2012 Top 10 Stories: #7 – Tigers Trade for Sanchez and Infante

Based on Number Eight in this completely subjective Top 10 list (The Black Hole at Second Base), Number Seven should come as no surprise: the Tigers move aggressively to fill the void at second base by reacquiring old friend Omar Infante and add a blue-chip starting pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, to bolster the rotation.

The July 23 trade with the Miami Marlins came at a steep price: top prospects pitcher Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly, along with 6-ft. 8 -in. minor-league lefty Brian Flynn and a 2013 compensation draft. (The day before the trade, Turner pitched 5.1 innings against the White Sox in a 6-4 win that put the Tigers a game and a half ahead of Chicago, and showed potential trade partners that Turner was healthy and ready to perform in the big leagues.)

At the time, Infante was the headliner because of the Tigers’ glaring need for an everyday second baseman and, to a lesser degree, the fact he was returning to his original big-league franchise. Tigers fans had watched Infante mature into a solid big-league player in his three seasons with the Braves and season-and-a-half in Miami and seemed to welcome him back. From Jason Beck’s story on the deal:

“For us, from a second-base perspective, that was an area we definitely wanted to address,” Dombrowski said. “There’s not a lot of second basemen that are available. There’s not a lot of second basemen available particularly that are good players.”

In Infante’s case, Dombrowski said, “He’s a real solid player to us, one of the better second basemen in Major League Baseball.”

(snip)

“One thing for us, it’s good to have a bat that’s another threat to drive the ball into the gaps and steal a base,” Dombrowski said. “For us, it’s a plus.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity and a curiosity of sorts. After all, he’d pitched seven seasons in south Florida for more or less forgettable Marlins teams. (The only thing I knew about him was that in 2006 he’d thrown a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks.) But as Doug Fister struggled to return to form after two trips to the disabled list, it became clear in a hurry that Sanchez was just as big a piece of this trade as Omar Infante – and perhaps bigger.

“He’s been one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball,” Dombrowski said. “He feels great, he has quality stuff and he gives us a chance to have five established Major League starters.”

Early on, Sanchez surrendered five or more earned runs in three of his first four Tigers starts and looked shellshocked by American League. But soon he had found his rhythm and was providing Jim Leyland with quality starts in eight of his next nine outings. In fact, Sanchez registered a quality start in five consecutive starts Aug. 22 – Sept. 15, and finished 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA during that stretch. And on Sept. 25 he notched his finest outing in a Tigers uniform: a three-hit shutout against the Royals, striking out 10. His final line: 12 starts, a 4-6 record and a 3.74 ERA.

In the playoffs Sanchez he was superb. In three postseason starts he allowed just four runs and a 1.77 ERA, which certainly helped his free-agent asking price and helped bring him back to Detroit for five more seasons.

As for Infante, he brought to the Tigers exactly what they’d hoped: a solid player that stabilized a critical infield position and, on many nights, the number-two spot in the batting order.

All told, a big trade, a big payoff – and a big story.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

An Inexplicable Post about an Inexplicable Game

Ok. Let’s think about this.

Jim Leyland said in his post-game interview that he and his coaching staff will discuss the closer situation. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll discuss it and I’d love to hear someone say this: “Describe an ideal scenario for us to bring Jose Valverde into a game.” If we’re lucky, the answer is followed by a long, long, crickets-filled pause.

And then another.

I can’t imagine such a scenario. Maybe in a blow out – with the Tigers way behind. I guess.

But wait, the Tigers won this game, people – 6-4 in 12 innings.

Unlike Wednesday’s crushing Game 4 loss to the A’s, they escaped the opponent’s half of the ninth and were able to hang on with some stellar relief from Drew Smyly, whose first career win came at Yankee Stadium and now the same can be said his first post-season win.

That was a long sentence. But after a five-hour game, what else do you expect? This game was long on everything, from terrific pitching by Doug Fister to solid defense to the mystifying Delmon Young.

