October 2011

Jackson’s a Gold Glove finalist, Fielding Bible winner

For the first time that I can remember, the Gold Glove awards have a list of finalists, which not coincidentally sets up Tuesday night’s Gold Glove special on ESPN2. The side effect is that is sets up who has a realistic chance to win an award that doesn’t always follow the expected candidates.

In the Tigers’ case, they have two chances. Austin Jackson is one of three finalists for AL center field honors. Alex Avila is the same at AL catcher.

Because the outfield Gold Glove awards recognize center, left and right fielders separately, rather than three outfielders in general, Jackson has some of the toughest competition of any AL position. Jacoby Ellsbury and Peter Bourjos are two of the fastest men in the AL, and they use that speed to their advantage in center. Bourjos, in particular, showed a gift for running down drives into the gaps.

So, of course, did Jackson. And as the Fielding Bible awards suggest, he gets to way more balls than the average center fielder.

A day before the Gold Gloves are announced, ACTA sports came out with its annual honors to recognize the best Major League defender at each position in a given season. The Fielding Bible award in center field went to Jackson.

Unlike Gold Gloves, which are voted on by Major League coaches, the Fielding Bible award weigh heavily towards advanced defensive stats. Winners are decided by a 10-person panel that includes Fielding Bible co-author John Dewan, statistical analysis pioneer Bill James, MLB Network great Peter Gammons, acclaimed columnist and author Joe Posnanski, and former Major League outfielder Doug Glanville.

In the latest release of the Bill James Handbook, Dewan wrote that Jackson’s advantage was in the stats.

“He topped all center fielders with 21 Runs Saved in 2010, but Austin Jackson had to do it even better (with 22 Runs Saved) in 2011 to earn his first Fielding Bible Award,” Dewan wrote. “Jackson has made 63 more plays than an average center fielder over the last two years. That’s an incredible total. It’s on the plays over his head that AJ really excels (43 of the 63). Making 43 more catches than an average center fielder on balls hit deep is where those lofty Runs Saved totals come in, as he is saving doubles and triples when he makes these catches.”

Jackson got as many first-place votes (three) as Arizona’s Chris Young, but the difference was the five second-place votes he received, compared with just two for Young. The only vote that put Jackson outside the top three was something called the Tango Fan Poll.

Avila finished eighth in voting among Major League catchers, a category won by Matt Wieters. Not coincidentally, he’s one of Avila’s fellow finalists for the AL Gold Glove, along with A.J. Pierzynski (???). Avila threw out just under a third of would-be basestealers (40-for-125) while posting a .995 fielding percentage (five errors in 1,018 total chances). He was charged with seven passed balls, and Tigers pitchers threw 56 wild pitches with him behind the plate.

Wieters threw out 34-of-92 would-be basestealers, allowed one passed ball, and watched his pitchers deliver 25 wild pitches.

Among those left out among Gold Glove finalists was Jhonny Peralta, who statistically had a very underrated season at shortstop. But so was Texas’ Elvis Andrus. Erick Aybar, Asdrubal Cabrera and J.J. Hardy are the three finalists, though Peralta statistically had a pretty good case for a better defensive season than Cabrera.

Tigers cut loose Santos, Thomas

The Tigers cleared space on their 40-man roster and added to their free-agent list on Monday by outrighting the contracts of catcher Omir Santos and reliever Brad Thomas to Triple-A Toledo.

The procedural move essentially makes Toledo a stopover for them. They’ll become minor-league free agents later in the week, free to talk with any Major League team. While the Tigers could re-sign either of them, notably Santos, they’ll likely search for better opportunities elsewhere.

Santos essentially served his purpose as an insurance catcher, spending nearly the entire season at Toledo until he became Alex Avila’s backup down the stretch with Victor Martinez limited by a sprained knee. Santos appeared in 11 games as a Tiger, including single-game appearances in April and August, going 5-for-22 at the plate while throwing out one out of six would-be basestealers. He hit .245 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 49 games for the Mud Hens.

