Justin Upton is a star outfielder, and recently he has joined fellow sluggers Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez on the Detroit Tigers. However, will pure offense be enough to fuel the Tigers’ run at the AL Central? Looking at the Central, there are many strengths and plenty of weaknesses for all five teams. For starters, the Tigers appear to be greater offensively than any other team. Upton, Cabrera, J.D. and Victor Martinez have all combined for 202 HR since 2014, meaning they each averaged approximately 50 HR each over the last two seasons. The four sluggers also have a combined WAR of 28.4 over the last two seasons as well. Upton, despite being a major factor in that group (7.6 WAR, 55 HR since 2014) has struggled greatly against the American League over the last three seasons. Over the last three seasons Upton has played a total of 58 games against the AL, and in that time he has managed a miserable .205/.262/.338 slash line. His BABIP is a meager .252 over that stretch, and his OPS is just .600. It goes without saying that one of the bigger question marks for the Tigers will be whether or not Justin Upton will be able to adjust to American League pitching.
Ultimately, the Tigers offense should be solid, and the potential is there for it to be among the best in all of baseball. Upton should be a decent addition, however he needs to find a way to jump out of his three-season slump against the AL. That could prove very difficult. For starters, he will have to face the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Chris Sale, and Carlos Rodon at least a handful of times in the AL Central. Those five are just the tip of the iceberg, since the Central features several other solid pitchers as well. Not to mention the strong bullpens possessed by both the Royals and Indians (2.72 ERA and 3.12 ERA respectively; 1st and 2nd in the AL).
Sticking with pitching, the Tigers still have big question marks in their own pitching staff. The Tigers were the 28th-ranked pitching staff overall in terms of ERA. The biggest question for the Tigers pitching staff is whether or not Justin Verlander can return to his previous self. Verlander improved a bit last season. In 15 starts after the All-Star Break, Verlander posted a 2.80 ERA, with a 4.5 K/BB ratio, and a 1.00 WHIP. Verlander will be extremely helpful to — potentially — another Detroit postseason run if he can continue with his recent trend. This does not solve the rest of the rotation’s problems, and the Tigers will need great performances from young pitching talent Daniel Norris, a bounce-back season from Anibal Sanchez, and at least some solid outings from veteran Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey has been less than stellar his last three seasons; in 64 starts he has posted a record of 11-27 with an ERA of 4.94. Sanchez was nowhere near himself in 2015, as he posted a miserable 4.99 ERA, averaged 1.7 HR/9, and had an FIP of 4.73. Compared to his outstanding seasons in 2013 and 2014 (where he had a combined ERA of 2.92, and averaged just 0.4 HR/9) Sanchez was a completely different pitcher. The one bright spot, perhaps, is newcomer Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann was not quite as sharp in 2015 as he has been previously in his career, but he’s still an extremely solid addition nonetheless. Hopefully for Detroit he can return to his previous form, as he was dominant in 2013 and 2014 going 33-14, with a 2.96 ERA and a 5.0 K/BB ratio.
Quite possibly the most important upgrade the Tigers made was to their bullpen. Last season the Detroit bullpen was less than stellar, posting a 4.38 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and a meager 1.95 K/BB ratio. There was no argument needed to show that their bullpen was clearly the worst in the AL Central. However, the 2016 outlook looks a lot brighter. The Tigers brought in Mark Lowe, Francisco Rodriguez, and Justin Wilson to bolster their ranks. Combined, the trio posted a 2.44 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 2015 (K-Rod also had 38 saves in 40 opportunities). It goes without saying that these three will be a big boost to an otherwise abysmal bullpen.
2016 will be a defining year for the Tigers. Will their offense really be all that it seems? Will the bullpen be good enough to keep them in games? Can Verlander and Zimmermann carry the starting rotation? Will Anibal Sanchez be able to bounce back? Will Justin Upton be able to adjust to the American League? All these questions will be answered soon enough. Detroit has quite a bit of talent and for their sake everything needs to work like a clock if they want to have any chance at contending for the Central title and make another pennant run.