So, yeah. The Tigers won. But they lost a closer (we think/hope) and now have to think quickly about to do about the ninth inning in Game 2 … and every other game in which they need a closer*. For me the answer is Joaquin Benoit in the seventh, Al Alburquerque in the eighth and Octavio Dotel in the ninth. Or maybe you use Dotel in the eighth and Alburquerque in the ninth.

*Mitch Williams on MLB Network says he thinks Leyland will go with matchups from now on in the ninth inning. Coke and Smyly versus lefties, Dotel and Alburquerque versus righties.

Either way, I don’t see Valverde getting meaningful innings anymore with the Tigers. Like never.

For me this is the bottom line on Game 1: The Tigers toughed out a game that so easily could’ve slipped away in extra innings and would’ve made Game 2 more pressure-packed than it needed to be.

Now they can go into Sunday’s game with even more confidence they can win in New York and make a dream scenario of coming back to Detroit up two games to none a reality.

Random Thoughts Before Game 5

In no particular order:

  • From the what-if file: Imagine the added dimension a healthy and capable Daniel Schlereth would add to the Tigers bullpen.
  • Kevin Kennedy was asked what he’d do if the Tigers have a four-run lead going into the ninth and Justin Verlander at a 120 pitches. His answer? “I know what Jim will do … ” Kennedy said Leyland will likely go to his bullpen; it’s what he’s done all year. And that’s what makes us all so queasy.

The Tigers and Athletics will battle in the fifth and deciding game of the American League Division Series this evening at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It marks the eighth time in the club’s post-season history the Tigers have had a series go to the maximum number of games. Detroit has compiled a 3-4 record in the previous seven series. The Tigers won Game Seven of both the 1945 and 1968 World Series and Game Five of the 2011 American League Division Series, while the team suffered the loss in Game Seven of the 1909, 1934 and 1940 World Series and Game Five of the 1972 American League Championship Series. 

  • Everyone I talk to today tells me that I should feel great about Game 5 with Verlander on the mound. But why don’t I? It’s because my gut tells me he gets too amped up for these big starts and gets dinged for early runs – like Coco Crisp‘s leadoff homer in Game 1. So, here’s what the Game Notes say:

Verlander is making the 10th start of his post-season career this evening. In his previous nine starts, he is 4-3 with a 4.96 ERA (49.0IP/27ER) and 59 strikeouts. Verlander is 2-0 with a 3.65 ERA (12.1IP/5ER) and 17 strikeouts in two starts against the Athletics during his post-season career. 

Yeah, but … looking at his career numbers he’s given up 48 hits in those 49 innings. Plus 30 runs and 24 walks. And, before his Game 1 start last Saturday, his career ALDS ERA was over five. I’m not trying to be negative, only trying to express why I’m hesitant to crown him a true big-game pitcher yet. We’ll know better after tonight.

Finally, Happy Birthday, Dmitri YoungJeff Larish and Gregg Olson. Enjoy the game tonight, folks.

Leftovers: Putting a Bow on the ALDS

It’s taken me about 22 hours to regain my regular heart rate but I think I’ve finally settled down.

Was Game 5 the best Tigers game I’ve ever seen? I keep asking myself and I couldn’t decide, mainly because the competition features games with different circumstances and consequences:

1984 ALCS Game 3

  • Scenario: Tigers ahead of Royals 2-0 in best-of-five
  • At Stake: Trip to World Series
  • Result: 1-0 win

1987 Final Weekend

  • Scenario: Tigers enter weekend one game behind the Blue Jays
    • Tigers take two of three, force one-game playoff
    • Blue Jays take two of three, they win A.L. East
    • Tigers sweep gives them division title
  • At Stake: A.L. East Title
  • Result: Tigers sweep

2006 ALCS Game 4

  • Scenario: Tigers ahead of A’s 3-0 in best of seven
  • At Stake: Trip to World Series
  • Result: 6-3 win

But then it was an easy choice. In all these other games the Tigers had room for error. Not Thursday night – or any game in the series. So, yep. This ALDS was the most grueling – and gratifying – set of games I’ve ever experienced in my Tigers-following life.

