Thursday, February 25, 2010

2010 and the AL Central: July

I’ll start with all the clich├ęs. July is normally where you figure out which direction a team is headed (though sometimes there are exceptions, like last year). It also brings us the All-Star Game and a ton of trade rumors (and one would hope the Tigers would either be buyers or be good enough that they can stand pat). So let’s get started.

Tigers

July 1 (Thu): Off-day
July 2-4 (Fri-Sun): vs. Seattle Mariners (3)
July 5-7 (Mon-Wed): vs. Baltimore Orioles (3)
July 8 (Thu): Off-day
July 9-11 (Fri-Sun): vs. Minnesota Twins (3)
July 12-15 (Mon-Thu): All-Star Break
July 16-18 (Fri-Sun): @ Cleveland Indians (3)
July 19-21 (Mon-Wed): vs. Texas Rangers (3)
July 22-25 (Thu-Sun): vs. Toronto Blue Jays (4)
July 26-29 (Mon-Thu): @ Tampa Bay Rays (4)
July 30-August 1 (Fri-Sun): @ Boston Red Sox (3)

July 2009 was a weird month for the Tigers. It was their worst month of the season, record-wise. They finished 10-14 (their only sub-.500 month of 2009), but it was the best month for the pitchers, who posted a 3.53 ERA (then again, I suppose four 2-1 losses will do that). On the other hand, they finished the second half at exactly .500 (38-38), which after several years of sub-.500 second halves sounds really good. It’s time to build on that and set higher goals. Like a winning second half (to go with a winning first half, of course). Detroit kicks off July 2010 with a nine-game homestand, starting with a Fourth-of-July weekend series against Ichiro and the Mariners (featuring the much-anticipated
Bless You Boys get-together on the 3rd). The Orioles come next, and after an off-day on the 8th, the Tigers wrap up the first half with a series against the Twins. Detroit does get the “long” All-Star Break (4 days instead of three) for the second straight year, but they’ll come out of the Break having to play seventeen games in a row. The second half starts on the road (It always seems to, doesn’t it?) with a 3-game series in Cleveland (hopefully 3-game road trips don’t screw you up the way 3-game homestands do). The Tigers then head home for a 3-game series against Texas. Will their dominance of the Rangers at Comerica Park continue? One can only hope. For the rest of July, it’s all AL East, all the time. The Tigers finish up their homestand with a four-game series against the Blue Jays. They’ll then wrap up July on the road with four against the Rays (site of our last hurrah before trouble began, so to speak) and three at Fenway Park against the Red Sox (this is better than having it the other way around; I’ll take four at Tropicana Field over four at Fenway Park any day). As you can see, even though the end of the month has the potential to be brutal and they will be playing good teams throughout the entire month, the Tigers have a lot more home games than road games in July (whereas everyone else in the Central has a near-even split of home games and road games), and the schedule includes some teams they played very well against in 2009 (Texas, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay). Again, they need to draw on recent history and take advantage of this.
Home games: 16
Road games: 10
Detroit’s 2009 record against opposition: 47-38
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .495

White Sox

July 1 (Thu): Off-day
July 2-4 (Fri-Sun): @ Texas Rangers (3)
July 5-8 (Mon-Thu): vs. Los Angeles Angels (4)
July 9-11 (Fri-Sun): vs. Kansas City Royals (3)
July 12-14 (Mon-Wed): All-Star Break
July 15-18 (Thu-Sun): @ Minnesota Twins (4)
July 19-21 (Mon-Wed): @ Seattle Mariners (3)
July 22 (Thu): Off-day
July 23-25 (Fri-Sun): @ Oakland Athletics (3)
July 26-29 (Mon-Thu): vs. Seattle Mariners (4)
July 30-August 1 (Fri-Sun): vs. Oakland Athletics (3)

