November 2011

Verlander named Tiger of the Year

In a vote that surprised no one, members of the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America named Justin Verlander as the Tiger of the Year. He received 25 out of 26 votes, with the other going to Miguel Cabrera.

It’s the second Tiger of the Year award in the last three years for Verlander. He and Cabrera have essentially alternated the award the last four years.

Alburquerque named Tigers Rookie of the Year

The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association has honored Al Alburquerque with the Tigers Rookie of the Year award, recognizing the right-handed reliever for a dominant summer.

Alburquerque was the logical choice in a field that didn’t include many rookies, though he wasn’t the only one. Andy Dirks made a good first impression as a fourth outfielder, though he seemed to fall down the list of options by year’s end. Duane Below had a good stretch in the bullpen, while top prospect Jacob Turner made a few starts.

None of them, however, could match the contribution of Alburquerque, who went from obscure free-agent signing last winter to late-inning strikeout artist by midseason.

The Tigers raised eyebrows when they signed the minor league free agent to a Major League contract last winter, having scouted his dominant stint in the Dominican Winter League. He hadn’t spent a day in the big leagues, but he had more strikeouts than innings pitched over four minor league seasons.

After fanning eight batters over four scoreless innings in a season-opening stint at Triple-A Toledo, Alburquerque got his shot. The results were beyond even what Tigers officials expected. After some wild innings upon arrival, he settled in and got on a roll. He walked 29 batters over 43 1/3 innings, but racked up 67 strikeouts.

His nine-inning ratios of 13.92 strikeouts and 4.36 hits allowed both were the best among AL relievers, as was his .142 average (21-for-148) allowed. They were all also the best marks for a Tigers reliever since at least 1946. With six strikeouts over three perfect innings of relief at Cleveland on April 30, he had a Tigers first since Willie Hernandez in 1984.

Alburquerque went 14 scoreless innings over 13 outings from May 21 to June 26, striking out 23 batters in the process. For the season, he stranded 28 out of 31 inherited runners, in part because opponents went 4-for-45 against him with runners in scoring position.

Alburquerque will receive his award during a pregame ceremony at some point next season.

Lamont to interview for Red Sox managerial opening

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said a week ago that while he hadn’t received any requests from teams to interview any of their coaches for managerial openings, he wouldn’t stand in anyone’s way. With three managerial spots still open, the landscape has changed, and it’s now going to include Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont.

According to the Boston Herald and Providence Journal, the Red Sox announced a new round of managerial candidates interviewing at the end of this week. One is former Tigers player Torey Lovullo. The other is Lamont, who will reportedly interview Saturday. The Tigers confirmed that Boston asked for and received permission to talk with him.

Lamont, who turns 65 on Christmas Day, managed the White Sox and Pirates for four years each from 1992 to 2000. He led Chicago to the 1993 AL West title and had them atop the AL Central in 1994 before the strike hit. An 11-20 start in ’95 cost him his job. He succeeded Jim Leyland in Pittsburgh and mounted a surprising charge to contention in the NL Central ion 1997 before finishing 79-83, five games behind the Astros.  He had a 78-win season in 1999, but 69-win seasons in between.

He hasn’t talked openly about managing again, preferring to stay in the background as Leyland’s confidante and assistant strategist, but his experience and demeanor make him a veteran candidate. He was a bench coach in Boston in 2001 under Jimy Williams, so he knows the following there.

Guillen: Magglio plans on playing

Talked with weekend with Carlos Guillen about his Tigers career and what’s next for him (he plans on playing). Will have his thoughts on the site Monday, but one thing I wanted to mention here is that he has been talking with Magglio Ordonez since the season ended, and that Ordonez plans on playing again next year.

That slots in with other reports from the past few weeks citing sources suggesting Ordonez would go through the rehab process and try to play. Ordonez himself hasn’t made any statements about it, as far as I know, either to American or Venezuelan media.

We learned last week from Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski underwent surgery on his fractured right ankle. Guillen said Ordonez is going to start the rehab process again shortly, again working out in South Florida.

“He’s doing better,” Guillen said.

So, too, is Guillen, who says this will be his first offseason with his full health in a few years. Like Ordonez, Guillen is a free agent, and he plans on playing.

