Fantasy baseball 2013 team previews: Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers didn't just win the American League pennant in 2012. They also were responsible for a number of fantasy championships -- something that happens when you have arguably the best hitter and pitcher in the game. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander lead what figures to be one of the best teams in baseball again this season, as well as the biggest lock of any team to win its division.
Of course, it's not just Cabrera and Verlander who have Detroit buzzing and fantasy owners wondering how they can invest in the Tigers. Prince Fielder and the returning Victor Martinez join Cabrera in the heart of the lineup, giving the Tigers perhaps the most fearsome 3-4-5 trio in all of baseball, as well as a great table-setter in Austin Jackson. A fantasy owner would be happy enough if his top four starters were Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers will have the pleasure of running one of those four out to the mound 80 percent of the time.
The Tigers will likely do away with any drama in the AL Central before we even get to September, but plenty of their players are sure to be in the thick of fantasy drama while they get ready for the real-life postseason.
1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Andy Dirks, LF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4. Prince Fielder, 1B
5. Victor Martinez, DH
6. Torii Hunter, RF
7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
8. Alex Avila, C
9. Omar Infante, 2B
1. Justin Verlander
2. Max Scherzer
3. Doug Fister
4. Anibal Sanchez
5. Rick Porcello
Bullpen: Bruce Rondon (closer), Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerue, Octavio Dotel, Brayan Villarreal, Darin Downs, Luis Marte
• Is Victor still Victor? No, I'm not talking about Victor Cruz, or even Victor Hugo (though it may be interesting to read what the latter would have to write about his namesakes in professional sports). Victor Martinez is back after tearing his ACL and missing the entire 2012 season, which provided the impetus for the Tigers to go out and sign Prince Fielder. All signs in spring training signal that Martinez's knee is back to 100 percent. But he'll be 34 this season, and we can expect a decline, even if he weren't coming off a devastating knee injury. So where do we slot him this year?
First, let's take a look at 2011, his last healthy season and his first in Detroit. While he hit just 12 homers, he pounded out 40 doubles en route to compiling a .330/.380/.470 line. His home run/fly ball ratio has fallen every year since 2007 (excluding an injury-plagued 2008), so we'd be foolish to expect the 25-homer version of Martinez to show up this season. We'd also be fools to think that a guy with a career line of .303/.370/.469 and a career wOBA of .362 forgot how to hit. Now in his 12th year in the majors, he's playing in arguably his best offense. He'll hit directly behind Cabrera and Fielder, two of the best on-base sluggers in the majors. He also has decent protection with Torii Hunter behind him, and he won't have to worry about catching every day. So long as his knee holds up, you can take a .300 batting average, .370 OBP, 18 homers and 100 RBI to the bank. He's the second catcher on my board after Buster Posey.
• Will Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly win the final spot in the rotation? With all the gleaming star talent on the Tigers, one spot that goes overlooked is the back end of the rotation. On very few teams would Porcello or Smyly be part of a battle just to make the rotation, but such is the case in Detroit. Both guys deserve to be in a rotation, and as long as they're both in Detroit, they'll likely both make some starts this season. If you like a ground-ball artist, Porcello is your guy. If you want someone who can send down the opposition on strikes, you'll prefer Smyly. Given that, Smyly might be the better fit for the Tigers.
Porcello has seemingly been around forever, but he's still just 24 years old. He doesn't strike anyone out, but he does induce a ton of ground balls -- more than 50 percent every season of his career, including 53.2 percent last year. On most teams, that's a recipe for success. On one that starts Cabrera, Fielder and Jhonny Peralta at three of its infield positions, it can actually be a liability, and that's borne out by the stats. Porcello posted a 4.59 ERA, but a 3.91 FIP. His .344 BABIP helps explain the huge difference. Meanwhile, Smyly, who fanned 94 batters in 99.1 innings, racked up a 3.99 ERA to go along with his 3.83 FIP. Not surprisingly, his BABIP was a manageable .295. Smyly suits Detroit's personnel better than Porcello, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Tigers move the latter during the season.
• Can 22-year-old Bruce Rondon hold onto the closer's job? Jim Leyland said he probably won't anoint anyone his closer before Opening Day, but most people around the Tigers believe the job will eventually go to Rondon. In 196 professional innings, Rondon has 213 strikeouts and has surrendered just five home runs, a profile that fits a dominant closer. He's got a fastball that routinely reaches the triple digits, but prospect gurus say he has yet to develop a true secondary pitch -- something he'll need in order to succeed in the majors. If Rondon fails to grab a hold of the job, it would likely go to Joaquin Benoit. He has the fastball-curveball combo befitting a closer, but he'll turn 36 in July and posted a 4.26 FIP last year. He had come off two sub-3.00 FIPs in 2010 and '11, and he has posted double-digit strikeouts per nine innings in two of the last three seasons, so Leyland does have options. For our purposes, you'll want to stay away from the Tigers' bullpen until the board is devoid of other closers.
Andy Dirks: Dirks broke out last year, hitting .322/.370/.487 with eight homers, 18 doubles and 35 RBI in 344 plate appearances. He absolutely crushed righties to the tune of .336/.375/.515, and will likely get the majority of his at-bats against righties again this year. He might lose some time to a platoon role, but he's the kind of guy who can be deployed with confidence every time he faces a right-handed pitcher.
Torii Hunter: Hunter enjoyed a resurgent year with the Angels in 2012, hitting .313/.365/.451 with 16 homers and 92 RBI, but he did so on the wings of a ridiculous .389 BABIP while hitting 52-percent ground balls. And he'll turn 38 in July. The bust potential here is enormous.
Max Scherzer: I know, I know. Scherzer already broke out last year. Whatever, I love the guy, and I wanted to get him a section in this preview. So let's take a minute to appreciate Scherzer's 2012 season, in which he realized his potential, going 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA, 3.27 FIP and 231 strikeouts in 187.2 innings. He induced swings and misses 12.2 percent of the time, and added velocity to all three of his pitches. While an average fastball of 94.2 mph is impressive, it was the three mph he added to both his slider and curveball that made him a dominant pitcher. Get him on your roster if you can this year -- last season was just an appetizer.
Alex Avila: He came back down to earth along with his BABIP, which dropped to .313 last year from .366, but he still has decent pop and a great eye. He posted a 14.1 percent walk rate last year.
Omar Infante: Last year's power surge was likely a bit of a mirage, but if you miss out on the top couple of tiers of second basemen, you could do worse than Infante. He'll likely get you double-digit homers and steals, and is actually in a decent spot hitting ninth in a potent lineup.
Quintin Berry: Berry will likely see time in Detroit's field as the team's fourth outfielder. In 330 plate appearances last year, a level he should approach in 2013, he stole 21 bases.