The Detroit Tigers begin their 2nd season under the managerial watch of AJ Hinch. Already in one season, Hinch has proved he has a much better capacity to handle a rebuilding team than the Tigers’ previous manager Ron Gardenhire.
Gardy had plenty of success in Minnesota but eventually stepped away from the team citing both physical and mental health issues. This was code for trying to coach this bum team is driving me insane.
Hinch has a World Series pedigree although his 2017 title with the Astros comes with many asterisks.
Winning baseball is long overdue in Detroit. The Tigers won 4 straight division titles from 2011 to 2014 – making the World Series once during this stint – and have not been back in the postseason since.
7 consecutive seasons of no playoffs for Detroit means the Tigers are currently suffering through the 3rd-longest active playoff drought in the MLB.
The Philadelphia Phillies have been shut out of the playoffs for the past 10 years while the Seattle Mariners make tanking look easy – not reaching the playoffs since their 119-win season in 2001. Talk about not being able to keep the team together after a good season.
Spirits are high in Detroit following a reasonably successful 2021 season. The Tigers won 77 games last year – their highest mark since an 86-75 season in 2016.
The win-loss column has been pretty bleak lately in the Motor City for 77 wins to be deemed a successful season. Dating back the last 4 seasons, the Tigers won 23 games in the shortened COVID season, won 47 games in 2019, and had 64 wins in each of the 2 seasons prior to that.
Combined, the Tigers have only won about 35% of their games over the 4 seasons prior to last.
Tigers Promising Young Prospects Are Reason for Optimism in Detroit
Unlike some of the other major Detroit sports teams who routinely waste their draft picks and make questionable personnel moves, the Tigers have spent these last 7 years of futility building up an enviable farm system.
The Tigers possess a couple of young position players – Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene – who rank in the MLB‘s Top 10 prospects. The team also controls a trio of pitchers – Matt Manning, Casey Mize, and Tarik Skubal who rank inside the Top 60.
Fans have yet to see Torkelson or Greene on the big stage but we saw flashes of greatness from Mize and Skubal last season – although consistency proved to be an issue.
These 5 young players are the core of the team and the reason for optimism In Detroit. Tigers fans look to a day when they will have 2 to 3 All-Star caliber pitchers in the rotation along with a couple of everyday anchors in the lineup.
Manning, Mize, and Skubal are all expected to come north with the team following Spring Training. The chances we see Torkelson and Riley Greene at the MLB level in 2022 are uncertain.
They will almost certainly not be on the roster Opening Day, but if the Tigers find some success over the first couple of months of the season you better believe these players will be brought up for the playoff push.
Tigers New Additions Gel Nicely With Existing Roster
The Tigers have the luxury of a lock down closer in the back end of their bullpen – Gregory Soto. Soto was the Tigers lone All-Star last season and saved 18 games for Detroit with a 3.39 ERA and 10.8 K/9. A bona fide flamethrower, Soto has the potential to be a top-5 saves man in the entire league this season.
The only player still on the Tigers roster from those division winning teams in the early 2010s is Miguel Cabrera. The 38-year-old is not the hitter he once was but is still a formidable force in the middle of the Tigers lineup.
Each year, Tigers fans are hopeful that Cabrera can bounce back and return to his peak form – citing that he is finally over some nagging back injuries that have played him over the last couple of seasons and robbed him of his power.
Joining the Tigers roster this season via free agency is the 28-year-old right handed starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (formerly of the Boston Red Sox) and El Mago – the 29-year-old wizard at shortstop Javier Báez (previously of the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs).
As a Tigers fan, I love these moves. Each of these players has World Series experience and now team up with Miguel Cabrera as the de facto leaders of the young club. Rodriguez, Baez, and Cabrera will be tasked with the role of mentoring an inexperienced, yet talented, roster.
The Tigers finally pulled themselves out of the basement statistics-wise in 2021. Michiganders were sick of routinely seeing the Tigers at the very bottom of the league in team batting average and team ERA.
The Tigers did not dominate any one facet of the game in 2021 but at least were not horrendous in any area. Detroit’s team ERA (4.32) ranked 17th in the Major Leagues. Offensively, the team ranked 22nd in runs scored (4.3/game) and 24th in home runs hit (1.1/game).
Hinch elected to be aggressive on the base paths last year and the Tigers stole 88 bases in 2021 which ranked 9th in the major leagues. Look for the running game to be a key edge for the Tigers in 2022 who despite the increase in talent in the lineup are still not capable of out slugging opponents.
Detroit’s lineup will contain a lot of familiar faces from the 2021 version of the team – including outfielders Robbie Grossman, Akil Baddoo, and Victor Reyes. On the infield, the Tigers still have second baseman Jonathan Schoop and third baseman Jeimer Candelario from last season.
