illustration by Samara Pearlstein
I have a QUESTION. Oh, I know: why even ask about the ’09 team when what we need/want the front office to do is look forward to the ’10 team and beyond (the ’10 team, how weird does that sound? so weird. TIGERS TEN, Y’ALL), right? But ew need to think about it, because the ’09 Tigers, despite a variety of flaws, quirks, etc that were apparent even back in March, were a good team. They were! I still believe this in my Tigers-bloggin’-heart and my… uh… Tigers-payin’-attention-head.
Maybe Roar of the Tigers specifically does not need to think about it, you know, so long as someone in the front office is doing so, but it can’t hurt, right? Probably.
So how did it come to this?
The Tigers’ Opening Day lineup was, in order: Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Gerald Laird, Brandon Inge, Adam Everett, and Josh Anderson. This particular group of cats had a collective 2008 batting average of .274 and a collective OPS of .773. In 2009, that same group had a collective batting average of .260 and a collective OPS of .728. Ouch.
Now, let’s discard Anderson, because he didn’t even play the entire season in Detroit, and let’s discard Guillen, because he was DL-ably injured. Not to fetishize Opening Day or anything, but we’ll go with the rest of them to start just for the sake of, um, Opening Dayness. Of the remaining cats, only three hit better in 2009 than in 2008: Miguel Cabrera (who started off really strong, then slowed down, minus a little August uptick), Brandon Inge (who had a ridiculous April and a solid first half, with a very unsolid second half) and Adam Everett (whose numbers were still bad all ’round, and he only played in 48 games in ’08, so ze sample size, she was small). Practically EVERYONE was worse at the plate this year, and even the guys who WERE better didn’t get the benefit of it down the stretch.
Toss into the mix a cat like Ramon Santiago, whose strong ’08 batting numbers came back down to earth when given the chance to play in more than 60 games. Ryan Raburn’s numbers were pretty good, but Marcus Thames’ power was down. Clete Thomas OPS’d a weakling .709. Not a good scene.
I suppose age could be a factor. The youngest everyday player was also the only one to have a truly good season with a bat. Five regulars were in their 30s– Magglio is 35 (practically compost). Guillen, as we know, had a fabulous variety of injury issues at the age of 33. Polanco is 33 and was not overtly injured, but he’s been around for 12 seasons and it must be tiring, lugging about all that excessive cranial architecture.
Inge, at the age of 32 with some catching in his past, had dire knee problems late in the season, although he managed to suck it up enough to stay on the field (to the point where he tied with two other guys for the most games started in the AL this year, I’m just sayin’). Laird is 29, but he’s also a (more or less) full-time catcher, so his knees are probably closer to 40.
Everett is an irrelevant 32; nobody ever expected him to hit, from Mr. Dombrowski on down to Jim Leyland and Adam Everett himself. That wasn’t what the Tigers signed him for anyways (Paws knows I love Ramon Santiago, but he isn’t a 160-games-a-season kind of guy, if you know what I mean).
In addition to Cabrera and Laird, there were four other sort-of-regular Tigers in their 20s… but three of those were Anderson, Clete, and Raburn. Should I say more? You don’t really need me to say more. Kinda cruel to lump Raburn in there, but what can I say, the blog has a cruel soul.
The Tigers were mostly aging and sore in ’09, and half of their young players probably would not have started much in a fully healthy outfield elsewhere. But nobody was crumbling, decrepit, held together with stern willpower alone type old, like Julio Franco or something. Magglio was the oldest regular position player, at 35. That many 30+ players on the infield isn’t such a great thing, though. It is one thing to have some slow’n’old corner outfielders; it’s something else when your third baseman is trying to play with the knee-gristle of a bed-bound 80 year old.
But what of, say, Granderson, who at 28 is not yet relegated to the Oldster McWrinkleson pile? He played in 160 games in 2009, the most in his career. So far as we know (?) he was not hurt, but he still had a terrible season. His OPS dropped by .078 points, the biggest drop among regulars in the lineup, aside from Laird, who can at least sort of claim the excuse of going from hitter-friendly Arlington to the cold, cold cavern of Detroit.
Granderson has had problems with lefties. This is not news. But in 2008 he appeared to have finally figured them out. He still hit better against righties, but against lefties he had gone from a batting average of .160 to a respectable (and seemingly sustainable) .259. In 2009? He was back down to .183, which is REALLY RATHER BAD, just to clarify in case the sight of that leading one caused your brain to shut down.
I have no idea.
OK, lies, I have some ideas. Age (Magglio, possibly Polanco?) and injury (Guillen, Inge) might explain some of it. There was some performing down to expectations (Laird, Everett) and some bad timing (Miggy). Actually there was a lot of bad timing, you’d just have to ask someone like poor Edwin Jackson, the Anti-Run-Supported. Can it really come down to a string of bad timing, reinforced negative perceptions and the self-fulfilling dooms-y prophesies of wicked sad ballplayers?
Or was this the year when the Spazzosaurus feasted with impunity, roaming unfettered and free over the field?
Next time up, we ask the pitchers how it came to this.