How Do You Solve a Problem Like Valverde?

It’s been more than 24 hours since Valverde did his latest hack job on a brilliant outing by a starting pitcher. And most of Michigan is still pretty furious. I immediately declared myself part of the “Anyone But Valverde” camp, and I stick by that. But now, someone has to figure out the “Anyone” part. The one thing we do know (or hope) is that the Tigers realize they can’t afford to use Papa Grande in the ninth inning ever again. Plenty of articles, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts have given their opinions, so I might as well throw my two cents in. Here are the five in-house choices, in order from least objectionable to most heinous:

1. Joaquin Benoit: The good news is he’s here, he’s pitching well, and he has closing experience. The bad news is he has a history of bouts with longballitis. Then there’s the fact that he’d be vacating the 8th inning slot.

2. Drew Smyly: He’s young, versatile, pitching well, and has a much better repertoire than the usual closer. The problem with him is similar to the problem with Benoit: vacating the role he currently holds. Not to mention the fact that it could delay and/or harm his development as a closer (although a similar move didn’t seem to hurt Chris Sale). If Benoit gets the nod as closer, Smyly could be be the 7th-8th inning guy.

3. Bruce Rondon: He’s dominating AAA hitters, but he’s still having control issues. the best course, if they bring him up, may be to put him in the 7th-8th inning roles and let him work his way into the closer role, with Benoit or Smyly keeping the spot warm for him.

4. Putkonen/Downs: Neither is the prototypical closer, but both have been effective in long-relief stints at times.

5. Phil Coke: Coke’s 2013 struggles, especially against right-handers, have been well-documented. He’s not the answer any more than Valverde was.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Dombrowski could trade for a closer, or another bullpen arm who would free up one of the above for the role.

My favorite trade targets would be San Diego’s Luke Gregerson or Washington’s Drew Storen. Neither of these is probably realistic. Washington has the depth to trade Storen, but why should they? They’d ask for a lot. Same with Gregerson. He’s young, cheap, and probably San Diego’s closer of the future after they trade Huston Street.

Street is probably available but would cost significant talent, and he’s not having a great year either. Plus, he’s currently hurt.

Jonathan Papelbon might be available, but he’s getting stupid money for the next three years. Of course that money could keep Philly from asking for top prospects (read: Castellanos or Garcia) for him. The other problem is I can’t stand him. But he’d be just what the Tiger bullpen needs.

Brian Wilson‘s name occasionally floats into the conversation, but no one is sure how healthy his arm is. Not to mention that he’s an attention-craving loon.

The other closers or possible-closers that the non-contenders may offer up would surely cost the cream of the farm system crop.

So we’re back to the question of who will close for the Tigers. The only answer anyone (except Leyland) is sure of is “Anyone but Valverde.”

2012 Top 10 Stories: #2 – Tigers Win the Pennant

Given how the Tigers’ 2012 season went, months of frustration and a division title that came at the 11th hour, a trip to the World Series was far from assured. Far.

As dominoes fell late in the year, the Tigers ALDS opponent depended on which team, the A’s or Rangers, won the A.L. West. They might play the Orioles. Or the A’s. Or the Yankees. No matter which club they played in the first round, a bad match up could’ve been awaiting the Tigers.

In the end, it was the red-hot A’s which vanquished the Rangers in a stunning sweep to end the season. The good news was that the series, thanks to baseball’s new two-three scheduling, started at Comerica Park and not in Oakland where the A’s had mixed up an amazing collection of comeback wins in 2012. Even with Justin Verlander starting Game 1 against rookie Jarrod Parker, the A’s had a kind of juju that made Tigers fans (at least this one) nervous.

A leadoff  home run by Coco Crisp didn’t help. But the Tigers cobbled together enough offense to take the game 3-1. (And who knew we’d witnessed Jose Valverde‘s final save as Tigers closer. More on that in a moment.)

Game 2 featured shaky relief work by Joaquin Benoit and walkoff heroics by Don Kelly to secure a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead. Out in Oakland, the series tightened after the A’s won Game 3 and mounted a late comeback in Game 4 to force a winner-take-all Game 5. Thankfully, Verlander was locked in and the Tigers offense gave him plenty of support to send Detroit to the ALCS for the second consecutive year – but this time against the Yankees.

Was I alone in thinking the Tigers were due for the Yankees to exact revenge for New York’s 2006 and 2011 exits? No? Well, I prepared myself for that possibility.

The ALCS got off to a tremendous start in Game 1 with the Tigers leading 4-0 heading to the bottom of the ninth. That’s when Valverde brought to life the worst-case scenario – one like fans witnessed in Game 4 of the ALDS when he surrendered three runs to give the A’s a walkoff win. This time, Valverde gave up four runs on a pair of two-run shots, the first by Ichiro and then one by Raul Ibanez.

In the top of the 12th a Jhonny Peralta ground ball to Derek Jeter changed the series dramatically and for good. Jeter landed awkwardly and saw his season end with a broken ankle. The Tigers scored two in the inning and Drew Smyly shut down New York in the bottom half to earn Detroit an exhausting 1-0 series lead.