The Tigers are still expected to pursue a catcher to back up Avila and limit the wear and tear on Martinez’s knees to his duties as Detroit’s designated hitter. Though Santos could be that guy, Detroit might also look to somebody more established.

While Santos was a minor-league signing last winter, Thomas was a holdover from 2010, when the native Aussie came back to the big leagues to become the second lefty in Detroit’s bullpen as well as a two-time spot starter. He had none of that success this year, due mainly to injuries in his forearm and elbow that left him on the disabled list all summer.
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Thomas, who turned 34 earlier this month, gave up 11 earned runs on 17 hits over 11 innings before forearm pain warming up in the bullpen in mid-May led to a DL stint. He spent close to a month on a rehab assignment in Toledo, giving up four runs on 10 hits over 10 1/3 innings with the Hens, when the Tigers tried to activate him and designate him for assignment.
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Thomas complained of elbow trouble and requested a second opinion. Once the diagnosis came back, the roster move was rescinded, and Thomas spent the rest of the year on the disabled list.

Thomas would have been eligible for arbitration had the Tigers held onto him. Instead, he’ll likely look for another Minor League deal in the U.S. or head back to the Far East for another stint in Japan or Korea, where he spent time near the end of the last decade before the Tigers signed him after the 2009 season.

Tigers pick up $9 million option on Valverde

With the World Series going to a deciding game Friday, Major League teams will have a slew of announcement on contract options coming by Monday’s deadline for deciding them. The Tigers’ decision on Jose Valverde didn’t have to wait through the weekend. He’s coming back at a cost of $9 million.

Valverde’s option year was part of the two-year, $14 million deal he signed as a free agent before the 2010 season. It wasn’t always looking like an automatic that the Tigers would pick it up, especially after Detroit signed Joaquin Benoit to a three-year, $15 million deal last fall. It had the appearance of a closer-in-waiting situation. Then Valverde went 52-for-52 in save situations between the regular season and playoffs.

They weren’t always easy saves, especially down the stretch. But in the end, the numbers were dominant: He allowed just 52 hits over 72 1/3 innings in the regular season with 34 walks and 69 strikeouts. Break down the stats to just save situations, and they were even stronger, with just three earned runs on 26 hits over 49 innings with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts.

Valverde is the only contract option the Tigers had to decide this offseason.

Verlander named Sporting News Player of the Year

Strike one blow in the Pitcher for MVP debate for Justin Verlander. And impressively, it came from his fellow Major League players.

The crowning honor of the season-ending awards from the Sporting News, the Player of the Year award, went to Verlander, the magazine announced Friday morning. Verlander is the first pitcher to win the honor since Orel Hershiser in 1988.

Voting took place among 289 Major League players, and the vote was very divided. Verlander received 67 votes, just 10 more than former teammate Curtis Granderson, with Matt Kemp close behind at 41. Jose Bautista and Ryan Braun received 25 votes apiece.

Verlander, Avila on Sporting News AL all-star team

The first end-of-season test for Justin Verlander’s MVP candidacy comes out Friday, when Sporting News names its MLB Player of the Year. On Thursday, though, he received the more obvious honor of the starting pitching spot on the magazine’s AL All-Star team. He was the only unanimous selection on the AL side, according to the article on the Sporting News website.

Voting took place among 289 players, 23 managers and 55 Major League executives, so getting a unanimous selection isn’t easy. Matt Kemp was the only one to get it on the NL side, which means somebody didn’t vote for Clayton Kershaw despite his lofty stats.

Alex Avila also made the AL team at catcher. Somewhat surprisingly, Miguel Cabrera didn’t get the nod at first base, losing out to Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez. Keep in mind, though, that voting took place in September, with most ballots turned in before Cabrera went on his final-week tear and before the Red Sox collapse was complete.

Also surprising, as others have pointed out: Jose Valverde didn’t get the relief pitcher honor. That went to Mariano Rivera. Did the Big Potato’s save celebrations turn off some players around voting time, or did they go with the Hall of Famer?

