2016 Record – 86-75
Second Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.24 (20th)
Team OPS: .769 (4th)
What Went Right
Justin Verlander carried over his terrific second half from 2014 and returned to the elite ranks of starting pitchers in the American League. Though he won’t win, he’s firmly in the discussion for the American League Cy Young Award after going 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 254 strikeouts in 227 2/3 innings. Michael Fulmer delivered on his tremendous promise even earlier than anticipated and should be named as the American League Rookie of the Year (11-7, 3.06 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 132/42 K/BB). Miguel Cabrera had another MVP-caliber season to lead the offense while Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez also had tremendous years. Nick Castellanos had a breakout season offensively before missing most of the second half with a broken hand.
What Went Wrong
The free agent signing of Jordan Zimmermann (5 years, $110 million) was an unmitigated disaster (4.87 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 5.6 K/9 in 105 1/3 innings). Justin Upton looked lost at the plate the entire first half (.235/.289/.381, 112/25 K/BB). Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey and Shane Greene all floundered in the rotation. Mark Lowe, signed to be the primary setup man, posted a horrendous 7.11 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 49 1/3 frames. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andrew Romine, Mike Aviles and the rest of the bench options were largely ineffective at the plate.
** Miguel Cabrera remains an incredibly safe and reliable fantasy commodity. He’s someone who can safely be selected in the back half of the first round and will provide outstanding four-category production. On average, he was the 12th player off the board in 2015 drafts and Cabrera performed as the 15th best player on the season (5x5 scoring), slashing .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI.
** J.D. Martinez proved that his breakout 2015 season was no joke. Despite missing nearly 40 games due to injury, he was as solid as ever while on the diamond, slashing .307/.373/.535 with 22 homers, 68 RBI and one stolen base. He’s likely to be drafted as a top-60 player.
** In case it wasn’t clear in the second half of 2015, Justin Verlander is back. He got off to a slow start again in 2016, but was as good as any pitcher in all of baseball once he finally got rolling. From July 2nd onward, the star right-hander went 9-3 with a 1.98 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 147/29 K/BB ratio across 123 innings. If you’d like to roster him in 2017, you’ll have to pay full price as he’s likely to be one of the top 10 starting pitchers off the draft board.
** Cameron Maybin was an extremely effective fantasy player when he was on the field on 2016, the issue (as has so often been in his career) was his inability to avoid injuries. He slashed .315/.383/.418 with 65 runs scored, four homers, 43 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 391 plate appearances over 94 games. If he’s back as the full-time center fielder, he certainly has fantasy appeal with his ability to steal bases. The club seems to be considering buying him out though, rather than picking up his $9 million team option.
** Justin Upton was a train-wreck at the dish for most of the first half of the season. Finally, manager Brad Ausmus sat him down for three days in mid-August to clear his head, and that’s when his season took off. Over the final 38 games, Upton slashed .309/.397/.765 with 18 homers and 41 RBI. Keep that in mind heading into next season’s drafts as the casual player may undervalue Upton based on a glance at his full-season output.
** Nick Castellanos had a breakout season offensively in his age-24 season, slashing .285/.331/.496 with 18 homers and 58 RBI in 110 games. He missed much of the second half due to a broken hand, which should depress his fantasy value heading into 2017. In early drafts, he has been going off the board in the 15th and 16th rounds of 15-team drafts.
** Michael Fulmer was an absolute stud in his rookie campaign. He went 11-7 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 132/42 K/BB over 159 innings. He’s expected to add some hardware to his mantle this offseason when he’s named as the American League Rookie of the Year. He’s someone though that I won’t have many shares of in 2017 drafts, as I expect his stock to be higher than I’m willing to pay. He threw a career-high 174 1/3 innings on the season, a massive jump from the 124 2/3 that he threw in 2015. Combined with his poor finish to 2016 (5.54 ERA over his final seven starts), he’s an iffy bet to replicate his 2016 success.
Team Needs: I’m sure that to those who have asked my opinion on this team’s needs over the past six or seven years, I sound like a broken record. First and foremost, the bullpen has to be fixed. The team’s bullpen ranked 24th in the league with a 4.22 ERA and struck out just 7.8 batters per nine innings. Their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, has a $6 million club option for 2017 (with a $2 million buyout) that seems like a no-brainer to pick up, though general manager Al Avila has hinted that he could inexplicably be let go as the club attempts to lower payroll. The entire starting lineup is expected to return, and for a club that finished fourth in baseball in OPS, there isn’t much that needs to be done. Where the Tigers have consistently lacked in recent years though, is quality bench depth. A dependable power-hitting bat, preferably from the left-side, would be a welcomed addition.