The rest of the series was filled with intriguing story lines: Phil Coke‘s emergence as closer, Anibal Sanchez‘s brilliant Game 2 shutout, the Yankees’ offensive drought.

Even though the series ended in a sweep,  it wasn’t completely dominant. Other than in the 8-1 Game 4 win, the Tigers didn’t pile on the runs. Sure, they scored six in Game 1 but only because Valverde didn’t allow the first four runs to stand up. In Games 2 and 3 they scored a combined five runs. But the Yankees scored six in the entire series – and who saw that coming?

The same people who predicted a Tigers sweep of the Yankees to with the American League pennant.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

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 Wild Ride in ALCS Continues

And this evening I gleefully eat crow.

Justin Verlander or no, I didn’t expect the Tigers to win Game 5. After Wednesday night’s deflating extra-inning loss, my typically optimistic self thought the Tigers had run out of gas and that the Rangers were just too hot to lose.

Texas was making the most of their opportunities — lord knows they (and the Tigers with much less success) have had plenty this series — and how long could Detroit’s worn out pitching staff keep Michael Young and Adrian Beltre, the only Rangers not scorching the ball these days, in check? Not long, at least in the case of the former.

When Young doubled in the first inning, that queasy feeling of doom washed over me. Then I got angry: No way Verlander wilts in this situation. He didn’t.

Despite what some wrote, Verlander was terrific. Untouchable? No. But he had enough stuff, grit and determination to get the outs he needed at just the right time.

These same observers are saying the Tigers were lucky to win this game. Well, yeah — and it’s about time a bounce went Detroit’s way. And an ice-cold hitter hit a home run. And a starter went deep into the game. And someone other than Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde got the final outs. And a packed Comerica Park trembled one more time.

If the Tigers go on to win this series, imagine how we’ll remember a beaten down Alex Avila at last delivering a key hit with an opposite field home run, or how iconic Miguel Cabrera‘s sixth-inning double off the third-base bag will become in Detroit sports lore. Or Victor Martinez‘s triple when the man can hardly walk. Or Delmon Young‘s two rockets to left-center that put him in elite company in the Tigers’ postseason record book.

With Max Scherzer going in Game 6 — the first time the Tigers have been in a postseason Game 6 since 1968 — you have to feel good, don’t you? My guess is that he feels he has some unfinished business after Game 2 and will be on a mission Saturday night.

For now though, I’m going to savor this win and the crow I was forced to eat after not so much doubting the Tigers’ grit, but recognizing the offensive buzz saw that’s the Texas Rangers right now.

And you know what? Jim Leyland seems to be having the time of his life in this series. Perhaps it’s time I stop fretting every pitch and just enjoy the ride too.

Who’s with me?

The Daily Breakfast: Aug. 3, 2011

Good Wednesday morning, afternoon or evening.

Thanks to everyone who passed along birthday wishes to yours truly yesterday. It was a great day, capped by a soggy Tigers win. The photo here is the cake a friend of mine made for me. It tasted as good as it looks.

Leading Off: The Tigers failed to take advantage of scoring chances aplenty against Colby Lewis, withstood the sudden reappearance of Joaquin Benoit and prevailed thanks to Brennan Boesch‘s heroics to take game one of the three-game set against the Rangers, 6-5. Despite blowing the lead, Benoit did his best Aurelio Lopez immitation hanging around to earn the win. … In the 35 series the Tigers have played this season (not including one-game makeups), the club has won the first game in only 15 of them.

Around the Central: Detroit was the only Central-division team to win on Tuesday night: The Red Sox had a 3-2, walk-off win over the Indians, the Yankees thumped the White Sox 6-0 in a rain-shortened seven-inning game, the Orioles beat the Royals 8-2 in K.C., and the Angels downed the Twins, 5-1 at the Big A.

[callout title=The Rundown] The Tigers are in first place, 3 games ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Doug Fister (3-12, 3.33 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Harrison (9-7, 2.94 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM & 97.1 FM

Fister, who will wear number 58, makes his Tigers debut tonight.

He suffered the loss in each of his last seven decisions with Seattle, despite posting a 3.42 ERA over the 10-start stretch dating back to June 4. The seven-game losing streak matches a career long for Fister as he suffered the loss in seven straight decisions with the Mariners May 19-Aug. 4, 2010

Also, Fister enters his start having compiled a 2.96 ERA over his last seven starts dating back to June 21. Opponents are hitting .221 against him during the stretch.

Happy 27th Birthday to Matt Joyce. Today’s also the 39th birthday of Wendell Magee. Happy 59th to Dan Meyer. Also born on this date was hall of famer Harry Heilmann (1894-1951). He hit .342 in 15 seasons with the Tigers (1914, 1916-29).

On this date in 1980, Al Kaline was inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Duke Snider,  Chuck Klein, and Tom Yawkey.

[/callout]

Messing with Texas: The Tigers enter tonight’s game having won 15 of the club’s last 18 games versus the Rangers at Comerica Park dating back to Sept. 11, 2007.

