The Detroit Tigers have been hovering around .500 for much of 2016, but a recent surge has seen them jump to second place in the AL Central, just a few games back of the Cleveland Indians for first. If they had been able to win more than once in twelve tries against Cleveland, their season could look significantly different.
Being within a couple games of the AL Central summit at the All-Star break puts the Tigers in an awkward spot. Do they trade what little they have to solidify the team for a playoff run? Or do they sell off the aging core and look toward the future. Before we answer that, let’s examine how this team found themselves in this position, with the Detroit Tigers 2016 Midseason Report.
Tigers 2016 Midseason Report
Biggest Surprise- Cameron Maybin
Not too many Tiger fans heralded the return of Cameron Maybin to the organization that drafted him as anything to cheer about. Coming into the year, he projected as a fourth outfielder and utility baserunner. Instead, he has filled in nicely for a disappointing Anthony Gose and an underperforming Justin Upton in the outfield. Detroit’s prodigal son has ripped off an impressive .345/.406/.423 batting line through 188 plate appearances. Those numbers would also represent full-season career-highs for him.
He will have to keep those numbers strong after the All-Star break for the Tigers lineup to stay at the levels it must be at. Maybin also brings to the lineup. He may only be nine for thirteen in steals so far, but his baserunning ability brings a lot of life to a team that’s short on fast legs.
Biggest Disappointment- Anibal Sanchez
Once you get past rookie Michael Fulmer, the declining Justin Verlander, and currently injured Jordan Zimmerman, the Tigers starting rotation has more or less been a crapshoot. The worst part of that roller coaster has been Anibal Sanchez. He has gone from the Major League ERA champion at the height of the Tigers division dominance to a very expensive addition to the scrap heap in 2016.
The most significant indicator of his decline has been his atrocious 1.60 WHIP. He has been relegated to bullpen duty twice this season. He can’t seem to stay there, though. Injuries to Zimmerman and Daniel Norris keep dragging him back to eat innings as a starter. The one good thing to come out of his rough year has been the rise of the midseason MVP…
Justin Upton gets a dishonorable mention here. The team’s free agent signing was nothing short of a bust for the first couple months of the season. He’s walking at a career-low rate while striking out at a career-high rate. He can’t seem to hit well, but is beginning to look more productive as injuries continue forcing him into the lineup.
Midseason Team MVP- Michael Fulmer
Micheal Fulmer was the Tigers lone representative on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects heading into 2016. After a rocky start to his career, he has managed to turn himself into Detroit’s most reliable starting pitcher. His 1.10 WHIP and 8.45 K/9 has led to a strong 2.11 ERA and turned him into a 1.6 win pitcher according to Fangraphs WAR. He even earned him some Rookie of the Year attention in Last Word’s midseason awards. Without him, the Tigers rotation would be a complete and total disaster, rather than just a small crisis that requires attention.
Ian Kinsler has also made a case for being the best member of the team. He’s having his best year as a Tiger in terms of home runs, walks, and on base percentage.
What to Watch for in the Second Half
The Tigers find themselves right on the buy/sell line for the trade deadline. Another starting pitcher would certainly solidify their chances of sneaking into the playoffs, but its debateable whether they have prospects in the pipeline worth trading away. Their best prospect is starting pitcher Joe Jimenez, but he doesn’t even sniff Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list. With the farm system pretty much devoid of future talent, the Tigers may have no choice but try and get what they can for their aging core.
That probably will not happen. Team owner Mike Ilitch isn’t getting any younger. His lone goal is winning a World Series. He would rather see the team spend what little they have to snag another starter.
Either way, the Tigers do not have the resources to spare to get the quality starter they yearn for. Standing pat will be the most likely scenario, and it will probably end in a near .500 season that misses the postseason.
However, if Michael Fulmer can avoid regressing to the mean, the back end of the rotation can find some stability, and the offense can continue producing above average numbers, they may have an outside shot at October. Catching the Indians may be a pipe dream, but one of the wild card spots in the American League isn’t out of the question.
Main photo: Jason Miller, Getty Images Sport