2020 Record: 23-35
Last Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 5.63 (30th)
Team OPS: .700 (25th)
What Went Right
The Tigers finished with 23 wins in 58 games, on pace for a 64-98 record in a normal 162-game season. That can be viewed, in some more navy-and-orange-tinted lenses, as a marked improvement over their dismal 47-114 showing from 2019. They registered a winning record (11-7) against National League Central opponents as part of MLB’s pandemic-necessitated, geographic-oriented schedule and avoided having to play what would have been an odd and mostly meaningless makeup doubleheader versus the Cardinals on the Monday after the final full Sunday slate of regular-season games. Yeah, we’re stretching here for positive takeaways. The Tigers did sit above .500 (17-16) on September 1, putting them only 3 1/2 games back of first place in the American League Central, but the gap grew quickly from there. As for individual performances that warrant praise: Spencer Turnbull pitched to a 3.97 ERA in 11 starts covering 56 2/3 innings, and relievers Gregory Soto, Jose Cisnero, Bryan Garcia, Buck Farmer, Daniel Norris, and Tyler Alexander all had positive stretches. Top starting pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal both made their MLB debuts in mid-August. More on those two later. 23-year-old infielder Willi Castro slashed .349/.381/.550 with six home runs and 24 RBI in 36 games and could appear on a handful of ballots for American League Rookie of the Year. Jeimer Candelario posted an .872 OPS in 206 plate appearances at age 26.
What Went Wrong
Detroit finished in last place in the American League Central for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in the past six years. Against teams in their own division, the Tigers went 12-28, including a 1-9 mark versus the White Sox. They had a 9-5 record on August 10 but then immediately sunk into a season-long nine-game losing streak that stretched to August 20. They were shut out seven times and only shut out their opponent once. C.J. Cron went down with a season-ending left knee injury just 13 games into the planned 60-game campaign, after producing an .894 OPS with four home runs over his first 52 plate appearances. JaCoby Jones suffered a fractured left hand on September 1, leaving behind an .849 OPS through 30 games played. Christin Stewart never got going offensively, and Miguel Cabrera only came alive in the final week. The starting rotation, outside of Turnbull, was a complete mess. Matthew Boyd surrendered a league-high 15 home runs across his 12 starts and produced an overall 6.71 ERA. Michael Fulmer, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, had an ERA of 8.78. Jordan Zimmermann appeared in only three games while pulling in a (prorated) $25 million salary, puttering out in the final year of a five-year, $110 million deal. Veteran manager Ron Gardenhire announced his retirement with eight games left on September 19, citing health concerns. Lloyd McClendon finished out the season as the interim skipper and the Tigers went 2-6 under his watch, including four different one-run losses.
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** The first Tigers player off the board in fantasy drafts this spring and summer was Matthew Boyd, who had an average draft position of 146.9 on Yahoo. That sentence really tells you all you need to know about the lack of impactful talent on this 2020 roster. Boyd was a machine in the strikeouts department last year, but his K/9 fell from 11.6 in 2019 to 9.0 this season, and the ERA and WHIP both steered wildly in the wrong direction. The 29-year-old left-hander figures to be a trade candidate this winter and could maybe blossom with a change of scenery, though his value has certainly been depressed. As it stands, Boyd is under the Tigers’ control through 2022 via salary arbitration.
** The second-most-popular Tigers player in 2020 fantasy drafts was Joe Jimenez, with an ADP of 179.8 on Yahoo. He stood as the major league leader in saves at one point around the first week of August before ultimately finishing with a brutal 7.15 ERA in 22 2/3 total innings. And he didn’t earn a single save after August 9. Bryan Garcia or Gregory Soto could take over the ninth-inning role in 2021, though the projected win total for this club leading into next year will likely make that a rather uninteresting competition for fantasy prognosticators.
** It would be nice to be able to write glowingly about top pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, who both made their MLB debuts during the condensed 2020 campaign, but Mize produced a 6.99 ERA over his first seven major league starts and Skubal finished with a first-year ERA of 5.63. Granted, they both missed out on key development time with there being no minor league seasons, and the future does look bright for the Tigers on the starting pitching front. Matt Manning, another consensus top-100 prospect, should be ready to join Mize and Skubal in early-to-mid 2021.
** Miguel Cabrera is under contract with the Tigers through at least 2023 and is probably untradeable due to the $94 million that he is still owed, so he’ll be back as the primary DH in 2021. But the fantasy interest here is teetering on nonexistence. Cabrera, who turns 38 years old next April, has posted a combined .267/.342/.409 batting line across the last four seasons while averaging only 19 home runs for every 162 games played.
** Willi Castro might have a bit of fantasy buzz in 2021 after the numbers he put up in 2020, but it was a sample size of just 36 games and 140 plate appearances. That’s going to be a tricky thing next spring -- deciding which “breakout” players to believe in and which to doubt. Castro leans more toward the doubt category, though he did show promise at Triple-A Toledo in 2019 and has the kind of power-and-speed skillset that translates to meaningful fantasy production.
** Daz Cameron and Isaac Paredes both debuted for the Tigers this season, but the early returns weren’t great. Cameron slashed .193/.220/.263 over his first 59 major league plate appearances and Paredes hit .220/.278/.290 in 108 PAs. Detroit’s position player group won’t have many spots on fantasy draft boards for 2021, and Spencer Torkelson -- the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft -- probably won’t arrive in the bigs until 2022.
Team Needs: Patience, patience, patience? And of course a new manager.