4 DETROIT TIGERS

April 05, 2009

Dee-fense!Dee-fense!
A big shift in philosophy for a lineup that was supposed to make history withits bats

DURING THE firsttwo weeks of spring training, the most extensive interaction between Tigersmanager Jim Leyland and Adam Everett went like this: "You can field aground ball, right?" Leyland asked his new shortstop, before issuing awarning: "You know, we can get Luis Aparicio... But he's 74 years old, andit might be tough for him to come back. So you're our guy." Then Leylandwalked off.

Last year'sshortstop, Edgar Renteria, isn't half as old as Hall of Famer Aparicio, but hefielded his position like a septuagenarian. According to the statisticalanalyst David Pinto, Renteria's lack of range cost Detroit 16 runs,second-worst in the majors. Those same metrics show that Everett was baseball'sbest-fielding shortstop in 2006, the last season in which he was completelyhealthy, playing for the Astros. Leyland says that with every other player,there's a pop in the glove as a fielder scoops a ground ball—but not withEverett. "There's silence," says Leyland. "He probably has the besthands I've ever seen."

Everett can't hit(his OPS has never come close to the league average in his seven seasons), butthat's not the point. After building a lineup for the ages in 2008, anassemblage of sluggers that could score 1,000 runs—or so everyone thought—theTigers instead scored 821 and finished last in the AL Central. The staff ERA(4.91) ranked 12th in the league, and the defense committed the second-mosterrors (113) and had the second-worst fielding percentage (.981).

So thisoff-season Detroit acted as if it had just discovered the axiom about pitchingand defense winning championships. The Tigers made wholesale changes, acquiringtwo catchers (Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor), a power arm (Edwin Jackson) and acloser (Brandon Lyon), and making two defensive-minded position changes (CarlosGuillen from third base to leftfield and Brandon Inge from catcher to third)."You can tell which direction the team is going," Inge says. "Theydecided to go for a strong, power-hitting team last year. It could have workedout, but it didn't."

Inge is anexcellent third baseman, and Guillen, who started in the Astros' farm system asan outfielder, should fare well in left. "I don't know if there's such athing as an exciting defense," Leyland says, "but our defense has achance to be pretty exciting."

Last year two ofDetroit's biggest moves were trading for slugging corner infielder MiguelCabrera (and promptly signing him to a seven-year, $152.3 million extension)and trading two prospects (starter Jair Jurrjens and outfielder GorkysHernandez, No. 62 among Baseball America's Top 100 prospects) to the Braves forRenteria. This winter the biggest moves were the trades for Laird and Jackson,and the signing of Everett to a reasonable one-year, $1 million contract.

Because theTigers were still fourth in the AL in runs scored last season (47 more thanpennant-winning Tampa Bay), they can afford to take the small hit that the newemphasis on defense will require. Everett, who says he's fully healed frominjuries that limited him to 114 games over the last two seasons, might be anoffensive downgrade from Renteria, but Inge, who hits better when he isn'tcatching, takes the lineup spot of Marcus Thames.

It's still agreat leap to bank on the pitching staff (namely, starters Justin Verlander andJeremy Bonderman, and relievers Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya) returning toits form of 2006, when the Tigers reached the World Series, but Detroit willcatch the ball. And nobody will suggest that Luis Aparicio come out ofretirement.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

The Tigers havehanded their closer role to free-agent pickup Brandon Lyon, who did that jobfor the Diamondbacks in 2008. As good as manager Jim Leyland is at handing hisbullpen, this is a risk. In addition to having an unimpressive strikeout ratefor a reliever (44 in 59 1/3 innings last year, 147 in 232 innings since2005—well below closer norms), Lyon (left) has struggled against AmericanLeague hitters throughout his career. He had a 4.99 ERA in three seasons as anAL reliever from 2001 through '03 and had a 4.50 mark against the bettercircuit in 20 innings of interleague play since then (51 points higher than hisERA against National League teams in that time). With just middling stuff, Lyonfalls into that class of pitchers just good enough to succeed in the NL, theweaker of the two loops.

THE NUMBERS

LIE
65.4

Percentage ofrunners, according to BaseballInfo Solutions, that Justin Verlander left onbase in '08. Statistical studies have shown that a pitcher, on average, strands72% of runners; any figure lower than that reflects bad luck or a bad defense,both of which afflicted Verlander in '08 and which explain his inflated 4.84ERA. With an improved defense behind him, the hard-throwing ace should see amarked improvement in his numbers.

The Lineup

PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2008 STATISTICS
Manager Jim Leyland

FOURTH SEASONWITH TIGERS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

CURTIS GRANDERSON CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 52 .280 22 66 12
PLACIDO POLANCO 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 205 .307 8 58 7
MAGGLIO ORDOÑEZ RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 54 .317 21 103 1
MIGUEL CABRERA 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 11 .292 37 127 1
CARLOS GUILLEN LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 141 .286 10 54 9
GARY SHEFFIELD DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 153 .225 19 57 9
GERALD LAIRD [NEW ACQUISITION] C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 249 .276 6 41 2
BRANDON INGE 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 246 .205 11 51 4
ADAM EVERETT [NEW ACQUISITION] SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 335 .213 2 20 0
BENCH
MARCUS THAMES OF-1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 243 .241 25 56 0
RAMON SANTIAGO IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 296 .282 4 18 1

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Justin Verlander 48 11 17 7.3 1.40 4.84
RH Armando Galarraga 51 13 7 6.4 1.19 3.73
RH Jeremy Bonderman 114 3 4 5.6 1.56 4.29
RH Edwin Jackson [NEW ACQUISITION] 173 14 11 5.3 1.51 4.42
LH Nate Robertson 293 7 11 5.8 1.66 6.35
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Brandon Lyon [NEW ACQUISITION] 90 3 26 6.7 1.48 4.70
RH Fernando Rodney 97 0 13 10.9 1.59 4.91
LH Bobby Seay 321 1 0 9.3 1.50 4.47

NEWACQUISITION
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
July 2, 2001

Fans, however, thought Mark Fidrych was talking to thebaseball, and the press did little to disabuse them of that notion. And that'swhen the world met him. On June 28 he was 7--1 with a 2.18 ERA and had becomethe ace of the Tigers' rotation, and that evening he started against the NewYork Yankees on ABC's Monday Night Baseball. Fidrych recalls driving to TigerStadium that afternoon with a teammate who lived in the same apartment complex.When they arrived, four hours before game time, thousands of fans werecongregating outside the gates. "Mark," said his car-pool companion,"these people aren't here to see Tommy Veryzer play shortstop."
—STEVE RUSHIN

For free access to all Tigers stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOTONY DEJAK/APGLOVE STORY Everett won't hit a lick, but with Inge, he'll form half of the best defensive left side of the infield in the AL. PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (LYON) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)