The Non Sequiturs: Weekender Edition

Tigers fans expected the team to be the talk of baseball in 2008. Little did they know it would be in the form of fodder for the late-night talkshow set.
SidMonge.jpg
Alas, here we are, watching a team sleepwalking its way to a 1-8 record and heading to Chicago for a series that doesn’t bode well, given the Tigers’ record against the White Sox.

Luckily, we have the non sequiturs to keep us loose:

  • ESPN.com released its Power Rankings for the week and the Tigers sit in the bottom half: #18. The good news is the folks in Bristol believe a 1-8 Detroit team is still better than the 4-6 Giants.
  • Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Dept.:

    Court officers from Wayne County and Livingston County were at Denny McLain’s Hamburg Township residence this afternoon seizing property under a search warrant issued in Wayne County, police said.

    It’s true what the song says, “There’s never been any like Denny McLain.”

  • Yes, yes, I take back what I said about the bullpen in general and Zach Miner specifically. Let’s see if Clay Rapada can avoid the gopher ball this time around.
  • I was going to recap what Jayson Stark had to say about the Tigers this morning but Ian, as usual, does it much better. Warning: The Dontrelle Willis rumblings aren’t good.
  • Speaking of national correspondents, Ken Rosenthal says the Tigers have “issues, not problems.”

    They remain a good bet to reach the postseason despite their 0-6 start. Yet, their weaknesses are not easily dismissed.

    — snip —

    Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya, the executive says, was a candidate for a breakdown because he has a violent delivery and lands on his heel. Verlander also lands on his heel, the exec says, with his front toe turned toward first base. His delivery increases the stress on his shoulder and makes it difficult for him to keep the ball down.

  • I’m trying to figure out what Brandon Inge‘s half-decent start means in the big scheme o’ things. Does it improve his trade value an iota? Does it mean he’s happier in Detroit with all these unforeseen at bats? Does it mean anything? Discuss.

Finally, be sure to send along birthday wishes today to the following former Tigers: Sean Bergman, John Martin, Sid Monge and Mike Kilkenny.

Three Reasons Not to Worry About the Tigers Bullpen

FireballXSmall.jpgOkay, we get it. The Tigers bullpen is to the team’s championship aspirations as an anvil is to a skydiver.

But what, pray tell, if it’s not?

I, for one, refuse to buy into the bullpen as Achilles’ heel conspiracy theory, and here are three reasons why:

  1. Healthy starters
  2. Dave Dombrowski
  3. Zach Miner

1. Healthy starters. Among the many problems last season, the one that stands out most prominently for yours truly is the regularity with which Jim Leyland had to go to his bully in the sixth inning or sooner. Not only did it wear a path from the dugout to the hill, it prevented the bullpen from getting the rest required to be fresh when it was really needed. Instead, by Aug. 1 the Tigers bullpen was spent and Joel Zumaya‘s return proved to be too little, too late.

Oh, we’re all concerned that the Tigers staff has lingering questions including Kenny Rogers‘ age and ability to pitch deep into games — and the season. There’s concern over Dontrelle Willis‘ declining stats the past two seasons and whether he’ll pitch closer to 35 rather than his actual age. And, let’s not forget Fungo-favorite Nate Robertson. Can he at last shed the Tough Luck Nate label and win some close games?

By all acounts, Jeremy Bonderman‘s elbow is sound and should be helped by the change-up he’s supposedly improved — if not mastered. That leaves Justin Verlander. So far, so good and let’s keep it that way.

In all, the only health concerns surround Rogers and he appears good to go. The healthy outlook of the starting five should mean more quality starts, more starts lasting into the seventh or eighth innings and a more-rested relief corps.

2. Dave Dombrowski. Let’s assume — for a moment — that the bullpen underachieves. Then what? I’m betting that Dave Dombrowski will find the right arms (or, I suppose, left arms) to keep the bullpen afloat until either Zumaya or Fernando Rodney get healthy.

By now hasn’t Dombrowski proven to Tigers fans that, with the exception of Neifi Perez, he’s pulled the trigger on the right deals for the Detroit Nine?

And let’s not forget that Dombrowski has a potentially rock-solid chip to parlay into bullpen depth: Brandon Inge. Whether it’s May 1 or July 31, Inge will be gone and you can bet in return the Tigers will have acquired the reliever they need.

