Between 2011 and 2014, the Detroit Tigers won four consecutive division titles. Their formula worked, even though it didn’t look that pretty on the field. It involved hitting home runs, getting on base and having pitchers strike enough players out on the other team to keep that awful defense from mattering. Even though the 2014 Tigers were 28th in Defensive Runs Saved and 29th in Defensive Efficiency, they still made it to the playoffs with great betting lines.
An MLB Odds Analysis on Detroit’s Defense Improvement
Now that manager Brad Ausmus is working his way through his second season, his club has started to improve on defense, climbing to 5th in Defensive Runs Saved and 10th in Defensive Efficiency. This is a good thing in light of the team’s holes that have appeared in other areas. The offensive lineup for the Tigers is still potent, but their starting rotation, which used to be virtually unbeatable, has fallen to mediocre after Max Scherzer left town to pitch for the Nationals and Justin Verlander has suffered from injury – and may simply be getting old. This means that Detroit’s pitching staff ranks 27th in strikeout rate. In 2013, they ranked first. So this pitching staff used to want balls to stay in the catcher’s mitt instead of on the field has changed, which means that the defense has had to improve as well. Once the team started play under this new formula, the Tigers have moved back up the standings.
One reason for the improved fielding is fairly basic: turnover on the roster. Torii Hunter left town, while Yoenis Cespedes and Anthony Gose came to Detroit, leaving a lot less open ground in the outfield. Jose Iglesias has been a significant upgrade at shortstop than the 2014 incumbent, Eugenio Suarez. A crucial transformation involves one particular player’s improvement – Nick Castellanos, who has changed from being a terrible fielder to an average one, which is a big jump for any player to make. He expanded his range thanks to workouts with Ultimate Sports Institute, with plyometrics and drills to make his lateral range larger and add force to his initial step. These changes helped him to “slow the game down” a bit and get to more ground balls.
While his defense has improved, Castellanos’ hitting is still a question. In 2015, he has 200 plate appearances so far and only has a .228/.275/.364 line. Of course, the optimist would say that the better Castellanos is in the field, the less timely hitting he has to do. Some of the Tiger pitchers have come to Nick Castellanos to compliment him for his transformation. Castellanos claims not to look at the numbers, but the defensive improvement is clear.
So what does this mean for the Tigers’ chances? If they can shore up some concerns on offense and in the bullpen, this team could actually be stronger than some of the earlier editions this decade because they will be more multi-dimensional in the playoffs. Losing in the ALCS to the Rangers in 2011, the Tigers were simply blown away by more firepower. Having some improved defense behind the pitching staff and throwing a more balanced team out on the field makes it more likely that the Tigers won’t run into unpleasant surprises in the later rounds of the playoffs, when pitching and defense become such a premium.
If the Tigers can win a fifth consecutive division title, look for them to make an even deeper run than before because of this newfound balance. If Verlander can approach his prior form after coming back from an early season injury, this team will even be more optimistic about its chances in the fall.