The off-day gods were smiling upon the White Sox, for the whole season as a matter of fact (they have one 17-game stretch and one 13-game stretch with no off-day, and that’s it; it’s still not as easy on them as the Twins). They have an off-day to begin the month before concluding their road trip at Ranger Ballpark. Like the Tigers, the White Sox finish up the first half at home. They’ll be hosting the Angels for four and the Royals for three. Now, they do end up with the shorter three-day All Star Break, thanks to the fact that they begin the second half with a four game series at Minnesota (Chicago should just be glad it’s not at the Metrodome). The end of July will be rather monotonous for them as they spend about two weeks seeing the same two teams in home and home series. They head out to the west coast to face the Mariners and A’s, only to come back home for a seven games against…the Mariners and A’s. They should be well-acquainted by then. Do I have to mention they get a heavy dose of the AL West in July?
Home games: 14
Road games: 13
Chicago’s 2009 record against opposition: 30-39
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .510

Indians

July 2-4 (Fri-Sun): vs. Oakland Athletics (3)
July 5-7 (Mon-Wed): @ Texas Rangers (3)
July 8-11 (Thu-Sun): @ Tampa Bay Rays (4)
July 12-15 (Mon-Thu): All-Star Break
July 16-18 (Fri-Sun): vs. Detroit Tigers (3)
July 19-21 (Mon-Wed): @ Minnesota Twins (3)
July 22 (Thu): Off-day
July 23-25 (Fri-Sun): vs. Tampa Bay Rays (3)
July 26-29 (Mon-Thu): vs. New York Yankees (4)
July 30-August 1 (Fri-Sun): @ Toronto Blue Jays (3)

When July begins, the Indians will be in the middle of a 20-game stretch with no off-day. They’ll spend Fourth of July weekend at home taking on the A’s. After that, they embark on a seven-game road trip featuring visits to Arlington and St. Petersburg that’ll take them right up to the All-Star Break. The Indians get the long break and open up the second half at home against us. They’ll then take a brief road trip to Minnesota. After an off-day, they finish up the month with opponents exclusively from the AL East (Their first series in August is like this as well; they’ll see everyone except the Orioles). It starts with a seven-game homestand featuring the Rays and Yankees (the Indians will be licking their chops when the Rays come to town; Tampa Bay has lost 14 consecutive games at Progressive Field; it’s kinda like the Rangers at Comerica Park). They wrap up the month with a trip up north to take on the Blue Jays. July is shaping up to be a challenging month for the Tribe. They have the hardest schedule in terms of winning percentage, and it includes some teams that they didn’t play well against in 2009 (In all fairness, the fact that they went 4-14 against the Tigers kind of skews this).
Home games: 13
Road games: 13
Cleveland’s 2009 record against opposition: 27-49
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .526

Twins

July 1-4 (Thu-Sun): vs. Tampa Bay Rays (4)
July 5 (Mon): Off-day
July 6-8 (Tue-Thu): @ Toronto Blue Jays (3)
July 9-11 (Fri-Sun): @ Detroit Tigers (3)
July 12-14 (Mon-Wed): All-Star Break
July 15-18 (Thu-Sun): vs. Chicago White Sox (4)
July 19-21 (Mon-Wed): vs. Cleveland Indians (3)
July 22-25 (Thu-Sun): @ Baltimore Orioles (4)
July 26-28 (Mon-Wed): @ Kansas City Royals (3)
July 29 (Thu): Off-day
July 30-August 1 (Fri-Sun): vs. Seattle Mariners (3)

Minnesota starts off the month of July with a four-game home series against the Rays. Following their off-day on the 5th, they head out on a six-game road trip that’ll take them to Toronto and then Detroit. The Twins get the shorter All-Star Break (you won’t see me shed a tear about that). They begin the second half with fourteen straight games. It should be noted that this is their longest stretch with no off-day all season. They have a seven-game homestand with four against the White Sox and three against the Indians, followed by a seven-game road trip featuring four against the Orioles and three against the Royals (So basically they get healthy doses of the Central and the East in July). They return home to finish up July against the Mariners, their only AL West opponent for the month. If the Twins are gonna make noise in a month other than September, this is probably it. They have the easiest schedule by far of any team in the Central, and their 2009 record against their opponents this month is very, very good (Thanks to the presence of all their division rivals).
Home games: 14
Road games: 13
Minnesota’s 2009 record against opposition: 59-43
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .465