“Why not? If you feel you can play, why not,” he asked.

Tigers sign Darin Downs to minor-league deal

The Tigers have signed free-agent lefty Darin Downs to a minor league contract, according to a tweet from his agents at Sosnick Cobbe Sports.

It’s not a headline deal by any means, but it’s the kind of depth signing that sometimes pay dividends. Downs, who turns 27 the day after Christmas, is pitching winter ball in Venezuela right now after spending the summer in the Marlins farm system at Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans. His pitching coach with the Tigres de Aragua is Greg Sabat, who coaches in the Tigers system.

Combine Downs’ Double- and Triple-A numbers, and he went 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA over 18 starts and 14 relief appearances, striking out 87 batters over 112 innings. Until then, he had just about an even ratio of strikeouts to innings pitched for his pro career, getting swings and misses with finesse and deception rather than power.

Downs was born in nearby Southfield, but went to high school in Florida.

 

Verlander wins MLB Player of the Year at Players Choice

Justin Verlander kept repeating a phrase all year when reporters asked: If you expect greatness, greatness shouldn’t surprise you. The recognition of that greatness, though, might be a surprise for a few people.

As badly as he might want MVP-type recognition, he couldn’t be sure he was going to get it, a question more of precedence than performance. His first chance came from his peers, who decided he was the best player in baseball this year — not just best pitcher, best player.

As a result, Verlander became the second pitcher ever to win MLB Player of the Year honors at the annual Players Choice awards. Whether or not it was a surprise for Verlander, it was clearly meaningful as he talked about it on a conference call with reporters.

“Coming from your peers makes it all the more special,” Verlander said. “I think with all the talk about should a pitcher be able to win MVP or a top player award, I think it shows a lot of support for my fellow players to be able to vote me for that. I think it means a lot. When it comes from your peers, the guys you’re playing with, the guys you’re playing against, it’s special.”

The Player of the Year award covers both leagues, and dates back to 1998. Before then, the MLB Players Association had one award for each league’s best pitcher, and one for each league’s best position player, with no mixing.

The last pitcher to win MVP honors from baseball writers, Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, did it in 1992, six years before the Players Choice awards added their equivalent. Some pitchers made their case since. Pedro Martinez won it in 1999. Randy Johnson had a case in 2002, as did Johan Santana in 2006. They all won pitching triple crowns and led their teams into the postseason, but they still didn’t have the resume Verlander posted in 2011.

Though Verlander didn’t allow himself to reflect on his season until the Tigers’ run through October ended in the AL Championship Series, his fellow players had to reflect a lot sooner than that.

“Obviously from a personal standpoint, it was an amazing year,” Verlander said. “I worked extremely hard for this, and I told you guys a few times, if you expect greatness it shouldn’t surprise you. I’ve always expected myself to be able to pitch this way. It still doesn’t surprise me that I did.”

Yet it still surprised him to be mentioned with Martinez, Santana, Johnson and others among the greatest single seasons in baseball history.

“Looking back and seeing how the numbers stack up, even to be mentioned in that category, I know it doesn’t measure up to some of them, it’s still pretty special,” Verlander said. “I think it’ll be a season I remember for a long time.”

Verlander easily beat out Angels All-Star Jered Weaver and Rays ace James Shields for AL Outstanding Pitcher. His competitors for MLB Player of the Year were 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.

To beat them out was big. Verlander tried to match that with what he did with his winnings. The Player of the Year honor comes with a $50,000 grant from the Players Trust to the winner’s charity of choice. AL Outstanding Pitcher brings another $20,000. Verlander took that $70,000, added $30,000 of his own and split the total between two veterans hospitals in metro Detroit.

The John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Ann Arbor will receive donations of $50,000 each. Both took part in the Verlander’s Victory for Veterans program this summer, allowing veterans who sustained injuries or illness serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to enjoy a game from Verlander’s luxury suite at Comerica Park on days when Verlander started.

“I added a little bit to make it a nice round number,” Verlander said. “I wanted to donate some of my own money because it’s a personal cause. It’s something I believe in. This is something I feel greatly, so I wanted to give some of my own money.”

How did M-Cab lose Silver Slugger to A-Gon?

