Everything from the excitement of the Prince Fielder signing to the dramatic opening season sweep of the Red Sox seemed to assure that Detroit was the cream of the crop in the American League, or at least right up there with Texas, but right now I don’t see much more than a three-superstar team with an inconsistent or undeveloped supporting cast.
Austin Jackson’s new hitting approach gives me confidence that he’ll be a solid leadoff hitter for the near future and Alex Avila’s plate discipline make him a great guy to anchor the back end of the lineup, but in order for the Tigers to truly maintain one of the league’s top lineups, they’ll need more consistent and timely hitting from other spots in the order. Delmon Young and Peralta have combined for only 10 RBIs from the 5th and 7th spots in the lineup despite the frequent hits from Cabrera and Fielder before them. Compare that to the Rangers and Yankees who have gotten double digit RBIs from bottom of the lineup guys like Napoli, Cruz, Ibanez, and the Swisher/Granderson combination (so far they’ve rotated between the two and six spot in the lineup) and again, it just doesn’t look like the Tigers boast as good a lineup as the AL’s best.
Then there are the two more important matters at hand: pitching and fielding. And it deeply pains me to say this, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse fielding infield than the current Tigers crew.
A lot of people promote the fact that Peralta only commit 7 errors in 146 games last season, but there are two really important factors that go into that number. First off, a fielder is only credited with an error if he gets to a ball and is unable to make a rather routine play on the ball. The reason Jhonny Peralta commit so few errors last season is that he is only able to get to a limited amount of these balls. His range as a shortstop is like if you tied an anvil around Asdrubal Cabrera’s waist, anything hit relatively hard and more than a couple feet away from his pre-pitch standing position is rolling into left field, no question.
Second, having one of the game’s best fielding third-basemen at the corner last year neutralized a lot of Jhonny’s shortcomings. But now that Brandon Inge’s tenure in Detroit is officially over, Tigers fans are going to have to get used to a lot more balls getting through the left side of the infield. While comparing Cabby to Inge at the plate is like the difference between entering a Rottweiler into a dogfight versus a Chihuahua, their fielding comparison is something similar to the opposite.