Royals

July 1 (Thu): Off-day
July 2-4 (Fri-Sun): @ Los Angeles Angels (3)
July 5-7 (Mon-Wed): @ Seattle Mariners (3)
July 8 (Thu): Off-day
July 9-11 (Fri-Sun): @ Chicago White Sox (3)
July 12-15 (Mon-Thu): All-Star Break
July 16-18 (Fri-Sun): vs. Oakland Athletics (3)
July 19-21 (Mon-Wed): vs. Toronto Blue Jays (3)
July 22-25 (Thu-Sun): @ New York Yankees (4)
July 26-28 (Mon-Wed): vs. Minnesota Twins (3)
July 29-August 1 (Thu-Sun): vs. Baltimore Orioles (4)

The Royals have kind of a leisurely pace going in early July before things get hectic in the second half. They begin the month on the road for nine games, including six games out west against the Angels and Mariners. After an off-day on the 8th, they’ll wrap up the first half in Chicago with three against the White Sox. The Royals get the four-day All-Star Break, and they’ll need it, as the beginning of the second half gives them no off-day for twenty games. Kansas City starts the second half at home for six games against the A’s and Blue Jays. Following that is a brief 4-game road trip to Yankee Stadium (though it probably won’t seem brief to them). The Royals finish up July at home with three against the Twins and four against the Orioles.
Home games: 13
Road games: 13
Kansas City’s 2009 record against opposition: 33-51
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .513

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Heeeeeeeere's Johnny!

You knew someone had to use that pun, so there. I used it. Now you don’t have to submit to the humiliation. It’s official. After a long and very bizarre courtship, Johnny Damon is now a Detroit Tiger. I know when this first cropped up, I was totally against it, but I think the Verlander signing softened me (even though those two events have nothing to do with one another). I still have concerns about his defense (particularly the weak arm; and in case you’re wondering, I don’t really have an opinion on Carlos Guillen’s outfield defense because I did not see that much of him in the outfield, so I can’t compare the two), but in the end, the Tigers need the left-handed bat. Damon has been a successful leadoff and #2 hitter, I won’t argue with that. Now you don’t have to worry about sticking two rookies at the top of the lineup. Either have Austin Jackson bat leadoff with Damon batting second, or have Damon lead off with Scott Sizemore behind him.

Eight million is a tad more than what I would have preferred, but overpaying by a little bit beats seeing him do damage to us in a White Sox uniform (and when that whole “cosmopolitan” story surfaced, I think a lot of Tigers fans forgot the ramifications of just letting him go to Chicago). And it’s just one year, which is the important part. If things don’t work out or if Damon’s age catches up with him, well, he’ll be gone at the end of the season. And if the Tigers are out of contention by the time July rolls around, they could trade him for a nice piece or two (I know he has a no-trade clause, but I’d imagine he’d waive so long as the Tigers were trying to trade him to a contending team). He seems to be winning friends and admirers down in Lakeland already, both with the players and with the fans.

So in short, the Tigers filled a need, and though Johnny Damon’s not perfect, I’m happier about it than I thought I’d be a month ago.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spring Training, Damon, and Lopez

This LONG offseason is finally over with at last, as pitchers and catchers have now reported. Time to rejoice, Tiger fans. And if you want to see your boys working out down there in Lakeland but can’t make it down there yourself, I recommend Roger DeWitt (aka hueytaxi)’s photos on Flickr. I would love to go there someday, as it seems to be fairly easy to meet players and get autographs. In case you don’t know, I am a total autograph hound but I suck at it. I have been to four Tigers games in the span of three years and I’ve yet to get an autograph. In my defense, in only two of those games did I really have a good opportunity (since there was one game where I was in the suites and another where it was raining). I do have an autographed baseball from a rained-out game I went to on my eighth grade field trip in 1997. I identified the autographs a couple years ago: Justin Thompson and Omar Olivares (and I’ll say that, as a dumb 13-year-old, I had them autograph it with a ballpoint pen and the signatures are badly faded now). In the coming weeks before Opening Day, I will finish my schedule feature and I’ll do my traditional spring training columns (my introductory FAQ, the fashion guide, and the season preview).