Miguel Cabrera (Getty Images)Nobody in the Major Leagues with enough playing time to qualify for a batting title hit for a higher average than Miguel Cabrera. Nobody even hit within five points of him.

Only one Major League hitter posted a better OPS than Cabrera, and it wasn’t Adrian Gonzalez. It was Jose Bautista. Gonzalez hit 76 points lower than Cabrera.

Cabrera posted higher on-base and slugging percentages (again, he led the league in the first category), scored more runs, hit more home runs and more doubles than his former fellow Marlins farmhand. He led such specialized stats as Wins Above Replacement (7.3 to 6.6, according to fangraphs.com), had a higher isolated power rate, had more runs created, had a higher win probability, and enough other numbers to keep going for a while.

Cabrera did not win the Silver Slugger at first base. Gonzalez did.

What gives? Well, the best explanation is that the Silver Slugger is very much like the Gold Glove. In some cases, it might be worse. This might be one of those cases, and I’ll explain why.

Like the Gold Glove awards, managers and coaches around the league vote for the Silver Sluggers. They make out their ballots toward the end of the season, but not at the very end. They have enough things to do at the very end of the season with their own teams.

With the Gold Glove ballots, that usually doesn’t matter. A great defender is seen as a great defender, no matter what happens from one week to the next, in part because defensive stats aren’t followed and aren’t changed that much in that short of a stretch. Hitting stats, of course, are a lot different, which makes the Silver Slugger a lot easier to critique.

Cabrera wasn’t leading the league in hitting with a week left in the season, and he wasn’t particularly close. Adrian Gonzalez was on his way, and his challenge was seemingly coming from Michael Young. Cabrera hit 17-for-29 with four doubles, four homers and eight RBIs over Detroit’s final eight games and turned a great season into an excellent one, maybe even MVP caliber. It was just in time to sway the batting race, too late to sway votes.

How can a batting champion not win a Silver Slugger? Pretty easily, it turns out. NL batting champ Jose Reyes was left out, too. No AL batting champ had been snubbed since Michael Young in 2005, but look over the 32-year history of the Silver Sluggers, and Cabrera is the 12th such victim on the AL side. In the National League, it’s even more common. Reyes is the 13th. Nobody, however, is going to argue that Troy Tulowitzki wasn’t deserving as the NL shortstop.

Add together the snubs, and a league batting champ makes the Silver Sluggers about 60 percent of the time. Conventional wisdom suggests that those who get snubbed usually don’t hit for more than batting average, but that’s not always the case. Larry Walker batting .350 for the Rockies in 2001 with 38 homers and 123 RBIs, and he didn’t make it. Nomar Garciaparra hit .372 in 2000 with 21 homers, and A-Rod still beat him out, just as he did when Nomar drove in 104 runs with a .357 average a year earlier. Terry Pendleton won an NL batting crown and NL MVP in 1991, but lost out on the Silver Slugger at third base because Howard Johnson led the league in homers and RBIs while hitting just .259.

Does that make it right for Cabrera to get snubbed? Heck no. But it does put some history on it.

Avila is lone Tigers Silver Slugger winner

Alex Avila missed out on a Gold Glove award. He will gladly take a Silver Slugger instead. The Tigers, too, will take a win over Mike Napoli.

With a big first season as a full-time starting catcher, Avila took the mantle for the American League’s best offensive catcher from the oft-injured Joe Mauer. The All-Star beat out Napoli, Matt Wieters and others to earn the Silver Slugger award at his position, the only Tiger to do so this season.

Avila is the first Tiger to win the Silver Slugger at catcher since 2004, Ivan Rodriguez’s first season in Detroit. He’s the first catcher other than Mauer to win the honor since 2007, when Jorge Posada won it.

“To be considered the best offensive catcher is great,” Avila told MLB.com Wednesday night in a text message, “and it’s an achievement I’m very proud of.”

It wasn’t necessarily an easy decision for AL managers and coaches. Though Avila earned the All-Star start at catcher on his first-half roll, and never had the huge falloff that some might have expected, he also had to deal with catchers who heated up down the stretch. None got hotter than Napoli, who hit .383 with 18 home runs and 42 RBIs after the All-Star, including .429 with eight homers in September. Though Napoli made just 57 starts behind the plate, he played there more than he did at any other position.

