Tigers look to take baby steps forward


By Tom Usher - sports@limanews.com



Niko Goodrum is expected to take over at shortstop for Detroit this season after serving a utility role last season.

Niko Goodrum is expected to take over at shortstop for Detroit this season after serving a utility role last season.


AP photo

OK, it wasn’t the worst season ever in Tigers’ history.

But it was bad enough, and then some.

Only the 2003 Tigers (43-119) compiled a more miserable year in Tigers’ history than last year’s 47-114 team.

Simply put, the Tigers were downright abysmal.

They were 13th in the league in batting average (.240), last in runs (580) and last in home runs (149).

They were even second last in walks (391) and last in on-base percentage (.294).

As for the pitching, it wasn’t much better.

The Tigers were second to last in ERA (5.24) and gave up the most hits in the A.L.

The Tigers kept the AAA Toledo Mud Hens on speed dial and many of those call-ups will get one more look-and-see this year.

There is some good news.

The Tigers signed three key free agents, who should breathe some life into a comatose offense.

Catcher

Catcher/first baseman John Hicks (.210, 13 home runs) signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks.

Grayson Greiner is still around, but he hit only .202 with five home runs in 208 at-bats.

So the Tigers signed Austin Romine as a free agent from the Yankees. In 228 at-bats, he hit .281 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. He added 12 doubles.

Behind the plate, he threw out 30 percent of the runners who tried to steal. Romine made only two errors behind the plate in 70 games.

GRADE: B

First base

Former Reds utility player Brandon Dixon is a non-roster invitee after hitting .248 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI for the Tigers last year.

So free agent from the Twins C.J. Cron was brought in to take over at first. He hit .253 with 25 home runs and 78 RBI for the Central champion Twins. He added 24 doubles.

He also is one to get hit with a pitch, as it’s happened 27 times over the last two years.

The right-handed hitting Cron batted .326 against left-handers and .225 against right-handers. He hit .299 with runners in scoring position.

GRADE: B

Second base

Gordon Beckham (.215) is gone to the Mets via free agency. Signed to take his place is former Oriole Jonathan Schoop, who hit .256 with 23 home runs and 59 RBI with the Twins last year. He also hit 23 doubles.

Schoop was an All-Star in Baltimore in 2017 when he hit .293 with 35 home runs and 105 RBI.

He made 14 errors with a .968 fielding percentage.

GRADE: B-

Shortstop

The 33-year-old Jordy Mercer was a non-roster invitee to camp. He hit .270 with nine home runs and 22 RBI last year.

Last year’s utility player Niko Goodrum is expected to take over at shortstop. In 423 at-bats, he hit .248 with 27 doubles and five triples. He had 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases.

He hit .361 against left-handers and .215 against right-handers. He hit .277 in the second half of the year.

Goodrum played everywhere but catcher last year, including 38 games at shortstop. He made eight errors at short, with a .952 fielding percentage, but should improve by settling in on a starting job there.

GRADE: C

Third base

Dawel Lugo is still around. He hit .245 with six home runs in 273 at-bats.

But the Tigers realize it’s a now or never year for one-time Cubs’ prospect Jeimer Candelario, who hit only .203 with eight home runs and 32 RBI. He had 17 doubles.

Candelario, 26, came highly touted in a deal with the Cubs for Justin Wilson in July of 2017. Candelario immediately played well with the Mud Hens, but has hit .224 and .203 in his two years with the Tigers. He also struck out 99 times in 335 at-bats.

Candelario struggled down the stretch, hitting .188 in the second half.

He made six errors at third with a fielding percentage of .967.

GRADE: D

Outfield/DH

Most of the outfield has shown glimpses of production, but all need a lot more consistency.

Left fielder Christin Stewart has had big years in the minors, including hitting .264 with 23 home runs with the Mud Hens in 2018.

With Detroit last year, the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2015 hit .233 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI. He did produce 25 doubles.

Another former Mud Hens star, JaCoby Jones, is back in center field. He hit .235 with 11 home runs and 26 RBI. He had 19 doubles, three triples and seven stolen bases.

Jones hit only .205 in the second half and struggled to hit .200 against left-handers.

Nick Castellanos is long gone, first to the Cubs and now to the Reds.

So right field looks to be the job of 25-year-old Victor Reyes. Reyes came to the Tigers as a Rule 5 pick from the Diamondbacks in 2017 and seems to be ready to blossom.

In 276 at-bats, he hit .304 with 16 doubles and five triples. He had only three home runs, but stole nine bases.

Tigers’ old friend, 37-year-old Miguel (Miggy) Cabrera is still productive as a designated hitter, but don’t expect the 40 home run years.

The 11-time All-Star and two-time MVP (2012, 2013) hit .282 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI. In 493 at-bats, he hit 21 doubles.

Cabrera still crushed lefties, at a .340 average.

Injuries have slowed him down the last few years, including a ruptured left biceps tendon in 2018 and a knee injury last year.

Cabrera enters the year with 477 career home runs and a lifetime .315 average.

GRADE: C

Starting pitching

The team ERA was 5.24, which ranked 14th in the league.

The starters’ ERA was 5.51.

Left-hander Matthew Boyd is 29 and enters his sixth season.

While his career ERA is 4.92, he’s made progress over the last two years, including going 9-12 with a 4.56 last year. He struck out 238 (sixth in the A.L.) in 185 innings. He also gave up a league-high 39 home runs.

Boyd needs to pitch more like he did before the All-Star break (3.87) than after it (5.51).

Two-time All-Star, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has fallen a long way since his All-Star years of 2013 and 2014 in Washington. Last year he was 1-13 with a 6.91 and will miss most or all of the season with a strained right forearm. He gave up 145 hits in 112 innings. He struck out 82.

Right-hander Ivan Nova, 33, was signed as a free agent from the White Sox. He went 11-12 with a 4.72 with the White Sox.

Nova gave up a league-high 225 hits in 187 innings. He struck out 114.

Right-hander Spencer Turnbull, in his first full season with the Tigers, was 3-17 with a 4.61. He struck out 146 in 148 innings. He walked 59 and led the league with 16 hit by pitches.

Lefty Daniel Norris turned heads in 2016 at the age of 23 when in 13 starts for the Tigers he compiled an impressive 3.38.

Since then, Norris has been searching for that same consistency. Last year he was 3-13 with a 4.49. He struck out 125 and walked only 38 in 144 innings.

Norris did post a 3.69 in the second half of the year.

GRADE: D

Bullpen

When closer Shane Greene (22 saves) was traded to the Braves in July, Joe Jimenez took over the job.

Jimenez had nine saves and a 4.37. He owns a 98-99 mph fastball and struck out 82 in 59 innings. He also gave up 13 home runs.

The rest of the pen will be comprised of a mix of the following: Nick Ramirez (4.07), Buck Farmer (3.72), Daniel Stumpf (4.34), Tyler Alexander (4.86), Gregory Soto (5.77), Jose Cisnero (4.33), Bryan Garcia (12.15), David McKay (5.59) and Rule 5 draftee from the Yankees Rony Garcia.

GRADE: D

Niko Goodrum is expected to take over at shortstop for Detroit this season after serving a utility role last season.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2020/07/web1_07.18.20.Goodrum.jpgNiko Goodrum is expected to take over at shortstop for Detroit this season after serving a utility role last season. AP photo

By Tom Usher

sports@limanews.com

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.

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