The Detroit Tigers didn't just win the American League pennant in 2012. They also were responsible for a number of fantasy championships -- something that happens when you have arguably the best hitter and pitcher in the game. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander lead what figures to be one of the best teams in baseball again this season, as well as the biggest lock of any team to win its division.
Of course, it's not just Cabrera and Verlander who have Detroit buzzing and fantasy owners wondering how they can invest in the Tigers. Prince Fielder and the returning Victor Martinez join Cabrera in the heart of the lineup, giving the Tigers perhaps the most fearsome 3-4-5 trio in all of baseball, as well as a great table-setter in Austin Jackson. A fantasy owner would be happy enough if his top four starters were Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers will have the pleasure of running one of those four out to the mound 80 percent of the time.
The Tigers will likely do away with any drama in the AL Central before we even get to September, but plenty of their players are sure to be in the thick of fantasy drama while they get ready for the real-life postseason.
1. Austin Jackson, CF 2. Andy Dirks, LF 3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B 4. Prince Fielder, 1B 5. Victor Martinez, DH 6. Torii Hunter, RF 7. Jhonny Peralta, SS 8. Alex Avila, C 9. Omar Infante, 2B
1. Justin Verlander 2. Max Scherzer 3. Doug Fister 4. Anibal Sanchez 5. Rick Porcello
First, let's take a look at 2011, his last healthy season and his first in Detroit. While he hit just 12 homers, he pounded out 40 doubles en route to compiling a .330/.380/.470 line. His home run/fly ball ratio has fallen every year since 2007 (excluding an injury-plagued 2008), so we'd be foolish to expect the 25-homer version of Martinez to show up this season. We'd also be fools to think that a guy with a career line of .303/.370/.469 and a career wOBA of .362 forgot how to hit. Now in his 12th year in the majors, he's playing in arguably his best offense. He'll hit directly behind Cabrera and Fielder, two of the best on-base sluggers in the majors. He also has decent protection with Torii Hunter behind him, and he won't have to worry about catching every day. So long as his knee holds up, you can take a .300 batting average, .370 OBP, 18 homers and 100 RBI to the bank. He's the second catcher on my board after Buster Posey.
Porcello has seemingly been around forever, but he's still just 24 years old. He doesn't strike anyone out, but he does induce a ton of ground balls -- more than 50 percent every season of his career, including 53.2 percent last year. On most teams, that's a recipe for success. On one that starts Cabrera, Fielder and Jhonny Peralta at three of its infield positions, it can actually be a liability, and that's borne out by the stats. Porcello posted a 4.59 ERA, but a 3.91 FIP. His .344 BABIP helps explain the huge difference. Meanwhile, Smyly, who fanned 94 batters in 99.1 innings, racked up a 3.99 ERA to go along with his 3.83 FIP. Not surprisingly, his BABIP was a manageable .295. Smyly suits Detroit's personnel better than Porcello, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Tigers move the latter during the season.
AL-only guys to know