How The Tigers Can Be Successful in 2021

The Tigers can have a successful 2021 season. They’re still in a rebuild so the measuring stick for success won’t be 90 wins, a division title, pennant or World Series but they could still do a lot for their season to be considered a success. There isn’t too much of a chance they pull a cinderella story over a 162 game season. Their Vegas over/under is at 68.5 and FanGraphs pegs them at just a 1.2% chance of making the playoffs. I’d consider winning 70-75 games a very successful season along with putting the Tigers in a better position than they were in to begin the season. I have a list of 10 things here that could help them reach a “successful” 2021. I’d say over half of these things need to happen or come close for things to really start looking up in Motown. Let’s dig into the list:

  1. Matt Boyd and Spencer Turnbull cement themselves into rotation: Turnbull is starting off the season on the COVID list and Boyd is going to be a free agent so this may not be off to a hot start but let’s look into this further. Boyd has looked dominant at times before completely losing his command last season. He’s an extreme flyball/strikeout pitcher and can go on hot streaks as proven by his first half of 2018. He had a 3.23 ERA through 13 starts. In 2019 he had a 3.35 ERA with 11.36 K/9. Both seasons he finished weakly though and though he is a useful starter he’s let his command issues and fly ball issues get the best of him at times. If he has a hot first half the Tigers can be forced into making a choice of trading him for more prospects or offering him an extension to stay in Detroit as a solid 3/4 starter. Turnbull needs support more than anything. He’s flown under the radar as a solid starter since he won a spot in the 2019 starting rotation. He has had a FIP under 4 and he’s really good at limiting contact and gets a sufficient amount of strikeouts from his stuff but he also has a command issue at times. It was controlled well in 2020 and he suffered some bad luck on his ERA but he could definitely take another step forward with his command and that would turn him into a 2/3 starter. The reason the Tigers need him is that all of their pitching prospects are not guaranteed to be starters in the future, but the law of averages past they’ll likely have pitchers who are busts. Turnbull is a proven asset as a starter in the MLB and that has a ton of value. If he steps up his game even more he could be a key part of the Tigers staff.
  2. JaCoby Jones Plays a Full Season: Calling Jones injury prone would be unfair. Pitchers seem to come up and in to him and have hit him in the face and broken his hand and wrist. I have brought this up and sound like a broken record but he has been a slightly above average league hitter by OPS+ since he made his swing adjustment to his hand positioning at the start of June 2019. He also has improved his plate discipline. His defensive metrics have been on both extremes but in a full season he could give you athleticism, good defense and a possible 20-20 season. Teams need guys classified as exciting such a Jones because they act as great catalysts for the rest of the line-up. I have confidence that Jones can be a solid player but he is now going to be 29 and center fielders who profile similarly tend to end up falling off after being on the right of the 30 so time isn’t on Jones side right now.
  3. Daniel Norris to stick in the bullpen: Norris has found a home in the bullpen. He has good stuff and can either pitch and inning or come in and pitch multiple innings. If the Tigers want to limit their young arms innings or need a bridge reliever or even a fireman, I believe Norris can be that guy as he’s shown that in short spurts that he can be very dominant. He had 10 relief appearances of more than 1 inning last season. He could definitely continue to be useful in this role. He isn’t dominant as hitters tend to make hard contact off of him and have his whole career but he can generate some swings and misses and he is learning to mix his fastball and change well to use with his slider to keep hitters honest. A combination of all of this is a useful relief arm that can throw 100 innings of 3.50 ERA baseball. It’ll be interesting to see how Norris is used in 2021.
  4. Turn Veterans Into Prospects: The Tigers have done a poor job with this lately. I see many targets that could be used to grab guys with potential. Yes, signing veterans makes the team better but in July if there’s no chance that you’re making the play-offs its best to get something for them. Willi Castro was acquired like this and while Castro was a ranked prospect, he wasn’t on anyone’s top 100 list. He was acquired for Leonys Martin and that is looking like a great trade now with Castro breaking out in 2020 and putting up an exciting season. Jonathan Schoop will be a useful piece along with Jose Cisnero and Buck Farmer possibly. Other names to watch on the trade block could be Wilson Ramos, Julio Teheran and Derek Holland if they perform well. None of these guys will be part of the next great Tigers team so you might as well get a bunch of prospects because if you have good scouts and a good front office then you will hit on some of the prospects.