Streaks: The Tigers’ record in their last five games is 3-2; last 10, 5-5; last 15, 9-6; last 20 games: 11-9.

Random Thoughts: Watching Austin Jackson‘s strikeout total mount, does anyone else fear that he’ll become the next Gary Pettis?

Video: On this date in 1960, the Tigers and Indians traded managers. Here’s a video from ESPN that I tried to embed in the post but to no avail.

Bush League or Not? ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield wrote a post about the Justin Verlander/Erick Aybar broo-ha-ha and, like most observers I’ve read, comes down on the side of the Angels’ shortstop:

Verlander wasn’t too happy with the play.

(snip)

You know what I say?

Give me a break.

Aren’t the Angels trying to win a game? They were down 3-0, the bunt is a big part of Aybar’s game, and they’re in a pennant race. It was 3-0 at the time, hardly a blowout. Aybar’s job is to get on base. And it worked — Verlander threw away the bunt attempt for an error and the Angels went on to score two runs.

I think I agree, begrudgingly.

Need gift ideas? I received this morning an email from the Tigers’ online shop offering Tigers locker name tags, at varying prices. On Saturday I tweeted from the Comerica Park pro shop a photo of a Mitch Meluskey locker name tag that could be yours for $5. Now you can get the tags from more notable players and coachesand former players and coaches. How about a David Purcey, Casper Wells or Rick Knapp tag? They got ’em.

Finally, Happy 85th Birthday to incomparable Tony Bennett.

Dare to Compare: Joaquin Benoit vs. Jose Mesa

JoseMesaRemember back in late 2006 when the Tigers signed 41-year-old Jose Mesa to a one-year contract and most of us said, “Is it 1996?”

Fortunately or unfortunately, the Mesa Experiment was short lived. By June 3, 2007, he was released after posting some staggering numbers:

W L ERA SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 1 12.34 0 11.2 19 16 16 3 6 9 2.143
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/16/2011.

JoaquinBenoit

This all came to mind this evening as free-agent prize Joaquin Benoit got ripped by the Blue Jays for three runs in the eighth and notch yet another dreadful appearance in his short time in Detroit.

After Monday night Benoit’s stats might not be as gruesome as Mesa’s, but given Benoit’s age and the amount of dough the Tigers are investing, the numbers are almost worse:

W L ERA SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 2 6.59 0 13.2 17 12 10 1 4 11 1.537
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/16/2011.

 

Of course, two months into his three-year, $16.5 million contract Benoit is going nowhere.

But if he doesn’t turn it around soon and provide Jim Leyland with a reliable eighth inning option not named Ryan Perry, neither are the Tigers.

Saturday Snacks: Leftovers Edition

leftovers.jpg
The holidays put a serious cramp in my news-following style. Not sure how too much time results in not enough time, but that’s what happened over the past two weeks.

  • I was bummed out by the passing of Bill Lajoie and began writing a little something … and then realized I’d already written it back in November.

  • Peter Gammons put together a roundup of 10 “overlooked baseball success stories” from the past year and placed at number-three Miguel Cabrera:

    Cabrera is on the outskirts of history. Whatever mistake he made in September 2009, he addressed, and he has now placed in the top five in the MVP race four of the past six seasons. In his eight seasons playing for the Marlins and Tigers, in ballparks that were not exactly built for hitters, he has averaged just under 31 homers and 110 RBIs. His .388 on-base percentage speaks volumes about his growth, and his OPS+ through age 27 is 145. Pujols’ was 167 at that age, Henry Aaron’s 153, Ken Griffey’s 150, Frank Robinson’s 148. That is the air Miguel Cabrera breathes. In his seven full seasons in the Majors, he’s averaged more than 157 games played. He turns 28 on April 18. The next day, Joe Mauer turns 28.

  • So Zach Miner signs with the Royals.

    “There were a few teams that checked in, and the Tigers and the Royals were the most aggressive,” Miner wrote in an e-mail to MLB.com. “But in the end, we just felt like K.C. was going to be a very good opportunity going forward, not only for this year, but for a few years down the road.”

    I can understand the guy wanting a fresh start if he’d had a bad experience in another city, but if the choices are Detroit or Kansas City, how do you choose the latter? I suppose you choose it based on your chances of seeing more action, though I thought Miner had a decent shot at supplanting Armando Galarraga at the backend of the Tigers’ rotation. Maybe not. I thought this quote in Jason Beck‘s story was interesting: “I … loved playing for Jim Leyland.”

    He did? Whenever Leyland came out to the mound when Miner was pitching, it seemed as if Miner wanted to run and hide.

  • Mark Simon at ESPN’s Stats and Info Blog has written a couple of interesting posts on the Tigers’ offseason moves — one here on Joaquin Benoit, another here on Victor Martinez. If you listen to ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast, you’ve no doubt heard Simon from time to time. I enjoy his stuff and, if you haven’t already, recommend you add him to your daily rotation.

It’s almost kickoff time for Michigan State and Michigan. Enjoy the bowl games and have a Happy New Year.