The Tigers had a steep drop-off last season, winning 74 games after back-to-back 90-win seasons and four straight playoff appearances. They’ll look to bounce back this season after signing free-agent OF Justin Upton to help with the offense. In need of bullpen help, the Tigers traded for closer Francisco Rodriguez in November. The team also signed SP Jordan Zimmermann to slot into the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind SP Justin Verlander.
The Tigers led the American League with a .270 average in 2015 but ranked in the bottom half of the league with 151 home runs and 660 RBI. OF J.D. Martinez led the Tigers with 38 home runs, but the next highest total was 18, which was accomplished by 1B Miguel Cabrera and OF Yoenis Cespedes, before he was traded to the Mets in July. Cabrera’s .338 average was the highest on the roster. Pitching is what hurt the Tigers, which you wouldn’t expect for a team with Verlander. The pitching staff’s 4.64 ERA ranked last in the AL, while the bullpen’s 35 saves was the third fewest in the league. Verlander missed much of the first half of the 2015 season with a triceps injury, which didn’t help the team’s pitching performance. In the 20 games he started, he posted a 3.38 ERA with 113 strikeouts in 133.1 innings. SP David Price was the best pitcher in the rotation but, like Cespedes, he was traded at the trade deadline. Other than Verlander and Price, the starters all had ERAs of 4.99 or higher.
With the Upton signing, he will anchor the outfield with Martinez, with perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera leading the way among the infielders. Verlander and Zimmerman should make for a formidable 1-2 at the top of the rotation, but the pitching looks murky beyond them. SP Anibal Sanchez has had stretches of success during his career, but last year’s 4.99 ERA was not among them. Likely getting the last two spots in the rotation are veteran SP Mike Pelfrey, who has a career 4.52 ERA, and SP Daniel Norris, who has a total of 14 starts in his major league career. The Tigers will have another sub-.500 season if they don’t get much production out of the bottom of the rotation to support Verlander and Zimmermann.
The Royals are still likely the class of the division, but it seems to be wide open behind them. If the Tigers can get the production they expect out of guys like Verlander and Cabrera and some good production out of Upton, they should easily work their way out of the cellar in the AL Central. It likely won’t be enough to win the division, but it’s possible — though unlikely — they’ll compete for a Wild Card spot in the AL this season.