  5. Give Young Guys Innings and AB’s: This goes along with the above statement. Jake Rogers probably isn’t an MLB bat right now and a month or two in AAA will help him but when he does get called up he should be starting 3-4 times a week while trying to learn from Ramos. Same goes for the young pitchers. If Jose Urena is pitching a 5.00 ERA this season and has no good underlying peripheral stats then it won’t hurt to give Matt Manning or Alex Lange innings to see what they have. I’m not arguing that Wilson Ramos isn’t better than the young Tigers catchers, he is and makes them better and should get at-bats but if he’s getting 80% of the at-bats who is this really helping? Not the young players or the Tigers future. One thing that always upsets me is not giving a guy a chance. An example is Travis Demeritte. He most likely wasn’t going to be a future starter but he really only got 48 games to prove himself in 2019 before he was given up on. 48 games isn’t nothing but it also wasn’t enough to truly evaluate him at the MLB level. The Tigers designated him for assignment on assumption he wouldn’t improve rather than super hard evidence. Even a half season doesn’t capture everything but it sure will do more to see what a player can and can’t handle. I’d like to see Derek Hill get 300 plate appearances after his impressive spring before we even think about removing him from the 40 man roster
  6. Help Nomar Mazara as much as humanly possible: Mazara was a well thought of prospect who lit the world on fire his rookie year and looked promising before flaming out and not living up to his potential for the last three seasons. Mazara has an incredible swing and hit a home run 505 feet in a game once. Now yes, it was one swing I get it, but not many MLB players can hit a ball 500 feet in one game, it’s not common. He can hit the ball out to right field at Comerica as it’s not super deep. It could be a great fit and the Tigers could have a Carlos Pena type hitter again but Mazara gets more hits. Mazara’s top end of his results are very good but he’s very inconsistent. He needs to get his K rate back to 20% and get the ball in the air, or at least on a line more. And he should probably focus on pulling the ball as most of his opposite field hits aren’t with much power and almost seem more like mis-hit baseballs. He is hitting way too many grounders. With some focus on this, the Tigers could turn Mazara back into an All-Star caliber player. He is the offseason acquisition I am most excited to see. He could really pay huge dividends.
  7. Keep Willi Castro and Jemier Candelario at the top: The Tigers seem to be likely to hit Candy and Willi 2-3 and I agree with this. Your top hitters need to be up there. I wouldn’t mess around with this too much in the first half, even if there’s slow starts. Unless Mazara or Schoop start to really outhit one of these guys they are the Tigers best hitters and with a high-OBP Grossman ahead of them it not only helps get their best young guys reps but it could help them win more games because over the course of the year they’ll get more PA’s and likely be in line to come up late in key spots in the seventh through the ninth. I think the expected win percentage improves with these two at the top. Candelario hitting second is perfect as most teams hit their best guy second in modern times because it allows them more PA’s with a guy on base but also more PA’s over the course of a season than hitting fourth. Miguel Cabrera fits in the four hole for now.
  8. Tarik Skubal to be a catalyst: This one is a bit more aggressive but Skubal had the most impressive debut last year. He only really had two rough starts. He also went on 12 streaks of retiring 3 or more hitters in a row, topping out with a streak of 15 hitters retired straight at one point. Keep in mind this was in limited work. He only had four streaks of not getting an out 3 or more plate appearances in a row by my calculation. He has sound mechanics and can get swings and misses and I really think he can be a dynamite starter from the jump. I know it’s aggressive to say he will be a ROY candidate but he has the best chance to really have an impact similar to what Fulmer did in 2006, only I think that Skubal is even better. I’d say this is the longshot need but it would make the Tigers really tough as they’d have a guy going out every 5 days that gives them a really good chance to win.
  9. Give Torkelson and Greene a cameo: Manipulating service time is a business savvy move in the short term until it makes a player upset and starins your relationship from the start of their major league career. Torkelson is the best hitting prospect since Kris Bryant and will move quickly. He hits the ball hard, consistently over 100 MPH. This spring wasn’t great for him but it’s just a few PA’s. If he goes down and is tearing up whatever minor league season happens in Florida and then possibly the Midwest and Eastern League then he deserves a chance to show what he can do in the show. Greene impressed in summer camp and moved quickly for a high school prospect and if he continues to hit in the minors he deserves a chance in the MLB too. Then they can work on extensions to keep them here longer than the team can control them anyways.
  10. Win 70 games so they can be in line to sign a shortstop: I think in the end Candelario will play first, Paredes play third and Castro play second, leaving a big chance to sign a shortstop from this upcoming class. Trevor Story and Carlos Correa are the most likely. Story is a great all-around player and Correa a great slugging shortstop. The Tigers need to show their close so management goes out and gets a big impact player like one of the guys, similar to what they did when getting Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez. Getting in position to do this would be huge for the future of the ball club. It’s not unlikely that they could be set up in this position after this year.

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