Also, in less of a shocker but still intriguing, Jhonny Peralta lost out to his former teammate in Cleveland, Asdrubal Cabrera, for shortstop honors.

Verlander up for top honor at Players Choice Awards

Justin Verlander is a finalist for not only the American League’s Outstanding Player, but Major League Player of the Year honors among the Players Choice Awards to be announced Nov. 3 on MLB Network.

The MLB Players Association, which administers the awards through player balloting, announced the three finalists for each award on Friday. Verlander is the lone Tiger up for any awards, but the fact that he made the list of finalists for the biggest award on the docket says a lot about his chances.

The awards tend to serve as a preview for the more traditional Major League awards, as voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America and announced later in the month.

Like the AL Cy Young award, Verlander is an overwhelming favorite to win AL Outstanding Pitcher honors. He captured the AL’s pitching Triple Crown by topping all AL pitchers with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, becoming the first American Leaguer to do that since Johan Santana in 2006 and the first Tiger since Hal Newhouser in 1945.

Verlander also led AL pitchers with 251 innings, a .192 opposing batting average and a 0.92 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) ratio.

His competition for outstanding pitcher includes Angels ace Jered Weaver, who barely lost out to Verlander for the league ERA title at 2.41 while posting an 18-8 record for an Angels team that finished second to Texas in the AL West. The other finalist is James Shields, whose 11 complete games left him just five outs shy of Verlander’s innings mark while going 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and 225 strikeouts over 249 1/3 innings.

No pitcher has won Player of the Year since it was added to the Players Choice Awards in 1998, but Verlander has a very good shot to be the first. His two competitors are his former Detroit teammate Curtis Granderson, who hit 41 homers with 119 RBIs while leading the league with 136 runs scored, and Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez, who finished second to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera in batting average at .338 while driving in 117 runs and posting a .410 on-base percentage.

The Player of the Year award is the players’ equivalent of MVP honors, but it includes players from both leagues. How Verlander fares in balloting won’t necessarily reflect how his AL MVP chances went, because it’s hard to tell whether player sentiment on voting a pitcher for a traditional position player honor reflects the views of writers who vote on MVP. Still, it would be a very nice harbinger for him.

Cabrera did not make the list for Player of the year, nor did he crack the three finalists for AL Outstanding Player despite his AL batting crown. It’s worth noting, though, that balloting among players was conducted in mid-September, before Cabrera’s final-week run to lead the league in average.

Players Choice winners in each category will designate charities to receive grants from the Major League Baseball Players Trust, which promotes community involvement while raising funds and attention for worthy causes. A total of $260,000 in grants will be given out from the awards.

 

Cabrera set to skip Taiwan series, shoulder still sore

Venezuelan journalist Ignacio Serrano got in touch with Miguel Cabrera yesterday for his reaction to winning the Luis Aparicio Award as Venezuela’s best Major League player this season. Cabrera was very humbled by the award, and the fact that he won it by a unanimous vote from Venezuelan and Spanish-speaking baseball writers, and he talked about being able to spend time at home with his family.

At the end of the post is news that Cabrera will skip the MLB all-star series in Taiwan next weekend to rest his sore right shoulder, which is still bothering him since his collision with Mike Napoli at home plate in Game 4 of the ALCS. If it stays sore, Cabrera told Serrano, he’ll have an MRI to make sure there’s nothing more serious.

Update at 5:20pm: An MLB spokesperson confirmed Cabrera has decided not to take part and will stay home to rest.

Cabrera had agreed to go on the Taiwan trip with Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, among others, but it depended on how far the Tigers got into the postseason. The fact that the Tigers got as deep as they did, six games into the ALCS, didn’t leave much time for Cabrera to recuperate.

As for the shoulder, the fact that Cabrera didn’t have tests on the shoulder before going home suggests it isn’t a long-term concern.