And who knows, Francisco Cruceta might have resolved his visa issues by then and logging valuable work in the seventh and eighth.

If I had to have GM at the wheel in this scenario, I’d want it to be the Tigers’.

3. Zach Miner. I’m a Zach Miner Fan Boy. There. I said it. Miner, in my view, is the Tigers most versatile and under-appreciated pitcher. All he’s managed to do since he came to Detroit is eat innings and fill the roles of spot starter and middle-relief guy with aplomb. Sure, he cratered in the second half of the 2006 season — his first in the bigs — but according to Baseball Prospectus 2008:

Miner kept the ball down on the way to an effective [2007] season, posting a 2.3 G/F [groundball to flyball ratio] and allowing just 14 extra-base hits in 232 opponent plate appearances. Miner was also effective with runners on, stranding 24 of the 30 he inherited. Of the Tigers three garbagemen, Miner has the most upside.

(In their assessment of Miner, BP included Chad Durbin and Jason Grilli as the others in the Garbage Time Trio.)

Granted, it’s not a rousing endorsement but if nothing else, the Baseball Prospectus folks do their homework. If they thought Miner was a dog, they’d say it.

Bottom line: If the first two in my recipe fail to hold up their end of the bargain, I feel considerably better knowing that Zach Miner is around to start, mop up or close shop.

Emptying Out the Mental Notebook

There have been lots of thoughts percolating around my head lately. Now that I’ve cleared my driveway of snow for the third time today, it’s time to get those thoughts out to the masses.

Brandon Inge
If you recall prior to the 2004 season Mr. Inge acted like a petulant little child when the Tigers signed Pudge Rodriguez. He whined and complained about how the catching job was his and he wasn’t giving it up without a fight. Of course he turned into a super-sub of sorts (playing 139 games, logging 400+ ABs at five different positions) and eventually won the starting third base job.

Fast forward four seasons and Mr. Inge no longer wants to be a catcher; he fancies himself a third baseman apparently. Though not as loudly, he appears to be lobbying to move out of town now that Miguel Cabrera appears to be the Tigers’ new third baseman. I don’t believe for a minute the Tigers can trade him and the $18 million left on his contract and receive anything close to good value. With that said, I suggest Brandon close his yap, buy a few extra gloves, learn how to scoop balls at first, play all three outfield positions, and get comfortable in the tools of ignorance again. Return to the role of super utilityman for this season. Milwaukee Brewer Bill Hall logged over 500 ABs in a similar role in 2005, playing three different positions. If Inge can play 3B, 1B, OF, and even a bit of C, I would expect enough at bats will come his way to keep him happy.

The goal, or promise to Inge, is that he becomes your full-time catcher effective 2009. He’ll have this year to study the pitching staff, pick Pudge and Vance Wilson‘s brains, and relearn the position. With the offense that will be surrounding him, Inge would merely have to concentrate on his fielding — any hitting would be a bonus. And if you’re really trying to do the hard sell, remind him the staff he would have to catch would include Justin Verlander, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, and — at some point — Rick Porcello.

Dontrelle Willis

I heard Willis’ first interview on local radio following the trade. WXYT had him on and I liked what I heard. He has a passion for the game, he has a personality, he’s energetic, and he should endear himself to the Detroit fanbase. Will he be able to pitch? The good news, I suppose, is that Detroit isn’t counting on him to be the ace. All they really need from him is 200+ serviceable innings. Ideally (with the bullpen the Tigers have) that’s what they’d like to get from all five starters — save Rogers I suppose. Chew up innings boys. The bats should get enough runs to keep this team in virtually every game.

One other item about Willis. Don’t underestimate the impact another African-American will have on the Tigers’ fan base. Willis is an inner-city kid and, like Curtis Granderson, has a personality that will make him popular. For a city that’s attempting to make a comeback, I think it’s outstanding the youngsters in town will have a couple of role models on the home team to look up to.

By the way, has anyone else noticed an entire Hispanic infield? Non hablas Espanol?