Wieters, who beat out Avila for the Gold Glove as announced Tuesday night, also made his case based on power. He homered 12 times in August and September and posted an .840 OPS over the season’s second half.

In the end, though, nobody showed the consistency that Avila displayed, surprisingly so for a 24-year-old dealing with the wear and tear of more starts than any other AL catcher. He actually built on his first-half numbers by hitting for a higher average, near-identical slugging percentage and a higher OPS after the break.

Avila, ironically, is a friend of Napoli.

“We’re from the same area in south Florida,” Avila said, “and he had a great season, but it doesn’t make it any better. Being a Silver Slugger is pretty good on its own.”

Tiger catchers have won 10 of the 32 Silver Sluggers since the award began in 1980. Half of those went to Lance Parrish, who added a sixth as an Angel in 1990. Rodriguez, Mickey Tettleton and Matt Nokes also won at least one Silver Slugger in a Detroit uniform.

Detroit had three other realistic candidates for Silver Sluggers, but all lost out in what looked like crowded fields and tough decisions for managers and coaches. While reigning Silver Slugger first baseman Miguel Cabrera won a batting title with a late-season tear, it came too late to sway voters to choose him over Adrian Gonzalez.

Jhonny Peralta led all AL shortstops in batting average and OPS, but his former teammate in Cleveland, Asdrubal Cabrera, had the advantage in hits, RBIs and runs scored. That earned Cabrera the vote, making him the first Indian to win a Silver Slugger since Grady Sizemore in 2008 and the first Cleveland infielder since Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar in 2000.

Though designated hitter isn’t a defensive position, it’s a Silver Slugger award, and it pitted Victor Martinez against former Red Sox teammate David Ortiz this year. Martinez had the higher batting average, finishing fourth in the league at .330, but Ortiz had better run production numbers to win his fifth Silver Slugger at DH. Those two will likely have a similar competition going when AL media members vote for the outstanding DH award.

Tigers shut out on Gold Glove awards

Austin Jackson’s Fielding Bible award in center field will have to do as the Tigers’ defensive honor for the season. Jackson and catcher Alex Avila were left winless when the Gold Glove awards were announced late Tuesday night.

Jackson and Avila were among three finalists listed at their respective positions by ESPN2 in a press release promoting the special on the network to announce the awards. But Avila lost out to Baltimore’s Matt Wieters, while Jackson finished behind Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury.

Major League managers and coaches vote on Gold Glove honors.

While Avila’s day-in, day-out work earned him a good amount of respect, Wieters had the statistical advantage of fewer passed balls and wild pitches on his watch while throwing out a higher percentage of would-be basestealers. Ellsbury and Jackson were very comparable on traditional statistics, though Jackson had an impressive resume in more specialized stats.

Avila still has a chance at an end-of-season award. The Silver Slugger awards, which lean on the offensive side at each position, will be announced Wednesday night at 6pm ET on MLB Network. Avila and Mike Napoli both have solid cases at catcher, while first base should be an interesting debate between Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Paul Konerko. Jhonny Peralta and his former Cleveland teammate Asdrubal Cabrera are candidates at shortstop.

Dombrowski: Ordonez, Guillen likely gone, iffy on Santiago

Lot of updates from president/GM Dave Dombrowski today in his talk with reporters. More in-depth stuff coming, but here’s the rundown …