All right, I suppose I ought to throw in some thoughts on the Johnny Damon mess and other things (Hey, people say they’re tired of talking about it, but it keeps coming, and until it gets resolved one way or the other, we’re not going to be able to have realistic discussions about spring training). I was amazed at the number of people who supported Damon coming to Detroit but now have kneejerk angry reactions at the current rumors that Damon does not want to sign with the Tigers and that his wife wants to be in a more “cosmopolitan” city. I never believed any of those things Scott Boras said about Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings. I don’t know why anyone else did. They should know better (and I observed very early on that none of those comments were coming from Damon himself). Never trust Scott Boras. I presume Boras would want Damon to sign with the team offering the most money, which seems to be the Tigers. In addition, you’ve now got both owners involved (From the Tigers’ viewpoint, the belief seems to be that Illitch and Leyland are more enthusiastic about Damon than Dombrowski is). So it’s a question of who wins out: Boras or Mrs. Damon. I’m just wondering what specifically happened in the last 48 hours to cause the dynamic to change so dramatically. I also kinda wish the blogosphere would stop just reporting/opining and go back to prognosticating on this issue, just so I know where they stand (since they were all convinced that Damon would sign with Detroit). Then they can go back to reporting and opining. And for the great many people who had that kneejerk reaction and are now angrily spitting “Fine, let the Sox have him,” chew on this: I’m not the strongest supporter of Damon, mostly because I’ve spent the last three years being taught that he’s the worst defender in the history of the game, but even I’ll admit that his bat is still strong. If he were to sign with the White Sox, that would directly spell trouble for the Tigers. If it was a case of him being more interested in, say, the Braves or the Rays, I’d be content to let him go, too. However, since we’re talking about a division rival, it’s not that simple. I’m not sure I want Damon with the Tigers. But I definitely don’t want him with the White Sox.

Several people who jumped off the Johnny Damon bandwagon have now jumped onto the Felipe Lopez bandwagon. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. In my experience, a bad defensive infielder is more likely to hurt your pitchers than a bad defensive outfielder (unless your entire staff is of the extreme flyball variety), and Lopez was horrible for Arizona last year. Plus, you’d have to push someone out of their job (likely Scott Sizemore, since the majority of Lopez’s playing time last year was second base), and Lopez’s bat doesn’t have the track record that Damon’s does. So I say ix-nay on Felipe Lopez.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2010 and the AL Central: June

Today, it’s part three of my AL Central schedule feature, where we take a look at the month of June. For me, June is always one of the more interesting months to watch. I typically don’t have school (though I will this year), which means I can watch more games, and Interleague play provides me with a bigger variety of teams to watch (Come on, admit it: Watching the Twins, White Sox, and Indians over and over gets a little old, doesn’t it?). I’m including a mini-analysis of each team’s Interleague schedule this time (which includes the series they had in May). Enough chatter from me, though. On with the schedules!

Tigers
June 1-3 (Tue-Thu): vs. Cleveland Indians (3)
June 4-6 (Fri-Sun): @ Kansas City Royals (3)
June 7 (Mon): Off-day
June 8-10 (Tue-Thu): @ Chicago White Sox (3)
June 11-13 (Fri-Sun): vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (3)
June 14 (Mon): Off-day
June 15-17 (Tue-Thu): vs. Washington Nationals (3)
June 18-20 (Fri-Sun): vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (3)
June 21 (Mon): Off-day
June 22-24 (Tue-Thu): @ New York Mets (3)
June 25-27 (Fri-Sun): @ Atlanta Braves (3)
June 28-30 (Mon-Wed): @ Minnesota Twins (3)