Cabrera wins Luis Aparicio Award as Venezuela’s best

Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera will watch his case unfold for a few postseason awards in the coming weeks. His status as the best Venezuelan player in the Majors this year was unquestioned, which is why he was a unanimous choice to receive the Luis Aparicio Award.

Venezuelan and other Spanish speaking baseball writers vote each year on the award, presented to the most prominent baseball player in the regular season. Cabrera finished a close second to Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez last year and lost out to Felix Hernandez in 2009, but his first-ever batting crown and the Tigers’ rise to their first division title in 24 years left him with no major challengers this season.

While Cabrera received all 100 first-place votes, his Tigers teammate Victor Martinez took second, barely edging out Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

Cabrera became just the fourth Venezuelan-born player ever to win a big-league batting title this year, using a torrid closing week to finish at .344 and beat out Texas’ Michael Young and Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez. He became the first Tiger to win a batting title since fellow Venezuelan Magglio Ordonez won it in 2007.

Cabrera also led the league with 48 doubles, fueling a .586 slugging percentage that ranked second among AL hitters and second-best among his career numbers.

Nobody in the American League played in more regular-season games than Cabrera. The only game he missed was the game he was away to be with his wife for the birth of their third child.

Ordonez’s batting title made him the last player to win the award by a unanimous vote, so it made sense that Cabrera did the same. In the process, Cabrera became the first position player to win the award twice, having done so with the Florida Marlins in 2005. Johan Santana is the only other two-time winner in the award’s eight-year history.

Cabrera will return to Venezuela to receive the award in a ceremony Nov. 18 prior to a Venezuelan Winter League game in Maracaibo. That is the hometown of Aparicio, the only Venezuelan-born player in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The 10-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner set a defensive standard at shortstop for his generation while also leading the American League in stolen bases in each of his first nine seasons.

Wrapping up the Tigers’ injuries

You had a feeling, didn’t you, that whenever the Tigers’ season ended, you would be hearing a more up-front report on all the Tigers’ injuries. And for the most part, we got that last night. Yet somehow, it wasn’t as bad as expected.

Alex Avila opened up a bit about the shape of his knees.

“I’ve had tendinitis building up in my [left] knee since July from a sprain that I had,” Avila said. “I felt I could continue to play with it, and I did. Without the rest, it just gets a little bit worse. And then, when I stepped on [Robinson] Cano’s foot [in the Division Series], everything kind of resurfaced after that.”

Playing through that, he said, brought on problems in the other knee, the right knee, because he was compensating. He underwent a cortisone shot during the playoffs that helped.

Surprisingly, though, he said that the team medical staff doesn’t think there’s anything that would require surgery.

“If there was anything structurally wrong,” he said, “I probably wouldn’t be able to catch. That was the reason why I kept playing, that I knew it couldn’t get any worse. I just had to deal with discomfort. Just get the MRI to make sure, and with rest, I’ll be good as new.”

As for Victor Martinez, manager Jim Leyland said he had “three or four things going on,” from the knee sprain in August to the toe injury that had to be drained to the intercostal strain. The only one that would seemingly be a major concern going into the offseason would be the knee, though we didn’t get any definitive word on that.

The injury you didn’t expect that we learned about last night was Miguel Cabrera. He injured his right shoulder when he tried to run over Mike Napoli at home plate in Game 4.

“It was all muscle,” Cabrera said, alleviating any concern he popped his shoulder out. It might have been more around the triceps.

Obviously, it didn’t affect him at the plate, where he closed out his season last night with a two-homer game, but he said he couldn’t throw. That explained why his warmups between innings were different.

He’s going to get it checked out, just to be on the safe side.

“I have to talk to a doctor,” Cabrera said. “They took good care of me with treatment. They did a good job.”

ALCS Game 6: Tigers at Rangers

Pretty much the lineup you would expect to see the Tigers trot out against a Rangers left-hander Derek Holland. It’s the same lineup the Tigers put up against Holland in Game 2, but in a different order.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ryan Raburn, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Brandon Inge, 3B
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Max Scherzer

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