With Riley Greene not likely at all to come north with the team for Opening Day, the outfield figures to see Robbie Grossman in left field, Baddoo in center, and either the aforementioned Reyes or the 25-year-old Daz Cameron starting in right field to begin the season.
Eric Haase figures to be the Tigers’ Opening Day catcher. Haase does not hit for a high average (.204 in 2021) but clubbed 22 homers with 61 RBIs last year – making him one of the best producers in the lineup.
Javier Baez – El Mago – Is the Perfect Fit in Detroit
Shortstop has long since been a weak point for the Detroit Tigers but that is not going to be a problem anymore with the addition of Javier Báez.
The Tigers signed El Mago to a 6-year $140 million deal – making a huge splash in free agency. Under the Tigers previous owner Mike Ilitch, Detroit was routinely one of the highest-salaried teams in the Majors as Ilitch spared no expense in a desperate attempt to bring home a World Series.
He didn’t quite get there and then he passed away in 2017, leaving ownership to his son Chris Ilitch. The younger Ilitch has declined making moves on big free agents over the past several seasons – electing to sign cheaper options in an attempt to trim payroll and get their young prospects some valuable Major League playing time.
Inking Baez to such a huge deal not only improves the team but signifies a turning point in the franchise’s goals. Signing Baez tells the team, the fans, and the entire league that the Tigers are now in a position to make a push for the playoffs and try to win as many games as possible.
Rebuilding teams don’t spend $140 million on a shortstop. This move is key as it signals that the rebuilding phase is over in Detroit – they are now trying to win.
Baez was a smart option for a number of reasons. At 29 years old, he still has several years left in his prime and his prime will coincide with those of the Tigers’ young prospects. This move also sures up Detroit’s most glaring weaknesses over the past several seasons – their production from the shortstop position.
In 2021, the Tigers utilized a revolving door of options at shortstop. Those players combined for a .201 average and held a wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 62 – the 2nd-lowest in the big leagues.
A lot of speculation this winter was that the Tigers would pony up the big bucks to acquire former Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. AJ Hinch coached Correa in Houston and many felt that it would be a natural fit for Correa in Detroit.
While the addition of Correa would certainly make bigger headlines in the Motor City, the acquisition of Baez was a much smarter option.
After stringing together several All-Star caliber seasons, Baez regressed in the COVID-shortened 2020 season before putting together a 2021 campaign in which he hit .265 with 31 homers and 18 stolen bases.
After struggling in 2020 and then being hidden away on a poor Mets squad for the latter half of 2021, the hype is not nearly as great around Javi Baez as it currently is around Carlos Correa.
The Tigers will save loads of money over the next 6 years by electing to go with the 2nd-best free agent shortstop on the market instead of handcuffing themselves by paying through the nose for Correa.
Baez is now 4 years removed from his 2018 campaign in which he finished 2nd in the National League MVP voting. With several prime seasons still left to play for Baez, the Tigers are getting a player who in any given season could easily outproduce Correa at a discounted price.
Strike outs have long been the weakness in Baez’s game. He is a free swinging, powerful shortstop who routinely puts a lot of balls over the fence at the cost of a low batting average. He began the 2021 season with the Chicago cubs where he struck out in 36% of plate appearances.
Even for someone deemed a free swinger with power, 36% is far too high of a strikeout rate. The Cubs had a fire sale at the trade deadline and Baez finished out the season with the Mets. He corrected the strike out issue – whiffing in just 28% of plate appearances over the last 2 months of the season in New York.
Another reason for optimism in a turnaround is that Baez walked in 7% of his plate appearances with the Mets, which is far higher than his career mark of 4.7%.
You can’t discuss Javier Baez without bringing up El Mago‘s defense and base running. Translated as The Magician – this Puerto Rican product gets his nickname from his lightning quick glove skills up the middle and his incredible baserunning instincts which get him out of jams on the basepaths.
Not only will the Tigers offense receive a significant bump from Baez, but he will provide defensive stability up the middle to a team that has not had a good fielding shortstop since losing José Iglesias in 2018.
Baez’s propensity to steal bases and be aggressive on the paths fits right in with AJ Hinch‘s aggressive style of ball. Javier Báez should be a tremendous fit in Detroit and his play will go a long way in determining the success of the Tigers team this season.
Verdict on the Detroit Tigers 2022 Season
The Detroit Tigers could easily find themselves in the playoff race deep into the summer in an American League Central division void of elite teams.
The season over/under win total for Detroit opened at 77.5. There is clear value in betting the over. 2022 will be Detroit’s first winning season in 6 years.