In June of 2009, the Tigers went 15-13 (which kind of surprised me, as I thought they did better), and a mystifying dichotomy emerged: The Tigers were amazingly good at home. More than that, they were virtually unstoppable (save for one bad series against the Red Sox). Even in games where they trailed late, you felt like someone was going to get the big hit and emerge the hero. However, as good as they were at home, they were just the opposite on the road. Wouldn’t it be something if they could combine their 2009 home record with their 2006 road record? That would be amazing, but I don’t think it will happen. I’d settle for a near-.500 road record combined with the home dominance they displayed in 2009 (That’s how good teams win). At any rate, the Tigers face two, and only two, types of opponents in June of 2010: the AL Central and the National League. They will have one series against each division rival. Their off-days are also partitioned very well in June. There are no long stretches without a break. They begin June by wrapping up a homestand with a three-game series against the Indians. They then travel to Kansas City and Chicago for three games each. After that, the second round of Interleague play begins. The Tigers went 10-8 against the National League in 2009, which was one of the frustrating aspects of the season because had they displayed the dominance against the NL that they had in the previous three seasons, they would have won the Central. It would be nice to go 15-3 or 14-4 like they had in ’06 and ’07, because that’s a big part of what made Interleague play fun. And you hate pointing stuff like this out, but the teams that the Tigers are scheduled to play certainly invite them to return to that dominance. I know a lot of fans are complaining about the home portion of the Interleague schedule, and I can see where they’re coming from. Interleague play is seen as a big money-maker, and from a revenue standpoint, the Pirates, Nationals, and Diamondbacks aren’t exactly teams that’ll draw sellouts. However, from a strategic standpoint, this may be an advantage for the Tigers. These are three teams that can be beaten and must be beaten for the Tigers to be taken seriously. The Pirates are perpetually rebuilding and will be doing so again next year. The Nationals are still building (though they do have some good offensive pieces in Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, and Josh Willingham, as well as a sentimental favorite in Pudge Rodriguez). The Diamondbacks look to be the most difficult opponent of the three (though these things never work out the way you expect them to), as their starting pitching looks to be pretty decent (not sure about their bullpen, though; it was not a good bullpen last year). Following an off-day, they’ll conclude Interleague play on the road with visits to the new Citi Field (Not sure what to expect from the Mets; they didn’t do so well in 2009, but with three of their top four hitters as well as three-fifths of their rotation and their eighth-inning guy all lost to injury, the odds were stacked against them) and then Turner Field (where the Tigers put up some really, really good pitching in 2007, when they swept the Braves). June closes out with a return to the American League and a three-game series at Target Field against the Twins. As I said, 2010’s Interleague schedule is one the Tigers can and need to take advantage of. In 2009, their opponents combined for a .455 winning percentage (442-529), which from that standpoint, gives the Tigers the second-easiest Interleague schedule of all the AL Central teams (only Cleveland has an easier schedule). At the same time, though, the “best” team they’ll face is the Dodgers, a team that finished 2009 with 95 wins and the best record in the NL (which says something about that the other five teams on the schedule when 95 wins bring a winning percentage UP to .455). None of the other AL Central teams play the Dodgers. At the same time, when you’re facing teams that lost 103 (Washington) and 99 games (Pittsburgh), you must take advantage. They will have more road games than home games, but the Tigers also have by far the easiest June schedule of any of the AL Central teams, so they have a golden opportunity this month to really make a statement in the division.
Home games: 12
Road games: 15
Detroit’s 2009 record against opposition: 40-36 (Did not play WSH, ARI, NYM, or ATL)
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opposition: .441

White Sox
June 1-3 (Tue-Thu): vs. Texas Rangers (3)
June 4-6 (Fri-Sun): vs. Cleveland Indians (3)
June 7 (Mon): Off-day
June 8-10 (Tue-Thu): vs. Detroit Tigers (3)
June 11-13 (Fri-Sun): @ Chicago Cubs (3)
June 14 (Mon): Off-day
June 15-17 (Tue-Thu): @ Pittsburgh Pirates (3)
June 18-20 (Fri-Sun): @ Washington Nationals (3)
June 21 (Mon): Off-day
June 22-24 (Tue-Thu): vs. Atlanta Braves (3)
June 25-27 (Fri-Sun): vs. Chicago Cubs (3)
June 28-30 (Mon-Wed): @ Kansas City Royals (3)