  • Dombrowski said there won’t be a “real strong push” to bring a lot of their free agents back. Most likely, he said, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen are done as Tigers. “I would say in their case it’s highly unlikely they’re going to be back. In both cases,” said Dombrowski, who said he let both of them know that in the last month of the season.
  • Brad Penny also won’t be back. “With the young pitching we have coming, I would doubt we would re-sign him,” Dombrowski said.
  • Dombrowski wasn’t completely clear on the fifth starter situation. Ideally, he said, they’ll have a veteran as “protection” in case Jacob Turner or one of their other young guys aren’t ready. At another point, though, he said that if they sign a veteran for the job, Turner would start the season at Triple-A Toledo.
  • Here’s the main quote on the rotation: “The most likely scenario would be that those young guys come to camp with the four guys that are set and  compete for the fifth spot, and we have protection of a veteran type pitcher that can fill that if they’re not ready. But I also would say that, hey, if there’s some great starting pitcher that we really liked and was available for us, and we thought it was the type of move that made the most sense to get us better, would we be open to it? Yes. We like them all. We like every one of those pitchers. But can I tell you 100 percent that they’re ready? No. Now, can they be ready? Yes.”
  • Ramon Santiago is basically in a bad situation, at least as far as returning to Detroit goes. There’s mutual interest,  but Santiago wants a more regular role, and the Tigers don’t see him that way. “I think our feeling has been that we just don’t see him as the guy going out there and playing – we may be wrong – 150 games a year,” Dombrowski said. “We just don’t happen to see him as that guy, and we may be wrong. He’s done a very fine job for us and we like him a lot, but that’s not the role we see him in. If we thought he was our everyday second baseman, we’d go out and we’d make that move.”
  • This quote from Dombrowski on the market for free agents at second and third base is pretty telling: “I don’t think they’re real strong. And that’s why, too, not only free agents, you’d also have to talk about the possibility of trades, too.”
  • His evaluation on how slow this market will move compared with the way they took care of business quickly last year was also telling: “I don’t think we’re going to be rushing out like we did last year. We’re in a different situation than we were last year, where we identified a couple guys right off the bat in [Victor] Martinez and [Joaquin] Benoit. We’re still prepared; I don’t mean to say that we couldn’t make a move if the right move came about. But I wouldn’t think we would make a real quick move. I think we’ll take more time to go through it and let it work itself out.”
  • The Tigers are open to re-signing Joel Zumaya, but it would have to be a minor-league contract with a Spring Training invite. At this point, it sounds like the Tigers expect Zumaya to wait and see if another team offers him a Major League deal. “He’d like to come back, and we would like to have him back,” Dombrowski said.
  • While Dombrowski didn’t anoint Delmon Young as the starting left fielder, he said he looks at his outfield being Young alongside Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch. But he left open the possibility they could try to upgrade in left, and he acknowledged they have time before they have to decide whether to tender a contract to the arbitration-eligible Young.
  • Tigers will look at both free agents and trades to upgrade at second. They will look at possibilities at third as well. That said, Dombrowski left open the possibility they upgrade at one spot and platoon at the other. They could also go with grinders there. “You can never have enough good players,” Dombrowski said, “but you don’t want all star players. You want some of those gritty role-type players. Jim likes those on his club and is very successful at fitting them into his club.”
  • Dombrowski confirmed that the Tigers will look for a backup hitting catcher, preferably a right-handed hitter, to back up Alex Avila. The challenge, Dombrowski acknowledged, is convincing a good catcher to sign with a team where he isn’t likely to play very often. Even with a drop in playing time, Dombrowski said Avila could catch 120-125 games next year. He is an All-Star, after all.
  • The Tigers are open to possibly beefing up their bullpen with one more veteran, Dombrowski said, but he probably wouldn’t be a seventh- or eighth-inning setup guy. They like the core they have with Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Daniel Schlereth.
  • No chance of Phil Coke returning to the rotation.
  • Dombrowski basically threw down the challenge to Ryan Perry. ” He’s at the point where he needs to step it up for us,” Dombrowski said.
  • The door is open for the Tigers to add a leadoff hitter, but that isn’t a sure thing. “We need to get better offensive production out of Austin [Jackson],” Dombrowski said. “We think he’s capable of doing that. Will he be our leadoff hitter next season? We really can’t answer that question.”
  •  Chances of the Tigers shifting Jhonny Peralta to third base and pursuing Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins? Not likely. Peralta is sounding very likely to stick at short. “I would think so,” Dombrowski said. “Would I say 100 percent? No. Would I say most likely? Yes.”
  • Another factor seemingly working against a Reyes pursuit: The Tigers have their quota of $20 million players for the foreseeable future. “I would think so,” Dombrowski said.
  • The entire coaching staff will be back for next season, Dombrowski announced, unless somebody gets hired for a managerial job elsewhere. Dombrowski said he has not received any calls so far asking permission to talk with McClendon for such a job, but he would have no problem granting permission.
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