Brandon Inge.

He epitomized good-glove-no-stick at shortstop and, according to my brother who watched him play, was a joy to watch.