The White Sox will be at home slightly more than they’ll be on the road in June, but, like the Tigers, their off-days are spaced out favorably for them. They start off the month with a nine-game homestand that features visits from the Rangers, Indians, and Tigers. From there, the second round of Interleague play begins. They get all nine of their National League games in one road trip (nine games is a long time for an AL team to go without a DH, but the Tigers handled this really well in ’07). Their most formidable opponent on that road trip appears to be their natural Interleague rival, the Chicago Cubs. Based on how the Cubs did in 2009, that’s not all that formidable, but when you consider that their other two stops are Pittsburgh and Washington, the Cubs seem like 100-win team in comparison (Yeah, I know PECOTA is predicting the Nationals to go 82-80, but you know my feelings about sabremetrics). Following an off-day on the 21st, the White Sox conclude Interleague play at home by hosting the Atlanta Braves (and we’ll all hope that former Tiger Jair Jurrjens throws a gem in that series) and the Cubs (in recent years, that series has gone near .500, with the home team winning most of the games). The Sox end June in Kansas City, the first leg of a six-game road trip. The winning percentage of their Interleague opponents from 2009 was .467, which puts the White Sox right in the middle in terms of how easy their schedule is (easier than Minnesota or Kansas City, harder than Detroit or Cleveland). However, they will be the only team in the AL Central to not play at least one NL team that won more than ninety games. The best team they’ll face in terms of record is the Florida Marlins, who went 87-75 in 2009. And, like most of the other Central division teams, they have the opportunity to take advantage of Washington and Pittsburgh.
Home games: 15
Road games: 12
Chicago’s 2009 record against opposition: 36-33 (Did not play WSH or ATL)
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opposition: .458

Indians
June 1-3 (Tue-Thu): @ Detroit Tigers (3)
June 4-6 (Fri-Sun): @ Chicago White Sox (3)
June 7-10 (Mon-Thu): vs. Boston Red Sox (4)
June 11-13 (Fri-Sun): vs. Washington Nationals (3)
June 14 (Mon): Off-day
June 15-17 (Tue-Thu): vs. New York Mets (3)
June 18-20 (Fri-Sun): @ Pittsburgh Pirates (3)
June 21 (Mon): Off-day
June 22-24 (Tue-Thu): @ Philadelphia Phillies (3)
June 25-27 (Fri-Sun): @ Cincinnati Reds (3)
June 28-July 1 (Mon-Thu): vs. Toronto Blue Jays (4)

When June begins for the Indians, they’ll be in the midst of a 16-game stretch with no off-day (It gets worse later in the month, Tribe fans). Having just departed Yankee Stadium, they head to Comerica Park and then U.S. Cellular Field before heading back home to take on the Red Sox for four and then the Nationals for three as the second round of Interleague play begins for them. Following their off-day on the 14th, they conclude their 10-game homestand with a visit from the New York Mets. Like the White Sox, they get to experience all their National League games in one road trip, beginning in Pittsburgh. That off-day on the 21st is significant because it will be their final off-day before the All-Star Break (that’s a span of 20 games). They then head to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies (one of the few occasions that I will root for that team), and then to Cincinnati for the second round of the Ohio battle and the end of Interleague play. They conclude June at home, hosting the Toronto Blue Jays for four games. I know most people expect the Indians to have a down year, and with good reason, but IF they are gonna make a move, June will probably be the month they do it. They have the easiest Interleague schedule of any AL Central team, as their opponents went a combined 362-447 in 2009 (That’s a .447 winning percentage). They will only have to face one NL team that finished above .500 (the Phillies, who were 93-69), and like most of the Central, they have the opportunity to take advantage of the Nationals and Pirates.
Home games: 14
Road games: 15
Cleveland’s 2009 record against opposition: 21-39 (Did not play WSH, NYM, or PHI)
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .478

