The 2023 season for most Tigers fans is already a wash before it starts. With a lackluster start to the offseason, an awful performance last year, and a nearly identical roster from last year… most fans have no hope. Totally justifiable; why would a team that made no changes in the offseason hardly be any better a year after a terrible season. No Mize, No Skubal, Candelario is gone, both Castros are gone, and now Gregory Soto is gone too. What makes me or you, or anyone want to waste hours in front of a television or hard-earned dollars at Comerica? The Organization doesn’t want to spend money to field a half-decent team for us, right? You have every right to feel this way, but I hope this article just maybe will change your mind.
Let’s start with the obvious problems we faced last year. We can begin with injuries first. Austin Meadows played 36 games and never found his way back. Skubal had a season-ending injury. Players like Victor Reyes were up and down with injuries. In what was the most bizarre disappearing act I have ever seen, Eduardo Rodriguez ended up in Lakeland, of all places. Javier Baez missed time. Casey Mize, Turnbull, Funkhouser, Brieske, Rony Garcia, Matt Manning, and Alex Faedo served time on the IL. This team got absolutely railed by injuries and was never able to field a healthy lineup long enough for it to matter. The rotation, the lineup… it shifted every week. Competing is very difficult when you do not have a set lineup all year long.
Moving on to another issue which was hitting. You cannot begin to describe how atrocious the offense in Detroit was last year. It was near the worst offense the AL has seen in fifty years. Javier Baez was paid 20 million dollars to seriously strike out 24.8% of the time at the plate. At the plate, he had the worst chase rate of any player in the MLB. He was in the bottom five in whiff rate and just as bad in walk rate. Baez swung at nearly 48% of all pitches he saw outside the zone. We knew what we were getting with Baez, but it has NEVER been that bad. Baddoo, Schoop, and Candelario failed to exceed the league average. Tucker Barnhart has the worst-hitting year of his career. Torkelson struggled royally at the plate, and we waited way too long to option him to Triple-A. You could write a book, but in summary, you just cannot make this up. It was a disaster.
We have all heard these stats, and I am sure it is nothing new to you—time to get into a bit of optimism. There is zero way we hit that badly this year. Get it out of your mind; it will not happen. If we hit even a fraction better than last year, add some wins to the record. You cannot help injuries, but you can hope we don’t get ravaged by them again. There were bright spots like Eric Haase and Kerry Carpenter… Torkelson, in his recall, hit 30 points higher than his previous average. Even with the injuries, the bullpen posted a top ten ERA at 3.46 and was also top ten in fWAR. Alex Lange, who very well could take Soto’s spot, was in the top 15th percentile for strikeout percentage and whiff percentage. Schoop had the most outs above average and only three errors all year. Riley Greene was not a bad player; his debut being pushed back also hurt. Riley Greene posting a .270 average and 15 plus home runs is easily possible. Schoop cannot possibly be worse as he posted a 58 wRC+… worst in the league. He also posted a .202 average. Schoop is a player with a positive track record. He has five seasons with 20+ homers, Five seasons with a wRC+ above 100.
A Markee player will be Austin Meadows this year. He will step up and show Detroit why we made the trade. As mentioned, he played 36 games, but in those 36 games, he was arguably the best bat in the lineup, with a .348 OBP in 2022 and a 115 OPS+ in 2021 to pair with 27 home runs. There is no reason Meadows doesn’t provide for Detroit this year. You will see him in more games, and he will make a difference. Javier Baez is another case of it can’t get worse bug. He has to rebound even partially from last year. He led the MLB in errors, and his wRC+, although not awful, was the worst of his career.
Finally, Comerica is NOT a hitter’s park. It is difficult to hit for power in Detroit. With Detroit deciding to tweak Comerica a little bit, it favors batters. These players might have a prayer of hitting for power in the new ballpark if the injury bug misses Detroit. If the bullpen, who added Matthew Boyd and Lorenzen, can stay healthy and consistent with what they did last year. Suppose we can just hit a fraction better after a history-setting year at the plate in a bad way. A 2021 season of 77 wins is not out of the question if we can just play respectable baseball. You never know; that is why you watch baseball. Our team is young, and our team is bound to be better than last year. Change is coming, be patient and enjoy Tigers baseball. Our time is coming; don’t give up on this team. The whales will come back too. Believe.