Other leftovers …

  • Remember when the Tigers acquired Doug Fister and led us to believe he’d be the fifth starter? If Fister’s the fifth man in the rotation, where does that put Brad Penny? Eighth? Truth is, Dave Dombrowski probably never thought of Fister anything less than what he’s proven himself to be: a number-two starter with ace-ish ability – and he proved it with gusto on Thursday night.
  • Here’s something about this five-game series that I’ve never experienced before: the difficulty I had enjoying the game as it was being played. Every pitch seemed to have so much hanging on it I resigned myself to studying the box score to get a reality check on a player’s performance. This was the case with Fister. As I watched Game 5, it sure seemed like he was throwing a gem — and lo and behold, he was: five innings pitched, five hits, one earned run, four strikeouts and just two walks.
  • And how about Magglio Ordonez? He hit .455 in the ALDS after going two for three in Game 5. Jim Leyland sure seems to be in perfect sync with Magglio, when to play him, when to give him a day off. With a couple of lefties on the horizon in the ALCS, I’m thinking we’ll see more Magglio rather than less.
  • If you can stand to watch (and I don’t recommend it), Around the Horn looks at Game 5 through the prism of “Praise the Tigers or Blame the Yankees?”

On the field, the Detroit Tigers did what tough baseball teams do, defeating the New York Yankees, 3-2, in a deciding Game 5 to win the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.

Off the field, the Detroit Tigers then did what all silly baseball teams do, celebrating the series victory with a raucous, over-the-top champagne party that was far greater than the entirety of their achievement.

Three wins. They were throwing a New Year’s Eve party for three wins. Think about that.

They were spraying each other over wins that could have occurred over the course of a long summer weekend. They were pouring it on each other for wins that totaled less than 12 hours.

The Detroit Tigers just played three good games, yet felt it necessary to celebrate with countless cases of liquor and cigars, and it just makes no sense.

It isn’t just the Tigers who do this, of course, it’s every baseball team after every postseason series win, the constantly popping corks adding to baseball’s reputation as a big fraternity house while diminishing the parties that really matter.

  • What do you think? I agree that in general watching four champagne celebrations is a bit much … when it’s not your team doing it. Here’s hoping we see another one in the next week or so.

And with that, adios, New York. Hello, Arlington.

The Game 5 Non Sequiturs

Here we are, a couple of hours from the most nerve-wracking Tigers game since Game 163 and the club’s first winner-take-all game since the 1972 ALCS, as Lee Panas pointed out after Game 4. Let’s see what happens. (Not unlike to my approach to this post.)

Jim Leyland this afternoon explained why we’ll see Max Scherzer and not Justin Verlander should the Tigers need a long-man:

“I don’t think it’s a wise decision. Like I said, those innings he pitched the other night, all the innings he’s piled up this year, all the strikeouts, all the adrenaline, and the fact that he’s throwing 100 miles an hour in the eighth inning [on Monday night], if he comes in this game tonight, there’s no telling what he would be throwing with the way this crowd is going to be and everything. I just don’t think it makes sense.”

Tonight’s game marks the seventh time in the Tigers post-season history they’ve had a series go the maximum number of games. Detroit has compiled a 2-4 record in the previous six series.

  • Wins: Game 7 of the 1945 and 1968 World Series
  • Losses: Game 7 of the 1909, 1934 and 1940 World Series; Game 5 of the 1972 ALCS

Jerry Crasnick focuses on Doug Fister and Delmon Young in this ESPN.com story. Here’s one scout’s view on Fister:

“The gun doesn’t tell the story on him,” the scout said. “He’s a movement guy with good location, and velocity doesn’t matter that much. He’s so tall [6-foot-8] and he’s straight over the top, so he gets great ‘down’ plane. When he’s down in the zone, it’s like hitting a bowling ball.”

By the by, Fister surrendered five home runs over his final 19 outings of the season dating back to June 14, a stretch of 129 innings pitched. He allowed 0.46 home runs per nine innings this season, lowest in the American League.