Twins
June 4-6 (Fri-Sun): @ Oakland Athletics (3)
June 7 (Mon): Off-day
June 8-10 (Tue-Thu): vs. Kansas City Royals (3)
June 11-13 (Fri-Sun): vs. Atlanta Braves (3)
June 14 (Mon): Off-day
June 15-17 (Tue-Thu): vs. Colorado Rockies (3)
June 18-20 (Fri-Sun): @ Philadelphia Phillies (3)
June 21 (Mon): Off-day
June 22-24 (Tue-Thu): @ Milwaukee Brewers (3)
June 25-27 (Fri-Sun): @ New York Mets (3)
June 28-30 (Mon-Wed): vs. Detroit Tigers (3)

The Twins have an even split of home games and road games in June, and all 3-game series. No quirky 2-or-4-gamers for them. They begin June on the west coast in Oakland. They then return home for nine games. After a series against the Royals, they host their remaining AL Interleague games with visits from the Braves and Rockies. As with the White Sox and Indians, they will be DH-less for nine straight games (although based on the style of ball they play, this probably would not affect the Twins as much as it would other AL teams). They’ll finish off Interleague play by visiting Citizen’s Bank Park (so I get to root for the Phillies again), Miller Park, and Citi Field. They end June by beginning a seven-game homestand, starting with three against the Tigers. The Twins end up with the most difficult schedule of the Central in June, largely thanks to their Interleague schedule, which is by far the most difficult of any team in the division (their opponents went 421-389 in 2009 for a winning percentage of .520). Unlike the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox, they have to play two NL teams who finished with over 90 wins (the Rockies and Phillies), and they don’t have the luxury of playing Washington or Pittsburgh (the “worst” team they’ll face is the Mets, who finished at 70-92, but at the same time, the Mets are a big unknown right now; I firmly believe that injuries played a large part of their poor record and if all their big guys are healthy in 2010, they’ll play a whole lot better). Minnesota tends to do well in Interleague play, but again, the Tigers must take advantage of their “superior” schedule.
Home games: 12
Road games: 12
Minnesota’s 2009 record against opposition: 33-20 (Did not play ATL, COL, PHI, NYM)
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .499

Royals
June 4-6 (Fri-Sun): vs. Detroit Tigers (3)
June 7 (Mon): Off-day
June 8-10 (Tue-Thu): @ Minnesota Twins (3)
June 11-13 (Fri-Sun): @ Cincinnati Reds (3)
June 14 (Mon): Off-day
June 15-17 (Tue-Thu): vs. Houston Astros (3)
June 18-20 (Fri-Sun): @ Atlanta Braves (3)
June 21-23 (Mon-Wed): @ Washington Nationals (3)
June 24 (Thu): Off-day
June 25-27 (Fri-Sun): vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3)
June 28-30 (Mon-Wed): vs. Chicago White Sox (3)

Like the Twins, the Royals have an equal amount of home games and road games this month (and everything is either AL Central or National League). They begin June at home, where they host the Tigers (and we will hope that Zack Greinke pitches on June 3). They then hit the road for a six-game road trip that takes them first to Minnesota and then on into the NL and the Great American Ballpark to take on the Cincinnati Reds (and it should be noted that the Royals actually swept the Reds in 2009). After the off-day on June 14th (and it should be noted that the entire AL Central is idle on June 14th), they head back to Kaufman Stadium for a very brief 3-game homestand against the Astros (and the Tigers know from experience that 3-game homestands can really mess you up). They then venture back into the NL, visiting Atlanta and Washington. One odd thing about KC’s schedule is that they only play one series with their natural Interleague rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. It’ll be in Kansas City, and it wraps up Interleague play for 2010. They then wrap up their homestand (and June) with a 3-game series against the Chicago White Sox. The Royals’ Interleague opponents had a combined .494 winning percentage in 2009, which gives them the second-toughest schedule, behind the Twins. Like the Twins, they also play two 90+ win teams (Colorado and St. Louis), but unlike Minnesota, they DO play the Nationals (but not the Pirates).
Home games: 12
Road games: 12
Kansas City’s 2009 record against opposition: 30-36 (Did not play ATL or WSH)
Combined 2009 winning percentage of opponents: .493

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is It Safe to Buy that #35 Jersey Now?