The Mitchell Report

Nothing surprises me (nor should it), but I’d like to launch a conspiracy theory on Roger Clemens. I wonder if his decision to stall his comeback each of the past couple of seasons was due merely to making sure he had it in him or rather he had it in him? I’m certainly no expert on performance enhancing drugs, but doesn’t it suddenly seem plausible that The Rocket was taking a late-winter cycle of PED’s before deciding to come back? Are unsigned free agents subjected to the testing? If not, it wouldn’t surprise me if Clemens got his body finely tuned and then gave his body time to flush the evidence before signing. So much for all those stories of his legendary workouts that I always admired as a younger man.

Mitchell Report Part II

Nook Logan? Mark Carreon? Alex Sanchez? This is our Detroit connection? No wonder our home team stunk during the Steroid Era!

Clearly Carreon wasn’t on the juice when he was a Tiger. He hit a career-low .232 that year.As for Sanchez — the first to be busted — it’s a good thing he was on the stuff, otherwise half of those swinging bunt singles he had would’ve rolled foul at the plate, right?

And Nook? Well, I got nothing for Nook.

Bullpen

If the starters can get into the seventh inning I don’t feel too bad about things. It’s that middle/long relief that gives me the Guillermos. I know Zach Miner will be serviceable and I shouldn’t fret about Jason Grilli, but neither instill a lot of confidence — especially if they get thrown into roles they’re not comfortable in.

I actually feel pretty good about the two situational lefties they’ll enter camp with: Tim Byrdak and Bobby Seay. Seay was especially effective the last half of the season when used correctly. Speaking of using folks correctly, Memo to Jim Leyland: Todd Jones can only pitch one inning this year and it should be at the start of the inning, not mid-inning with runners on base.

I’m not expecting Joel Zumaya to contribute anything this year.

Blogging a Thursday Matinee Game

The beauty of being self-employed: watching a Tigers matinee game on my office TV while working away. I don’t do this very often but he are my thoughts updated throughout the game.Jeremy Bonderman clearly has the slider going today.Wow, Timo Perez. As I’ve mentioned before, never in their history have the Tigers had a player named “Perez” on the roster. That streak ended last year when Neifi arrived. Chances are the Tigers are the first team in history to have a Timo and a Neifi on the 40-man.What’s with all the pop ups today?Timo Perez is wearing #19. It reminds me of the unfortunate Roger Cedeno years. Let’s hope Timo, if he’s in position to do so, shows up for the team photo.I’d like to see Mike Rabelo go yard. Today.I don’t think I’ve seen a major league game with as many key injuries as last night’s to Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and Marcus Thames.Speaking of Cuddyer, he certainly doesn’t have quintessential clean-up hitter numbers: AVG .289 | HR 10 | RBI 56. I wonder why Justin Morneau doesn’t hit fourth…Timo looking too much like Craig Monroe.Uh-oh. Down a run. Better start hitting lest they want to face Joe Nathan.Good for Rabelo.Placido Polanco legs out a double. Guess his leg’s okay.Jeez, Sheff. You just cost the boys another run! > Bottom of the 7thHow big does that Sheffield blunder at second look now?Bonderman with his typical Metrodome implosion. Man, that’s getting old. > Top of 8thThey walk Curtis Granderson to face Polanco? Gutsy that Ron Gardenhire….freakin’ Neshek.> Bottom of 8thYou just knew that Morneau was overdue. Way overdue.Wow. Umpires always amaze me with their instant recall of the rule book.How in the world did they get out of that mess? Morneau will have to shoulder the blame for that one. > Top of 9thNo surprise Nathan is in this game. Gardenhire has to got to do whatever he can to prevent a Tigers sweep.Will the Tigers continue with Zach Miner in the bottom half or will they bring in Jose Capellan? Is it just me or is Capellan persona non grata in the Tigers’ bully?Think the Twins are eager to see Magglio Ordonez leave town?Sigh. > Bottom of 9thWhat can you say about that Zach Miner? > Top of 10thWho says the American League can’t play small-ball? Good for Brandon Inge. I think Nathan is the toughest closer out there so it’s about time the Tigers made some noise against him. Now, about that insurance run… Bottom of 10thHere comes that Todd Jones queasiness.Hey, Jones’s ERA is under five. When did that happen?Double pl— … d’oh!Nice and tidy by Todd Jones standards.Now I can eat lunch!