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2022 MLB season preview: Detroit Tigers

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

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Light can now be seen at the end of the tunnel for the Tigers. A brutal rebuild that has led to seven seasons without a playoff appearance on the heels of four straight division titles is finally starting to pay off. Detroit’s 77 wins last season were the second-most in that seven-year span, trailing only the 2016 season that felt like the team’s last hurrah with its aging (and very expensive) core.

When Chris Ilitch inherited the team from his late father in 2017, the Tigers were in the top five in payroll and had very little to build around in the minor leagues. Since then, Detroit has shed payroll and focused more on development from within as opposed to inflated free agent contracts. Feeling ready to start competing, the Tigers went out and signed Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez this past offseason, which will end a several-year stretch of cost-cutting. Detroit also only has $70 million left on Miguel Cabrera’s contract, which ends after the 2023 season and will create additional payroll flexibility.

For a team that was three games over .500 after a disastrous 8-19 start in April, the Tigers are about ready to be a challenger in an AL Central that sorely needs another formidable ballclub.

2022 VSiN MLB Betting Guide

Offense

The pitching side of the ledger is much more advanced than the hitting side. The Tigers were dead last in fWAR last season, finishing 23rd in wOBA. Detroit’s overall position player value was dragged down by being awful on defense, but this was a bad lineup as well. The Tigers struck out too much, didn’t walk enough and were one of nine teams with a SLG under .400.

Of the top 14 batters in plate appearances, only five graded average or above by wRC+ . Jeimer Canderlario and Robbie Grossman were the two best, but both guys also carried double-digit walk rates. Grossman walked nearly 15% of the time and Candelario over 10%. Candelario actually had a nice year all the way around with a .344 wOBA and led the team in fWAR with 3.2, as he followed up a strong 2020 campaign. His contact quality improvements over the last two seasons lead me to believe there’s staying power to his numbers.

Maybe the most important development for the Tigers last year was the leap from Akil Baddoo, who made it to the majors and was an above-average bat in his 461 plate appearances. He hit 13 homers and stole 18 bases. His high walk rates from the minors transferred over as well, as he had a 9.8% BB%. He was really productive on the fat side of the platoon against righties – hitters face a right-handed pitcher about 70% of the time on average – so I’d expect solid production again, at least in those plate appearances.

While Detroit has embraced salary reduction over the last few years, the Tigers are adding on again. Javier Baez was signed to a six-year, $140 million deal that does include an opt-out after 2023. The bat should be a little bit above average, even for a free-swinger who strikes out a ton and almost never walks. Baez still has 30-homer power, but is also an elite defender for a team that desperately needed help up the middle. He’s a good fit in Detroit and a player that should yield a positive ROI for however long he’s there. He also steals bases, which makes the Tigers a more athletic team, something that they really haven’t been for a very long time.

The cash-rich Ilitch family was right to shed payroll and reshuffle the deck, but we may see the depth of their pockets on display this season with Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. Both guys are legitimate top-10 prospects and it appears that the Tigers are toying with the idea of letting both players break camp with the ballclub and start their service time clocks. It would cost additional money down the line, but would get some much-needed pop and pizzazz into the lineup.

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