The news that we’d all been waiting for finally broke last night: Justin Verlander has agreed to a five-year, $80 million deal to stay in the Olde English D through at least 2014 (barring a trade, which I hope doesn’t happen). I’ve certainly been wanting this for a long time. I haven’t made the rounds through the Detroit-area news sites and the Tigers bloggers, and hopefully I’m just being jaded, but I’d imagine that a good many of them are balking at the price tag. At first glance, it seems like a lot more than the $75 million the Tigers were originally offering, but once you do the math, you realize that averages out to $16 million a year instead of $15 million, and once you’re talking ridiculously high dollar amounts to begin with, what's a million more gonna hurt? (By the way, yes, I am aware that the contract is likely backloaded and the distribution of the $80 million will not be even). But be it $75 million or $80 million, it still seems like a lot. Is it too much? Probably. Will it come back to haunt them? Maybe. If it were anyone else on the team, I wouldn’t like it. But this is Verlander we’re talking about. He is the one player for whom I’m willing to make an exception. I stood by him all through his struggles in 2008 and early 2009 while others were saying really nasty things about him, and my faith was finally rewarded. This is one of those times when I want to indulge myself and be “just” a fan, so that is what I will do. Besides, in the end, baseball players are nothing more than entertainers. They would not get millions of dollars if people did not watch them. And I find Verlander to be very entertaining, so in that respect, he is doing his job.

There’s been a lot of comparison made between Verlander’s contract and the 5-year, $78 million deal that Felix Hernandez got earlier this offseason. As it turns out, Verlander got the slightly bigger contract, which set off a discussion over which pitcher is better (or, at least, deserves the bigger contract.
Jon Paul Morosi insists it’s Verlander, while Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors backs Hernandez. I’m more likely to point to the basic stuff like ERA, wins, etc. I don’t go for advanced sabremetrics like ERA+ or FIP or that sort of thing, which is what Tim Dierkes uses a lot. Morosi uses odd arguments like pitching in the postseason (when getting to the postseason relies on more than just the starting pitcher in question), All-Star appearances (which is, by nature, subjective), and no-hitters (which are more likely to happen with talented pitchers, but even in that event, there’s still a little bit of luck or randomness involved). Now, in Verlander’s defense, his 2008 season (which most believe is an aberration) elevated his numbers somewhat (I calculated last night that if you disregard 2008, his career ERA would be 3.63). I myself could not make a fair assessment, partially due to fan bias, but mostly because I don’t see Felix Hernandez that often. I can look at numbers all I want, but until I see a player extensively, I can’t get a good feel for him. The Tigers only see Hernandez a maximum of three times a season. But seriously, is there that much cause for debate when we’re talking a difference of two million dollars? I certainly don’t think so.

Jason Beck is concerned with the effect that this deal will have on the payroll. I suppose having $40 million going to only two players is somewhat irresponsible. And prior to this deal, there was a lot of talk about how much payroll was going to be freed up after 2010, and Beck writes as though that’s all gone and there’s no chance of signing any free agents. Still, he points out that the two most realistic options are to either trade Miguel Cabrera (not my preference) or let the prospects from the farm system step up when they are ready (which is actually a good idea). Cot’s Baseball Contracts has not been updated yet (since the distribution details of Verlander’s deal have not been announced), but my estimation is that the Tigers will end up with $50-$60 million committed to 2011. Even if they wanted to reduce the payroll to $90 million, that’s still a good $35 million or so to spend on free agents. Let’s be realistic: They were not going to field an entire team from the 2011 free agent class. And there’s probably still room in the 2011 payroll to make at least one big splash (Carl Crawford, perhaps, though I will reserve final judgment till after this season).

So I end with one final coda: Welcome aboard, Justin. Again.