On this date in 1945, a goat and its owner make an appearance at Wrigley Field for Game 4 of the World Series between the Tigers and Cubs. The pair is told to leave before the game ends, angering the owner (and presumably the goat). The Cubs lost to the Tigers, 4-1. The Tigers go on to win the Series in seven and the Cubs won’t win another National League championship for the rest of the 20th century. And thus was born the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Young’s two home runs during this ALDS matches a Tigers record. Both Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe hit two home runs for Detroit during the ALDS in 2006.

That’s all I’ve got. Except for this: Tigers 5 Yankees 2.

Enjoy the game.

ALDS Game 0.95: Tonight’s Matchups

Doug Fister against the Yankees:

Liftetime

1-2, 6.00 ERA, 3 G, 3 GS, 18.0 IP, 24 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 3 BB, 10 K

In 2011

0-1, 3.86 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 7.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

Last Start/Loss: July 26, 2011 at New York, 4-1

Last win: Aug. 16, 2009 at Seattle, 10-3

Yankees head-to-head against Doug Fister

  • Robinson Cano .333 6-2-0
  • Eric Chavez .250 8-2-0
  • Brett Gardner .250 4-1-0
  • Curtis Granderson .333 3-1-1
  • Derek Jeter .400 10-4-0
  • Andruw Jones .200 5-1-0
  • Jorge Posada .333 6-2-0
  • Alex Rodriguez .200 5-1-0
  • Nick Swisher .286 7-2-1
  • Mark Teixeira .333 9-3-1.

    Tigers head-to-head against Ivan Nova

  • Wilson Betemit .500 2-1-0
  • Miguel Cabrera .000 1-0-0
  • Brandon Inge .000 1-0-0
  • Austin Jackson .000 1-0-0
  • Don Kelly .000 1-0-0
  • Victor Martinez .000 1-0-0
  • Magglio Ordonez 1.000 1-1-0
  • Delmon Young .333 3-1-0.
  • Lukewarm Reviews of Tigers’ Deadline Deal

    Our latest Fungo Flash poll asks for your opinion on the Tigers/Mariners trade over the weekend. Based on his article on Grantland — Headline: “Trade Deadline Power Rankings: Part 1, the Vanquished” with the subhead: “Find your team on this list and hang your head in shame” — I’d guess Jonah Keri would vote “Wait and See” with a lean toward “Thumbs down.”

    Here’s what he had to say:

    16. Detroit Tigers

    I have this theory that raw park effects and defense-independent stats don’t always tell the whole story on a particular player. Imagine you’re a pitcher in Petco Park. You know that hitters are far less likely to hit the ball out of the park. Couldn’t that change the way you pitch? Isn’t it conceivable that you could throw more strikes without the fear of an Earl Weaver Special in the back of your mind, thus improving your strikeout rate, your walk rate, and your overall statistical profile?

    I think Doug Fister may have benefited from that effect while pitching for the Mariners. The combination of Safeco Field and an excellent defense behind him may have made Fister feel more secure in throwing strikes. That in turn may have led to some microscopic walk rates (career 1.9 BB/9 IP) which contributed greatly to Fister’s success. There are a couple of other more tangible statistical indicators that suggest Fister has had luck on his side, notably a very low home run-per-fly ball rate of 4.4 percent this season. But batting average on balls in play, strand rate, and other oft-cited luck markers don’t necessarily suggest a fluke, or a pitcher ripe for regression.

    I wish I could properly test my theory to see if there’s something to it, but there are too many variables in play, and self-reported data such as “how confident was I when I pitched at Safeco Field” is rarely reliable. But the Tigers’ trade for Fister and fellow strikeout-challenged right-hander David Pauley depends largely on whether this effect is real, and if the new guys can adapt to conditions less favorable to pitchers. The good news for the Tigers? They might win a very weak AL Central anyway, even if Fister and Pauley (and recently acquired third baseman Wilson Betemit) fizzle out.

    The good news? The Indians are tied with the Rockies at number 18.

    Discuss.